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Sun stroke

Published 10 December 1995
Style Magazine
127th article

Crystal clear: Patrick Modikoane, Vanessa Perry and Michael Winner at the Palace, Sun City (Chris Biggins)

I have made two big mistakes in the past decade. One was taking financial advice from Adam Faith. The other was going to Sun City. Sun City is a complex in the South African veld, surrounded by nothing, about two hours' drive from Johannesburg. It consists of at least two hotels and a so-called entertainment centre, all of increasing ugliness. The supposedly class hotel in this bizarre setting is the Palace. It's a lost city, early MGM gone wrong, with a touch of Indiana Jones's Temple of Doom. Great towers belch forth from an infrastructure with domes and quasi-minarets. At the top of the main tower four antelopes appear as if leaping from the windows. Doubtless they went mad waiting for room service.

It is, if nothing else, and believe me there isn't much else, on a grand scale. Not staggeringly grand like Las Vegas, but big enough. Vast high-ceilinged lobbies and restaurants look out on to fake rocks and waterfalls, with some quite nice trees and plants and African birds mixed with fake alligators. It is all fake, and clumsily so. When we got to the suite there was no hot water, so a man came and said he was going to "check the satellite heater station". The water was erratic in its hot-potential thereafter. They kindly gave me a typewriter but nobody knew how to work it and the lady who did was away and had left the instruction book locked in her drawer. After two nice ladies spent an hour and a half diffidently attacking it like it was a nuclear power plant, eventually someone came who got it right. A hotel messenger came to the door with a letter and said: "I've been all over, they told me you were there," indicating a distant wing. A letter I sent by hotel-hand to Bruce Forsyth (thank God he was there, he's very funny) never got to him because the hotel got his room number wrong. It was endless.

I have never eaten such terrible food for seven consecutive days - and I lived through rationing and the second world war, when we had powdered eggs! It is not a place for me, but some seemed to like it. We ordered pasta one day and the waiter came saying: "Here it is, another guy will be along with the parmesan cheese." We waited. Nothing. So I got up and made a fuss. Eventually someone came and said: "We have no parmesan cheese!" But they certainly want to please. It's the first time I've ever been crumbed down (technical term for brushing the table) before any course at all had been eaten. And Patrick Modikoane, the restaurant manager of the Crystal Court, is one of the nicest and most efficient people I've ever met. The Crystal Court, the main centre of the hotel, has a fountain with six elephants in green holding it, a glass-balustraded double staircase and groups of tourists from other areas wandering through in short trousers and with rucksacks, videoing you as you eat.

There's a fake lagoon by the secondary pool, Egyptian-lunatic except that the surface around it is so hot you cannot walk without great pain. The lagoon produces a large wave every three minutes and wending their way up a steep hill are dozens of ant-like tourists with large blue rubber tyres. I never saw them reappear. There was obviously a high cliff the other side over which they threw themselves in despair. But you have to admire Sol Kerzner for building it at all - in a strange way when you leave, you miss it. Senior management were all over me, but when I left, signing my bill as always without looking, I sat in my private plane (show-off!) and found I'd been massively overcharged. First of all, they'd put all meals, laundry and other things on, when I was their guest to judge Miss World. Second, the difference between a junior suite and a luxury room (I'd said I'd pay for the suite increase) was down as being £2,303, and when my office rang their English rep we learned it should have been £215.18!

After I threatened to sue Sun City, Sun International, Miss World, the Pope, Mickey Mouse and any passing tramp who would accept service of a writ, they apologised, knocked off the £215 room increase and finally reimbursed me £2,308 out of a bill of £3,340. A 62% overcharge! I should offer this to the Guinness Book of Records. It's what you call adding insult to injury.