I distinctly recall that frosty early January morning when I received THE CALL from my long-time friend and Managing Director of the Goring Hotel, David Morgan-Hewitt. My first reaction was that something must be terribly wrong as I had clients in residence at the Goring for their annual long-term stay, but after exchanging New Years greetings, I soon learned that the purpose of the call was a personal invitation to a luncheon that would take place March 2nd to celebrate the hotel’s 105th birthday, and the final phase of The Goring’s head-to-toe renovation which culminated in February with a total re-do of the lobby. And as if that weren’t enough, the lunch would be hosted by none other than H.R.H., the Duchess of Cambridge who had chosen from all the five star hotels in London, The Goring, for her family’s “home base” during her much-touted wedding festivities in 2011.
The butterflies in my tummy began while still on the phone with David and continue right up to this minute as I document the events after-the-fact. A royal summons… lunch with a princess…how could I say no…. I knew I was getting home from India just a few days before and that it would be a real push, but I “accepted with pleasure” and began to obsess (as women are prone to do) over what to wear. It would be an intimate affair – just 70 people – so I might actually have a chance to meet this stunning beauty who has so completely captured our hearts and imaginations.
Although all I wanted to do was to tell the world, David emphasized that this was to be kept quiet, not broadcasted, and we had to hope of course, that all went well with the Duchess’ pregnancy, as she would be 7-1/2 months along at the time of the lunch, so it was a bit tenuous… I have prayed diligently daily since January that the royal bun would stay in the proverbial royal oven! Frequent flyer miles were pooled, a dress procured, and anticipation mounted.
I left Pittsburgh with -7F degree temperatures, and have to admit that the high 40’s in London felt positively balmy. The United connection via Chicago was seamless, my bag actually arrived (thank God) and we made our way quickly into London on a Sunday morning without traffic. In spite of my highly uncivilized 6 AM arrival time, Michael, the assistant manager and “Big John,” their famous concierge were there to greet me, and The Goring’s new lobby was stunning with a whimsical mural on hand-painted silk wall paper in shades of taupe and gray…. scenes straight out of Kipling’s “Jungle Book” with a twist! Cheeky monkeys, leaping fish, unicorns – even a polar bear – frolicked in palm-studded forests, and we later learned that David was painted in as a Silverback Gorilla wearing a barrister’s wig and the hotel’s owner, Jeremy Goring depicted as a seal!
A 3-hour nap and a brisk walk through Green Park proved restorative and we set out for an early lunch at one of my favorite London haunts, “Cecconi’s” to celebrate my birthday which had transpired earlier in the week. My best friend, Ellison, another privileged Goring invitee, and her daughter, Jane, who studies at St. Andrews in Scotland joined us plus my Chicago-based friend, Peter and we had a delightful meal with eggplant parmesan, crab filled raviolis, and homemade linguine with black truffles. Birthday candles extinguished, we returned to the hotel to begin our evening preparations…
In addition to the special lunch invitation, The Goring magnanimously hosted a black-tie seated dinner Sunday evening at The Hyde Park Barracks of the Royal Horseman Brigade for the 26 out of town “travel people.” This was a “who’s who” of the travel industry and I felt honored to be a part of this closely knit group. We were expected at 6 PM for a champagne reception. While getting ready, a fully-liveried footman arrived ala James Bond at my door with a tray that appeared to be the makings of a fine martini… I swapped out the martini for a glass of sauvignon blanc as my “dresser” of choice. I’d been tipped off that a long dress might be appropriate and chose a “vintage” turquoise St. John knit dress that both my mother and grandmother have worn… (reminder to self: never throw anything away!) which was spot-on for the occasion.
With a proud tradition of over three centuries of service as a bodyguard to the Sovereign, and made up of the British Army’s two most senior regiments, the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment sits at the very heart of the cultural and military heritage of Britain. The Regiment’s rich history stretches back to 1660, from descendants of King Charles II’s Life Guards and the Earl of Oxford’s ‘Blues’. Since then it has forged a tradition, ethos and reputation for excellence and professionalism, whether it is for State Ceremonial duties, or delivering manpower for the recent military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. Every Household Cavalry soldier is first and foremost a fighting soldier, and uniquely in the British Army, the Household Cavalry use their qualities to excellent effect by combining their role in armored fighting vehicles with the mounted State Ceremonial role. It is this flexibility that has allowed them to remain at the forefront of the combat operations of today, while still maintaining the highest standards and strong traditions of the past. Obviously this was not open to the public, and it was a very special private entrée venue!
We arrived at the barracks amidst much pomp and circumstance. Helmeted guards and flag bearers flanked the passage, and we were escorted upstairs to a beautiful dining room with crimson walls, full of oil portraits, that glowed in the candle light and a beautifully laid table awaited us. As you might expect, The Goring was catering the event and their chef, wait-staff and sommelier team were looking after us—this included the oh-so-handsome red-coated footmen! We started with “Eggs Drumkilbo,” complimented by a 2010 Puligny Montrachet, succulent lamb chops with a 2010 Bordeaux and a chocolate mousse with Yorkshire rhubarb and a buttermilk sorbet. At this point, I lost track of the Ruinart Rose champagne which flowed like holy water and the 1998 Fonseca Guimaraens Port which accompanied the English cheeses but suffice to say it was a night to remember! David gave us a short talk about “the events of tomorrow” which were of course completely timed and choreographed, and some royal etiquette pointers which I captured on video.
Still on India time, I awoke early on the much-anticipated day, March 2nd, caught up with emails and ordered breakfast. I’m used to getting ready in 20-25 minutes and so to have an entire morning dedicated to this process threw my normal process into a tailspin. I was staying in Room 98, a “Splendid” room overlooking the Goring’s interior courtyard garden, one of its true treasures. This morning, the lawn was silently hand-mowed by a gardener, in flag-perfect stripes. Outdoor pots brimmed with white hydrangeas and the sun was high in the sky. The Goring employed various UK interior designers to oversee the multi-year facelift, but one of the notable features is the unique Gainsborough silk wall coverings that are used in the rooms – mine was a honey-gold color with inlaid furnishings that I’m fairly certain came from the hand of Viscount Linley. It is the only hotel in London to have garnered the Queen’s Royal Warrant in 2013 and needless to say, this independently owned, 69-room jewel box of a hotel is my “London Home” as it is for so many Frontiers clients. Virtually every member of staff from the doormen to the barmen to the room service team greet you by name within the first hour of your arrival!
The stylish Jane oversaw our final “hair and make up” detail and gave last minute accessory advice. We headed downstairs for yet another champagne toast – this time, 2004 Dom Perignon was poured to calm our “pre-Duchess” nerves, and Jane headed out to the street with camera in hand to capture her arrival. There was a small band playing at the Goring Hotel street entrance and passers-by paused, knowing something important was about to happen. Guests were assigned to “clusters” to which the Duchess would be led and introduced. Sadly, we had to give up our cameras as this was a “private” event, and photographs other than those by the official Goring photographer were strictly prohibited. We saw her arrive in a fleet of black Range Rovers and then she was scurried off to add the finishing touches to the new lobby wall paper—embellishing the mane of the crowned unicorn representing the monarchy – with her hand-painted strokes.
She was elegantly dressed in a mauve floral printed jersey dress by the trendy designer, Erdem, with navy Alexander McQueen pumps, utterly flattering to her and her diminutive “bump.” We’re not talking about maternity clothes here!! Her makeup was subtle, hair perfection and her jewelry simple with drop earrings and that iconic sapphire engagement ring. When she got to “Group 2” where I was stationed, I remembered a small curtsey, shook her hand and we chatted about our history with The Goring and Jane’s experiences at St Andrew’s (the Duchess’ alma mater). We were called to lunch in the hotel’s light-filled dining room which was beautifully set for the event with specially commissioned chargers and embroidered napkins bearing the date. I was assigned to table #6 which sounds as if it might have been in Siberia, but actually it was adjacent to table #1 and I had a direct view of the Duchess throughout the event! Long time loyal UK-Goring guests joined our table and we shared many anecdotes.
As I continued to pinch myself that this was all real, with the Duchess of Cambridge in my direct line of vision (20 feet away), we tucked into a first course of native lobster tails and baby vegetables, followed by Hereford Beef Wellington. Fine wines accompanied each course and I, who proudly never eats dessert, indulged in the milk chocolate, salted peanut caramel and ice cream confection…more champagne (Bollinger La Grande Annee Rose 2004) and thank goodness, some much-needed coffee. The Duchess departed at the stroke of three o’clock to a standing ovation. We all felt enriched by the experience (and the copious bubbles) and reminisced over petit fours. The tag line on The Goring Hotel’s website sums up the day best: “impeccably English!”