You may have noticed the Connaught a little more since 2011, when ‘Silence’, the steamy fountain by Japanese ‘architect philosopher’ Tadao Ando, was installed outside the entrance. But actually the hotel doesn’t want to be noticed. It prides itself on guaranteeing famous guests their privacy. Eric Clapton added his own layer of protection by checking in as ‘Mr W.B. Albion’ (he’s a West Brom fan). Alec Guinness valued its discretion, and was annoyed when Jack Nicholson’s stay during the filming of Batman attracted the paparazzi. The hotel in turn had its own issues with Jack and his entourage. As the star put it to a friend: ‘They have a shit fit every time we walk through the lobby with jeans on.’
But you suspect that’s just Jack being Jack. If the Connaught was really that stuffy it wouldn’t number Kim Kardashian and Kanye West among its fans. Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin stayed there too (pre-conscious uncoupling, obviously), and Gywneth was so taken with her white lacquered dressing table that she ordered a replica for her own home. Ralph Lauren went one better, installing a copy of the hotel’s staircase in his Manhattan store. Unlike Jack Nicholson, the designer ditches his customary jeans at the Connaught: ‘When I come here I dress up.’
That staircase has a painting of a dog as you arrive at the top of each flight, to symbolise your arrival at home. Conversely, whenever you descend a flight, you see a painting of a horse. That’s the Connaught wishing you godspeed on your journey.
The hotel opened in 1815, though it was known as the Coburg then. During the first world war the owners decided — as did the royal family — that ‘Coburg’ sounded too German, so changed the name. They chose the new one in honour of Queen Victoria’s favourite child, Prince Arthur, the Duke of Connaught. (This also allowed them to keep the same monogram.) Arthur’s brother Edward VII had made use of the Coburg — known as ‘the playground of Mayfair’ — for champagne and peach parties. And, being him, doubtless other entertainments as well.
The aristocracy often favoured the Connaught, with some families keeping permanent suites as their London base. It was said that they liked being halfway between Buckingham Palace and Harley Street.
Charles de Gaulle was a top-floor resident during his second world war exile from France. When he wasn’t nipping round the corner to Purdey on Mount Street to plan D-Day with Eisenhower, the general liked to dine on the Connaught’s smoked salmon, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding. Or as he termed them, ‘island specialities’.
Other wartime guests supplied their own food. ‘Some friends of my family,’ wrote the author Quentin Crewe, ‘arrived with quantities of luggage and some chickens… Not an eyelash did the Connaught bat. They put the chickens in a yard at the back and three times a day took out scraps on silver salvers for these happy birds and the family had fresh eggs for the duration.’
The service is just as attentive these days, though it has moved on from poultry to supercars. Doorman Carl Holness regularly parks them for guests. His favourite is the Ferrari 458 Italia: it has a very distinctive engine sound, apparently. ‘I can usually hear them coming from a few streets away.’