Published 6 February 2000 Style Magazine 343rd article
Life's a beach: Michael Winner with Alpha Jackman, centre, and attendants at the Royal Pavilion (Miss Lid the Third)
Barbados has become a goyishe Golders Green. In case you're not au fait with Yiddish-New York dialogue, this means Barbados has become a suburban housing estate largely inhabited by non-Jews. My friend Lord Glenconner say it's "like the Costa Brava blown up bigger. Not prettier, just larger". I used to travel from the airport through lovely sugar plantations, past coloured-hut villages, old stone sugar mills and on to the sparkling Caribbean Sea. Now you sit in endless traffic jams on tacky motorways, looking out at oar showrooms and supermarkets. What are laughingly called villas stretch back from the coast, annihilating the landscape that attracted people to the island in the ﬁrst place.
The St James's coastal area is still pretty. The Sandy Lane hotel, predicted, with pathetic optimism by the managing director, Richard Williams, to open in October 2000, will surely not. It might be finished by October 2001, two years over schedule. I wouldn't even put money on that. So I reserved a house with three bedrooms, a large sitting room, terraces and a garden in the grounds of the Royal Pavilion. And two further rooms at the chic little Lone Star hotel nearby. I chose which hotel to sleep in each night.
I unpacked first at the Royal Pavilion, locally nicknamed the Pink Pavilion. This is the second grandest hotel in Barbados, set in beautiful grounds. Unfortunately, it suffers from a design fault, irreversible unless it's knocked down. They destroyed the wrong hotel with Sandy Lane. They could have rebuilt the Royal Pavilion further from the sea. Now it's so close to the beach that an 8ft sea wall stands in front of the ground floor suites, giving the residents nil view. The beach is a thin strip backed by a boring residential block. But it does expand at one end and that's where I sat.
Not before drama with my rooms. Both the new general manager, a nice young Dutchman called Jan Schoningh, and the deputy general manager, an immensely likeable, charming local chap, Alpha Jackman, agreed a suite only needed one locked door - the entrance to the living room.
When we returned that night the side door for maid service had been left open - so why lock the front? And my bedroom was locked. I had to call security to get in. After managerial apologies, the following night my bedroom and another one were locked. I became agitated. For £1,500 a night you should be able to go to bed.
Having come from the Jalousie Hilton, St Lucia, where highly active young people served drinks in seconds and visited regularly with complimentary trays of fruit, cold towels and ice lollies, service at the Royal Pavilion seemed diabolical. It took me 44 minutes in boiling sun to get a Sprite. Jan Schoningh was apologetic. "I can assure you, Mr Winner," he said, "that I intend to spruce the place up. If you come back in three months, you won't have to wait 44 minutes for a Sprite." "I won't be here in three months, Jan," I said. "What about tomorrow?"
Thereafter, room availability and beach service improved immensely. Sometimes there were five beach attendants asking if I wanted anything - and then there'd be none. But they were all nice people, particularly Egbert, who traversed the paved walkways throwing an ice bucket nonchalantly in the air and catching it behind him. Until it fell and dented, as we all knew it would. I left Egbert my hotel freebies: a bottle of champagne and a strange glass ornament of hands doing something odd.
Dinner at the Royal Pavilion is famous for being terrible. The hotel itself is actually pleasant. But I never saw more than six people eating dinner. Even regular and devoted guests told me it was abysmal. They wouldn't eat there, so I didn't. Breakfast was extremely good and well-organised, in a pleasing room on the beach. I got genuine, freshly squeezed orange juice without much trouble. The staff were all a delight; the bacon was excellent. They even started bringing ice lollies round the beach, compliments of the management. The Royal Pavilion is run by Fairmont Hotels and the Canadian Pacific group, and it's well worth a visit. If you eat dinner there, tell me about it. I'm sure it will improve.
Sadly, I was appalled by the odd limousine that took me to the airport. It had been turned into a sort of bus with tightly packed seats and no legroom. For an expensive, elegant resort it was absurd. And it's the first time I've ever left a hotel without the general manager seeing me off. It's those little personal touches that I so greatly appreciate. Or, in this case, did not appreciate.
Your Winner's Dinners article is the most stimulating item in the whole of The Sunday Times. However, even more impressive than your worldwide food reviews is your success with the ladies. The picture of Miss Lid (Style, January 23) shows your excellent taste. She is a real cracker. Tell us how you do it.
Roger W Nicholls, by e-mail
As both a doctor and someone who recognises food as one of the true pleasures of life, I was disappointed to read Dr Reid's letter concerning Xenical and overindulgence (Style, January 23). This is a powerful drug designed to help morbidly obese people reduce their health risks when allied to a sensible diet, and not for helping people avoid the natural consequences of their gluttony and overindulgence. "Designer drugs" are as necessary with food as a tie is with Michael Winner.
Dr Roger Henderson
As a sufferer of food intolerance (I am unable to eat wheat or dairy products), it is not often that I venture out to eat. But recently, for a birthday treat, we stayed at the Griffin Inn in Llyswen, near Brecon, where I was delighted to find a choice of food on the menu that I was able to eat. I hope this is of use to other readers.
Christine Griffiths, Easter Compton, Bristol
I fully agree with your views on piped music at the Jalousie Hilton (Style, January 23) and find it intolerable that London hotels are going down the same route. For many years, my husband and I have enjoyed the Langham Hilton, especially the fine dining in the Memories restaurant. The whole experience used to be enhanced by a talented young harpist called Rebecca. However, for the past three months she has been replaced by horrible piped music and, despite questioning several staff, I have been unable to get a proper explanation. Keep up the pressure on the Hilton to keep its music live.
Theodora Potsides, by e-mail
On January 16, you published a letter written by me, but sent from a friend's e-mail, about Michael Winner's infamous napkin wave. I pointed out that a lack of funds prevents me from perfecting it, as I am unable to dine in high-class establishments. Unfortunately, the letter was published under my friend's name and has caused him some embarrassment. Could I please point out that Cormac O'Rourke is neither impoverished, nor in need of the napkin wave.
Trish Slattery, Dublin