by Sherelle Jacobs, The Telegraph, June 8, 2018
The black dust is starting to settle, the day after a fire ripped through London's five-star Mandarin Oriental hotel. A team of more than 100 firefighters successfully extinguished the blaze. Dozens of staff and guests – including former Take That singer Robbie Williams – were evacuated from the luxury Hyde Park address. There are not believed to be any casualties.
"To the best of our knowledge, all Mandarin Oriental guests have been accounted for and we are contacting guests who were not in the hotel at the time," the Mandarin Oriental said in a statement
"All colleagues are safe and accounted for."
In this era of social media, news travelled almost as quickly as the flames. Passers-by tweeted videos of orange flaring through the windows of an upper floor, and black plumes of smoke billowing high over the roof.
Although the source of the fire is unknown, it may be linked to the multi-million refurbishment that the hotel completed just last week; the flames seems to have spread across a "vertical facade for plants and vegetation and into several floors of the hotel", according to London Fire Brigade. The hotel had installed a new 'green living wall' in its the inner courtyard, as part of its root-and-branch revamp.
No doubt it will take weeks to assess the full extent of the damage wrought. Just nine days ago the hotel was sparkling from the biggest refurbishment in its 115-year history. The red bricks of its distinctive Franco-Flemish facade were freshly exfoliated. The lobby and lounges were transformed by the design world’s new darling, Joyce Wang, whose influences include Norman Foster and David Lynch.
A glass chandelier shaped like gently unfurling flower blossom hung from the ceiling, and new artwork inspired by Hyde Park’s plane trees adorned the walls.
The double-Michelin-starred Dinner by Heston Blumenthal with its wall sconces shaped like antique jelly moulds and and 'open spit' inspired by ancient royal courts, had also been spruced up. So too Bar Boulud, with its zinc and scarlet leather interiors.
New additions to the spa included a yoga studio; a blowdry bar by Jo Hansford, whose fan base includes Angelina Jolie and Elizabeth Hurley; and a new mani-pedi studio by French podiatrist, Bastien Gonzalez, renowned for his 'secret' buffing technique passed down to him by his grandmother. A range of new Hyde Park suites were also available to book from July, with vintage vinyl nd reading libraries curated by a local London bookseller.
In short, it was one of the capital's biggest hotel relaunches in years.
Despite the shocking setback, the landmark building will make a comeback. Recovery is in its DNA. The Knightsbridge edifice has a turbulent history. When, in 1887, plans were unveiled for its construction as a gentleman's club, which would make it the tallest building in London, local residents savagely opposed it; they feared it would cast a shadow over the Serpentine Lake.
The plans eventually went ahead, however, and it opened two years later. Ten years down the line – almost 120 years ago – it went up in flames. One wonders whether those neighbours irked by the high-rise felt slightly vindicated; after a fire on the top three floors broke out, the London brigade’s tallest ladder could only reach half way up the building's front.
But a new grand hotel was built from the embers. It rivalled the likes of the Sheraton and the Ritz with its Louis XV fireplaces and lashings of marble. Over the last 115 years, the hotel has enjoyed an illustrious history. The Queen – who occasionally grants special guests permission to use the hotel’s private entrance to Hyde Park – has hosted parties in its private rooms. The hotel was also the location for Margaret Thatcher’s 80th birthday party.
The Mandarin Oriental continues to cater to the world's elite. 'A Very British Hotel', a Channel 4 documentary that aired last year, offered a rare glimpse of the lengths staff go to in order to cater to guests' whims – from arranging for an American businesswoman’s breastmilk to be flown from London to her baby in Boston, to tending to one guest’s 200-piece luggage set.
Such willingness to go the extra mile will surely serve the Mandarin Oriental team well during this sad and challenging time. There is no doubt that this five-star phoenix that rose from a fire more than a century ago will rise from the ashes again.