Be our guest... at The Savoy, like the royals, rich and famous

Midleton man, Ruairi O’Farrell is one of 550 staff at The Savoy Hotel in London, loved by the royals, rich and famous. CHRIS DUNNE catches up with him at the luxurious venue to talk about his chosen career, £20,000 mattresses and some unusual guest requests.
Be our guest... at The Savoy, like the royals, rich and famous
Ruairi O'Farrell who works at The Savoy London

RUAIRI O’ Farrell’s role in Guest Relations might see him walk 5km in a day at The Savoy Hotel, London; but when he put down Hotel Management on his CAO form, he landed on his feet.

“I was working during the summer at a local restaurant, Raymonds, in Midleton,” says Ruairi, 24. “I liked it and I thought the hospitality industry was the way to go. When I was accepted at Shannon College of Hotel Management, I was delighted. The course covers all aspects of hotel, restaurant and bar management.

“Hotel Adalon Kempinski, near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, was my first placement. That was a great experience where I learned to stand on my own two feet. I worked long hours, which is the nature of the job.”

When he completed his second year at Shannon College, Ruairi worked at Dromoland Castle and then headed Stateside to the millionaire’s playground of Nantucket, courtesy of his J1 visa.

“The Secretary-of-State is a member at The Great Harbour Yacht Club,” says Ruairi. “JFK was a former member of the club.”

Ruairi mingled with the rich and famous, giving him a taste of things to come — as he would later join the Savoy Hotel in London where Winston Churchill brought his cabinet to lunch during WW2.

“Nantucket was the perfect place to spend an idyllic summer,” says Ruairi. “I explored Nantucket beach and I cycled a lot. The members at the club were friendly and I got invited to sail with some of them. They were genuinely interested in getting to know you and there was a family atmosphere at the club. I would have stayed if I could!”

Ruairi felt quite at home.

“You tailored yourself to the people you mixed with,” says Ruairi. “Discretion was key to building trusting relationships with everyone.”

Back home, Ruairi’s fourth and final year was beckoning. He heard good things from his friends about the world-famous Savoy Hotel in London, which is part of the Fairmont group.

“I did the interview for the job and after my final exams, I moved to London in June 2016.”

Ruairi found himself in salubrious surroundings, frequented by royalty. The rich and powerful were among the guests who booked into the lavishly furnished rooms.

“Richard Harris lived here for a few years before his death,” says Ruairi, who gives me a grand guided tour of his workplace.

“When he was carried out on a stretcher when he was ill; he still had a wicked sense of humour. “It must be the food!” he said.

With the Savoy theatre right next door, screen idols were, and continue to be, regular patrons of The Savoy.

“Oscar Wilde, Charlie Chaplin, Joan Crawford, Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Humphrey Bogart, Bob Dylan, Barbara Streisand, The Beatles, all stayed at The Savoy,” says Ruairi, who is familiar with the history of the hotel.

“Laurence Olivier met Vivien Leigh here and The Savoy was the first place where Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh were photographed together.”

What about more recent famous guests?

“The Rolling Stones were here recently,” says Ruairi. “In early June. They took over the whole 5th floor.”

The rock and roll group are more sedate these days.

“They still like to party,” says Ruairi. “But it’s mostly their roadies and the crew now who stay up until the early hours painting the town red.

The Savoy Hotel, London
The Savoy Hotel, London

“Tom Jones was here too recently. He is a gentleman. Mel Brooks booked into The Savoy last year while Young Frankenstein was showing in the West End. David Letterman is arriving tomorrow.”

The Royal Suite is occupied on a regular basis, as is the deluxe rooms at £5,000 (sterling) a night. One sleep in the royal bed, complete with £20,000 Savoir mattress, would set you back a cool £14,000 pounds sterling. But you’ have your own 24 hour butler.

“Many Heads of State book into the Royal Suite,” says Ruairi, showing me the separate entrance to the suite used by the butler.

“They also have access to the Savoy’s exclusive Rolls Royce. Dinner can be prepared in the hotel kitchen for your private dinner party here in the Royal Suite and the butler will serve the food to your guests. The butlers receive the same training as the cabin crew of Etihad Airlines, who are trained here at the hotel.”

If I didn’t want my own butler, or I wasn’t too fussy about the mattress; or desire a river view, how much would I expect to pay to stay at the Savoy for one night?

“£500 pounds B&B,” says Ruairi.

“The Edwardian Suites on the North Strand side are £1,500 to £ 2,000 pounds a night.”

Who are the guests who pay £5,000 a night?

“Usually, they tend to be guests from the USA or from the Middle East,” says Ruairi.

Big bucks are spent for the very special occasions.

“People might book a room for a ‘big birthday’, or for that ‘once-in-a- lifetime’ experience,” says Ruairi.

“For some, staying at The Savoy is on their bucket list. Special celebrations like a bar mitzvah are popular here. Some guests prefer to book The Personality Suite, where movie icons stayed and where some of their memorabilia is a feature in the room.”

Mutts can book in as well.

“Dogs under 20 kilos are welcome,” says Ruairi. “We have doggie baskets and we offer an exclusive doggie menu. A dog-walking service is available.”

Ruairi is one of 550 staff in the 267 room hotel.

“My job involves making sure the guest is fully catered for pre-arrival, during their stay, and post-stay. I make sure all their requirements are filled.

“Man-power and meticulous organisation help keep the hotel up to first-class standards. Maintenance is done overnight so none of the guests are disturbed.”

The Savoy Hotel, the first luxury hotel in Britain, was opened on August 6, 1889, and underwent a multi-million revamp in 2007.

The Red Lift is an original feature in The Savoy.

“The Red Lift is the original lift here since the 1800s,” says Ruairi. “One could enjoy a brandy on the nine minute journey from top to bottom, and a plush red seat was installed inside.”

Does anyone currently live at the hotel?

“We have two residents staying with us at present,” say Ruairi. “One lady requested her summer wardrobe be delivered to her suite. I went to her flat and swapped her winter clothes for her summer ones.”

The other resident has a different request. Ruairi smiles.

“Yes, the lady likes to bathe in goat’s milk. A goat farmer in Wales supplies us with the milk for the baths.”

All in day’ work?

“All in a day’s work,” says Ruairi.

Weddings parties often frequent The Savoy.

“Yes, couples get married in Town Hall, Chelsea, and then get the boat on the river embarking at the embankment for their wedding reception at one of our world-famous function rooms or ballrooms,” says Ruairi.

“Many famous fashion houses hosted fashion shows here in the opulent Lancaster Ballroom and lots of society parties were held here.”

The American Bar is home to the orginal Amercian Book of Cocktails, published by one of the Savoy’s first bar-tenders, Harry Crocket.

“The book has been updated over the years,” says Ruairi.

“A lot of the original cocktails served in the American Bar are still popular today. The book became the cocktail bible,” says Ruairi.

“Patrons like to enjoy a pre-theatre cocktail or a glass of champagne in the iconic American Bar or the Beaufort Bar.

“The Savoy Royal afternoon tea experience is renowned. Simpsons, just next door, was favoured by Winston Churchill, who liked to play chess at the club. Today, it serves up traditional English fare like steak and kidney pie.”

London taxis pull up constantly outside the magnificent courtyard.

“The courtyard is the recognised turning point for London taxis,” says Ruairi.

Some guests like to be discreet.

“Yes, there is a side entrance for guests who want to remain anonymous or who value their privacy,” says Ruairi.

“The Queen Mother often opted for the private side entrance when she came here. Often, you can see a security presence around the entrance when Royalty or foreign diplomats are due to arrive or leave from here.”

Ruairi feels like he has arrived. Living and working in the Big Smoke agrees with him.

“London is great,” says Ruairi, who lives in Clapham.

“In this business you build up a network of Irish friends quickly. It’s great to catch up and socialise with them when I’m off from work. We go for drinks or go to a show. I’ve never looked back since I filled up my CAO form. The hospitality industry was a good choice of career for me.”

Ruairi comes back to his home near Midleton often.

Does he get the royal treatment at home?

“Mam looks after me really well,” says Ruairi. “I love her home-made brown bread with a cup of Barrys tea.”

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