Welcome to this edition of Gladstonian Journal, in which we share our passion for journeys, craftsmanship and a love of finely edited elegance. This month our Guest Editor Denise talks to Michael Bonsor, distinguished hotelier and man-about-town.
Michael Bonsor is an unashamed bon viveur. He is internationally travelled, has great taste and is impeccably turned out. He embodies these qualities, empowered by a clockwork sense of efficiency, to run Rosewood London, the beautiful hotel under his wing, and one that bears his unique personal stamp.
Michael is the quintessential subject for our Gladstonian Journal and he has graciously found a window in his hectic schedule to share his fascinating story.
“I guess you could say that hotels are in my blood.
I was practically born into the business! My parents became ‘accidental’ hoteliers. They had bought a real fixer-upper, a very large residential property in Inverness and after realising how much it would cost to build a new roof and floors, they decided to turn it into a luxury hotel to pay for the bills. It was the first of its kind in the area so it was a really significant achievement.
I was only eight at the time and we were all helping to enable it to function. I was actually making beds and cleaning bathrooms and really, really enjoying it. I completely fell in love with hospitality because I was meeting so many diverse people from all over the world.
Looking back, my career path was set. I took a big step – I decided to join Strathclyde University (the Scottish Hotel School) to help build my skills and knowledge. It was a great experience and it helped me understand some of the theory behind my work at my parents’ hotel.
Total serendipity. As part of my course, we’d have careers days where we’d meet with potential employers. At one, during my lunch break, I went for a walk and ended up strolling into the Four Seasons for a mooch around. Purely by chance I bumped into their HR lady. We had a quick chat and within a month, I was working for the group in Boston, the week of my 21st birthday. Boston was my launch pad and I hit the ground running!
“I joined as a management trainee and when I arrived, ended up being a pot-washer. It was a real learning curve and it helped me to have respect for every position within a hotel or restaurant.”
From the ground up. I spent 18 months in Boston, had a stint in Toronto, then in NYC and another in Toronto before heading back to NYC where I went on to open the Joël Robuchon restaurant. All this in a decade. The rest as they say is history!
Back to London and I struck ‘hospitality gold’ joining iconic Claridge’s, and rising to become the Hotel Manager. During this time, the BBC produced ‘Inside Claridge’s’. For a year of my tenure my fellow staff and I were followed by a film crew to document a year behind the scenes of the hotel. The critically acclaimed three-part series filmed by director Jane Treays attracted almost 12 million viewers.
The programme gave a priceless insight to how a 5* hotel operates. The crew became in a way ‘part of the family’. We were all very proud of the production. The series undoubtedly put my career on the map.
My time at Claridge’s helped establish me here in London. Four years on I was invited to oversee the highly anticipated opening of Rosewood London, firstly as Hotel Manager and then, Managing Director.
Recognised by our peers. Soon after we opened, the awards started coming in, with eight prominent accolades including Best New Hotel in the World by Telegraph’s Ultratravel, Hotel of the Year London, at the AA Hospitality Awards and the European Travel and Hospitality Awards.
Neighbourhood hotel. At Rosewood London, we’ve made a huge success of being slightly off the beaten track in Holborn and actually play host to many people who visit us regularly who work locally. We talk to the community, and many of our customers in the bar and restaurants work within five minutes’ walk of the building.
Rosewood London’s architectural heritage is core to its cachet. Following a costly renovation to transform the Edwardian Belle Époque building, the original architectural features were painstakingly restored including the magnificent Grade II listed street frontage and dome, and the grand Pavonazzo marble staircase, which rises up through all seven storeys of the hotel beneath the 166-foot cupola. Guests enter via a grand carriageway which leads to a distinctive courtyard reminiscent of a private manor house.
“There are many vignettes that make Rosewood London so unique. One I particularly love – the exclusive Grand Manor House Wing welcomes guests via its own private entrance and is the only suite in the world to possess its own postcode!”
Go-to favourites, under one roof.
We are famed for our destination hot spots for drinking and dining, and you don’t have to be a hotel guest to enjoy them. It’s always been critical that we appeal to the local market and many of our visitors are regulars from the neighbouring corporate community. Our Holborn Dining Room serves up Seasonal British cuisine with a twist and combines reclaimed oak with antique mirrors, red leather banquettes. Its famed Gin Bar offers London’s largest collection of gin, featuring over 500 gins and 30 tonics!
Scarfes Bar is named after caricaturist Gerald Scarfe, whose original artwork adorns the walls. The stunning Mirror Room, with opulent jewel box design and floor to ceiling mirrors offers art-inspired afternoon tea.
Being custodian of a precious hotel means I take one hundred per cent care of my clients and my staff. Covid really brought this home. We closed a week before the government announced hotels to close, said goodbye to our last guest and locked the gates. Then we sent almost 95% of the workforce home awaiting further news from the government.
The welfare of our team at home was paramount. That meant weekly newsletters, Zoom calls with over 70 people on at a time, quizzes, competitions, mental health professional support and translating the latest government announcements to explain how it affected them.
We stayed motivated and connected to the community despite being closed. Our chefs volunteered their time, cooking treats for local NHS hospitals each week. And the team from Holborn Dining Room cooked thousands of pies to sell at a local butchers with all proceeds going to the NHS. This really illustrates how our team operate at the very heart of the hotel.
My Rosewood manifesto. The service we provide must be individually tailored to the specific needs of each guest, who may have as many as 100 interactions with our team members during a two or three day stay. it’s important that that communication is authentic and genuine. That is just one of our USPs.
We love to host events for like-minded businesses. Rosewood London is a beautiful hotel and serves as an elegant backdrop for distinguished launches, receptions and conferences.
Recently, to mark London Fashion week, we hosted a champagne reception for Gladstn London to showcase their Everyday Friends collection and to launch their new collaboration with the internationally renowned milliner J Smith Esquire.
Gladstn and Rosewood London are on the same page. We have journeys and travel in common and our philosophies are synergistic. Gladstn creates luxury handmade leather handbags and luggage and have a passion for bespoke craftsmanship, drawing on quality, creativity, innovation and uniqueness.
Being a frequent business traveler, immaculate accessories and luggage are core to my lifestyle. I’ve seen the Gladstn London range and I’ve fallen for Mad Dash, in Portofino. It really makes you want to go for carry-on only!
Across the pond. My route most-travelled has to be London to New York. I used to live in Manhattan and we have many friends in the city. I fly there on business too – easily six or seven times a year. We’re also blessed to have our glamorous sister hotel there – The Carlyle on the Upper East Side.
Flying the friendly skies. I’ve been a Member of the BA Executive Club for many years. Always a window seat so I can daydream into the clouds. I rest, and catch up on movies on the flight so I can step off the plane stress-free and ready for meetings.
My favourite hotel. It has to be the Hôtel de Crillon, a Rosewood hotel, overlooking the Place de la Concorde, in Paris – the location is spectacular and the hotel has a timeless elegance.
My greatest feeling. Making my father proud, he was a wonderful hotelier and so supportive and proud of my achievements.
Proud moment. Becoming managing director of Rosewood London. My goal was to be become MD by the age of 40 – and I did that with a few years to spare!
When I do get away, it has to be the Maldives. Every year I make time to visit. It’s the only place I truly switch off.
I have a treasured possession I look forward to seeing when I return home from my travels. It’s a painting of the Queen by celebrated New York artist Hunt Slonem.
One thing though – you’ll never find me in tracksuit bottoms in front of the TV. I don’t do casual very well!