Group Director of Communications of The Maybourne Group - Claridge's, The Connaught, The Berkeley
Ever wondered who is the driving force behind the glitz and glamour of London’s most famous hotel group, The Maybourne? Astrid Joss meets the incredible, the unstoppable and the very much respected Paula Fitzherbert
HOW DID YOU START YOUR CAREER?
I started working on Fleet Street for a very distinguished weekly satirical cartoon magazine called Punch. I used to work for the editor Alan Coren ( Giles’s father) and looked after all the cartoonists, arranged the famous Punch lunches every week with notables from world of journalism / media / showbiz etc - it was a magical place with legendary characters. Then I started by default to do their PR (although I didn’t really realise it was PR!)...and that led me into this world …..
WHAT MADE YOU TRANSFER INTO HOTELS?
When the Editor of Punch changed and so did the culture, I felt the need to look elsewhere. A friend suggested hotels and the answer was 'No' ...but I went for an interview at The Carlton Tower hotel in Knightsbridge and I realised within hotels I had found my spiritual home. I moved to The Savoy and that was a defining moment as I fell in love with the magical mystery of iconic historical hotels and the joy of hospitality.
WHAT MADE YOU WANT TO WORK FOR THE MAYBOURNE GROUP?
I was actually working for The Savoy Group ( which owned the Savoy, Claridge’s, The Connaught, the Berkeley and The Lygon Arms) which was taken over and became The Maybourne Group as we sold the Savoy. So as is often in life it wasn’t really planned but serendipity and the stars were aligned :)
FROM YOUR OWN PERSONAL POINT OF VIEW, WHY ARE THESE THREE HOTELS SO SPECTACULAR?
Firstly, while the three hotels are part of the same family, sharing a similar DNA, they are all very different in design, style and personality. That is really what allows us to operate 3 hotels in the centre of London without cannibalising our business. We are very careful to ensure we have a separate tone of voice and creative vision for each of them. Claridge’s is the art deco historical grande dame of Mayfair, home to stars and glitzy gatherings, The Connaught is the smaller more intimate hotel where discretion is prized but it also has a subtle cool side born from its heady bars. The Berkeley is the younger slightly racier younger sister full of energy and innovation.
The most important thing from our perspective is while we treasure and respect our history and distinguished past - we do not live in it, and we are constantly looking at ways to stay relevant and engaged into today’s world while of course holding on to the magic that makes them so special. That is really how we have managed to maintain our positions as the leading London hotel group.
Then there are the staff, the inspiring teams of people that bring guests back year after year.
WHAT IS AN AVERAGE WORKING DAY FOR YOU?
Firstly there is no average day! That is also what makes the role so special, and what has kept me here for 20 years! When I first started , I was really just dealing with travel editors ...now due to the way the hotels and our role has changed we have to embrace the world’s of travel, art , design , fashion , restaurants , bars , style , spas ....these hotels have almost become theatrical experiences full of creative collaborations and ideas. So our role is to be the master conductor creating a series of activities throughout the year at each property that reflect the style and personality of the hotel and then go out and communicate them. Yesterday for instance I had a meeting with David Downton our Artist in residence at Claridge’s about a new podcast we are creating to launch next year then I went to The Berkeley to sign off our new collection of fashion cakes Pret a Portea and take some shots for Instagram, and then to Connaught to meet with the two Michelin star chef Helene Darroze to discuss her 10th anniversary celebrations next year. Lunch with a journalist from FT , then working on the launch event for our DVF Christmas Tree at Claridge’s , popped to pastry kitchens to capture some halloween amenities going to guest bedrooms then answering 100’s of e mails then off to Bazaar Women of the Year party in our ballroom. It’s a constant juggle of so many different things and you need to be fast footed and on the money at all times.
WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE PART OF YOUR JOB?
The diversity and the brands we get to work with - we wake up in the morning and think who shall we play with today ? Whilst always of course ensuring that all creative ideas are authentic and feel right for the hotel as well as actually helping contribute to the success of the bottom line.
HOW DO YOU PERSONALLY FEEL YOU YOURSELF AND YOUR DEPARTMENT MAKE A DIFFERENCE TO THE MAYBOURNE GROUP?
I do know PR does make a difference to the hotels and that is particularly rewarding - it helps that we have an owner and General Managers who involve us in projects right from the start. Our voice is sought and listened to. There are many projects that started as a PR initiative that are still going strong ...Pret a Portea at The Berkeley and Claridge’s Christmas Tree being good examples.
YOU MEET ALOT OF FABULOUS PEOPLE - WHO HAS BEEN YOUR FAVOURITE PERSON AND WHY?
One special moment I will always remember was the Sex and The City girls walking down the main staircase at Claridge’s for the premier of their first film ..everyone having afternoon tea got up and cheered :)
Meeting Madonna was a stand out moment when I worked with her on her Wallis and Edward film.
One of my personal favourites was going to Sir Anthony Gormleys studio and working with him on the Connaught Christmas Tree ...he talked us through all the outstanding work in his studio - a lovely man .
WHAT'S THE MEMORABLE MOMENT IN HQ MAYBOURNE?
The Queen coming is always memorable - she has come officially several times but also privately - you literally see grown men go weak ...I was very surprised how much of a thrill she creates.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE MEAL WITHIN YOUR HOTEL RESTAURANTS?
Oooh i’m not really sure I can say that! BUT working on the Noma pop up during the Olympics was quite extraordinary - Rene Redzepi was an adventure with his live ants!
WHAT JOB DO YOU THINK YOU WOULD DO IN ANOTHER LIFE AND WHY?
I honestly can’t imagine anything - and feel so lucky that I found quite quickly in my professional life my calling .