Claridge’s former manager dies aged 95: Ronald Jones, who started his hotelier career as a teen earning 16 schillings a week, catered to the whims of Hollywood stars and hosted royalty for three decades
- Ronald Jones was manager of Claridge’s in Mayfair, London, for 10 years
- Hotelier, who was born in Liverpool in 1926, began working as a teenager in 1940
- Went on to work at some of the country’s top hotels including Gleneagles
- Became general manager of Claridge’s and oversaw many royal visits and stays
- One such event was the Queen, 95, and Prince Philip’s 40th wedding anniversary
The former manager of Claridge’s, who for three decades catered to the whims of Hollywood stars and royalty, has died at the age of 95.
Ronald Fitzgerald Jones, who was born in Liverpool in 1926, began working in hotels as a teenager in 1940 when he was hired to work as an appointed junior control clerk at the prestigious Adelphi Hotel just a week after his father’s death.
He went on to work for some of the country’s most luxurious hotels, including Gleneagles and the Athenaeum Hotel in Piccadilly.
Three decades on, Jones was general manager of Claridge’s, which was also known as ‘Buckingham Palace annexe’, and on one of his first days observed three kings and three queens at breakfast.
Under Ronald’s watchful eye, Princess Margaret and The Queen Mother would dine, while the Queen and Prince Philip hosted parties, including their 40th wedding anniversary, at the hotel.
Ronald Fitzgerald Jones, who was born in Liverpool in 1926 and became the manager of Claridge’s and catered to the whims of Hollywood stars and royalty, has died at the age of 95
Ronald was the only child of Harry Jones and Margaret (née MacKenzie), both of whom worked in hospitality.
While Harry was responsible for catering on the royal train and on the London Midland and Scottish railway dining cars, his wife was manager of a pastry shop in Liverpool.
The family had more than one connection to royalty – Margaret’s grandfather was John Ban Mackenzie, a champion piper of Scotland whose fans included Queen Victoria.
Ronald also proved musically talented from a young age, learning to play piano as a young boy and winning a silver medal in the Liverpool Musical Festival playing Dance of the Dew Fairy in 1938.
However tragedy unfolded in the family when Harry died in 1940 from the effects of having been gassed in WWI.
Days later, Ronald, who was just 14-years-old, was interviewed for a job at the Adelphi Hotel.
Jones was general manager of Claridge’s, which was also known as ‘Buckingham Palace annexe’, and on one of his first days observed three kings and three queens at breakfast
The money-soaked secrets of Britain’s swankiest hotel and its celebrity guests
One of the managers of Claridge’s has a story he likes to tell about the world-famous hotel.
‘People used to ring up the telephone operators here,’ says Timothy Lock, ‘and they would ask: “Could I speak to the king?” and the operator would reply, “Which one?”.’
Over the past 150 years, Claridge’s — in the heart of London’s Mayfair — has played host to hundreds of heads of state.
With a night’s stay costing up to £7,000 — and afternoon tea £50 per head — it’s hardly surprising few manage to pass through its highly polished art deco portals.
It is not for nothing that the hotel is known as the ‘annexe to Buckingham Palace’.
The majority of guests have more conservative names, such as the American couple Jack and Norma Melchor, who have visited Claridge’s for 40 years.
It is returning guests like them the hotel especially values — which is why, it seems, every one of them is treated like royalty.
Whenever guests such as the Melchors stay, photographs are taken of the suite so it can be rearranged exactly how it was before when they return, and a profile is assembled of their tastes and desires.
In 2011, a Japanese pop star and her 35-strong entourage stayed in the hotel for a month. The singer insisted her room should have a Jacuzzi, so the hotel ripped out the existing bath, and replaced it with a top-of-the range bubbler.
Some guests say the colour of the room is not to their liking, in which case Claridge’s re-decorates the room for the course of the stay, and then returns it to how it was before.
Such a willing attitude comes into its own whenever Arab royalty comes to stay. In 2011, a princess and her retinue booked 40 rooms on the third floor.
Ten of the rooms had to be cleared of furniture to make way for dressing rooms and dining rooms. Some of the bedrooms were transformed into kitchens, and two entire suites were devoted just to storing shopping.
It took the hotel two days to make the changes, which they did even though the booking had not been confirmed. And, as a final touch, the princess insisted her mattress should be lined with four duvets, because she likes her bed to be soft.
Whenever a room is refurbished — which can cost up to £200,000 — senior members of the hotel staff spend a night in the room to ensure that everything is as it should be.
The room is examined from every angle to check nothing unsightly is visible. It is not acceptable for a guest to sit down on a chair only to be able to see a nest of untidy cabling under a desk. The slightest of scuff marks on a skirting board requires an urgent phone call to the decorating department.
Just over 400 people work at Claridge’s, all of whom are highly-trained, and many of whom have worked at the hotel for decades. Among them are those who work in the laundry — they wash 1,500 towels a day, nearly 550,000 per year.
The kitchen serves up more than 1,000 lobsters a year and 60,000 bottles of champagne are drunk.
More than 200 miles of corridors have to be vacuumed, and countless panes of glass and mirrors have to be cleaned regularly, with some requiring attention every few hours.
Some guests come to stay so often that the hotel stores their possessions. One of these is the sugar magnate Jose ‘Pepe’ Fanjul, who has stayed at the hotel for 300 nights over the past decade.
Mr Fanjul sees the hotel as a home from home, for whenever he stays he finds his dozens of suits and hats all positioned in exactly the same places as when he previously visited.
For guests such as Joan Collins, the appeal of the hotel lies in its evocation of a more sophisticated age.
‘There’s a feeling you’re not quite in the 21st century,’ she says. ‘It’s so pristine and wonderful, it’s as if it’s not from today.’
He was appointed the job of junior control clerk in accounts.
He earned just 16 schillings a week, writing in his 1997 memoir, the Grand Hotelier: ‘How could I have imagined, that first day, a nervous 15-year-old trainee at the Adelphi hotel, Liverpool, the rollercoaster of a ride that was to come?’
His manager would send the teenager on various jobs, including collect outstanding debt from a prostitute who had ruined one of the hotel’s Louis XV chairs with a client.
Meanwhile he was a witness when security staff suspected one guest of entertaining a member of the opposite sex.
According to The Times, he said: ‘I was the one who would blush to the roots at the sight of a Wren in full naval uniform, or not.’
There were also some nights he would listen to guests’ phone calls with the telephone operators, collecting salacious gossip.
He penned: ‘I was able to discover that the tenor Richard Tauber had numerous mistresses while he was married to the exquisite Diana Napier [and] Noël Coward used to have long, intimate conversations with Princess Marina, Duchess of Kent.’
He also recalled how celebrities were ‘ten a penny’ in the Adelphi’s French restaurant.
He remembered: ‘Michael Redgrave appeared in the uniform of an ordinary sailor before he was promoted to officer.’
Meanwhile he spotted ‘Laurence Olivier and breathtaking Vivien Leigh, and Jessie Matthews, Jack Buchanan, Ivor Novello and the pianist José Iturbi.’
The job also opened Ronald’s eyes to a different culture and lifestyle in Liverpool.
He was among hotel staff to receive complimentary tickets to Diamond Lil at the Empire Theatre from Mae West.
He worked as a wireless telegraphist with the navy on the King George V in the Far East during the war.
He remembered praying with dozens of other recruits in the ship’s chapel while they were bombarded with enemy fire.
He wrote: ‘At 19, huddled with dozens of other Royal Navy recruits in the chapel of the battleship King George V in mid-Pacific while a kamikaze pilot in a plane full of explosives did his best to end his own life and ours on our quarter-deck?
‘All I could do was pray I’d live to see 20!’
However he survived the war, and was present during the Japanese surrender in Tokyo Bay.
After VJ day, he sailed to Australia where he spent a year, before returning to the UK to become a hotel manager.
Upon his return to the UK, he met future-wife Jeanette Wood, whose father worked at the Adelphi, at her 21st birthday party.
They married in 1951 and had two sons: Graham, who lives in California, and Russell, an economist.
He completed his managerial apprenticeship at Gleneagles and immediately set about transforming both the Dornoch Hotel and Turnberry.
The father-of-two spent the next two decades working at 15 of British Transport Hotels’ properties.
But in 1970, he was invited to run the Royal Garden Hotel, overlooking Kensington Palace Gardens, by Michael de Marco, who had been his reception manager at Gleneagles.
He then oversaw the two year redevelopment of the 1930s Athenaeum Court apartment into the Hotel in Piccadilly.
The hotel immediately attracted Hollywood guests and has continued to have a star-studded clientele, including Steven Spielberg, Marlon Brando, Harrison Ford, Lauren Bacall, Liza Minnelli, Warren Beatty and Kim Kardashian.
The Hollywood Reporter observed that there were more movie stars to be seen in London’s Athenaeum than in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
When the American actress Maureen Stapleton checked out of the hotel, Jones heard her shriek: ‘Jeez-us. Three thousand dollars. And I didn’t even get to f*** the manager.’
While he was working at the luxury London hotel, Ronald’s wife Jean died from multiple sclerosis in 1975.
In 1977, Ronald was introduced to a journalist, Eve MacPherson, and two felt a spark ‘immediately.’
Eve told The Caterer: ‘My great friend John Tovey said: ‘There’s only one man you should write about first and that’s Ron Jones of the Athenaeum hotel in Piccadilly.
‘There is no finer hotelier in this country today.’
As a teenager, Ronald worked as a wireless telegraphist with the navy on the King George V in the Far East during the war (pictured)
‘John knew his hotels so I agreed to interview Ronald Jones, who said he’d give me 45 minutes one morning at 11am. We had lunch at 1.30. I returned for supper at 7.30.’
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She had been hoping to move to the US, but Ronald popped-the-question at one of the Queen’s Buckingham Palace garden parties, convincing her to stay.
She recalled: ‘A few months later we were married in the Queens Chapel of the Savoy.’
They continued to renew their vows in the chapel each year on Valentine’s Day.
He moved to Claridge’s in 1984, describing it as ‘like stepping on to the stage of a Gilbert and Sullivan comic opera towards the end of a long, long run: the scenery was badly in need of refurbishing, the audience had aged in its seats, the stars were fading and the chorus was in need of remotivating’.
Having gained experience of redeveloping multiple luxury hotels by this stage. he invested in refurbishment and profile building for Claridge’s.
The hotel had been founded in in 1812 as Mivart’s Hotel in a conventional London terraced house.
It became a favourite venue for the rich and famous, with well-known actors, directors, and entertainers choosing to stay at the hotel.
In his memoir The Moon’s a Balloon David Niven wrote that for film producer Alexander Korda, ‘Home was the penthouse at Claridge’s’.
Well-known guests include Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn, Alfred Hitchcock, Brad Pitt, Bruce Willis, U2 and Mariah Carey.
Claridge’s is known for hosting visiting royalty and guests of the Royal Family.
He moved to Claridge’s in 1984, and was general manager for 10 years, frequently brushing shoulders with royalty (pictured with the Queen and Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan of Abu Dhabi in 1987)
The late King Hassan of Morocco was known to travel with his own mattress, but at the hotel he used a Savoy Mattress. Impressed by the quality, he ordered 24 identical mattresses from the Savoy for his palace.
Ronald would get used to rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous, with the hotel becoming known as the ‘Buckingham Palace annexe’.
He had two lightbulbs on his desk, one of which was green and one of which was red.
The green light would illuminate when a guest arrived, while the red indicated royalty was at the hotel.
In 1987, the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh hosted a private party for their 40th wedding anniversary and he recalled: I don’t jump up for every green light.
‘But when the red light goes on, it means it’s a head of state…the red light glowed very, very brightly on that day’.
He said: ‘Royalty and heads of state are seldom difficult, although the recently elevated can be trying.’
Celebrities from Hollywood royalty to politicians have stayed at the luxury hotel (pictured, Jones greeting the Reagans at Claridge’s in 1993)
Ronald, who was general manager till 1994, spent a night sleeping in almost every one of the 190 rooms over the years in order to understand the hotel best.
He described working at Claridge’s as ‘the best possible climax to an exciting and eventful career’, adding: ‘A genuine interest in the welfare of both guests and staff is a prerequisite of good management.’
He was awarded the OBE in 1989, was a visiting fellow of Oxford Brookes University, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Derby, and became one of the early intakes of the Master Innholders.
Meanwhile he also served as a Director of Dormy House hotel in Broadway, Worcestershire, from 1995 to 2010.
Ve-gone! Claridge’s sack star chef at £150-a-head restaurant after he suggests turning the menu fully plant-based, declaring ‘this is not the path we wish to follow’
Claridge’s star chef has been sacked from his £150-a-head restaurant because bosses refuse to allow him to turn the restaurant fully vegan.
Daniel Humm, 45, will leave his post at Davies and Brook at the end of December following tense talks with the five-star hotel’s management.
The vegan chef wanted to create a fully plant-based kitchen at the hotel’s fine-dining restaurant.
But bosses said ‘this is not the path we wish to follow here at Claridge’s at the moment’ in a statement posted to Twitter.
The hotel and Mr Humm have ‘mutually’ decided to part ways as the US-born chef aims to bring a ‘bold new vision’ of fully plant-based eating to London.
The statement added: ‘We wish to thank Daniel Humm and his extraordinary team at Davies and Brook for what they have created here at Claridge’s since they opened in 2019, gaining accolades along the way under challenging circumstances.
Daniel Humm (pictured), 45, will leave his post at Davies and Brook at the end of December following tense talks with the five-star hotel’s management
‘We completely respect and understand the culinary direction of a fully plant-based menu that Daniel has decided to embrace and champion and now wants to introduce to London.
‘However, this is not the path we wish to follow here at Claridge’s at the moment, and therefore, regretfully, we have mutually decided to go our separate ways.
‘Daniel has been a long standing friend of the hotel for many years and we wish him nothing but continued success as he spearheads this bold new vision.
‘Davies and Brook will continue to operate under his direction until the end of December 2021, and we will update on future plans at Claridge’s in due course.’
Yesterday one hotel insider told the Daily Mail’s Richard Eden ‘it’s a nightmare’. They added: ‘Bosses are terrified that Humm will leave if his demands are not met, which would mean they would be without him during the Christmas season, their busiest time of year.
The hotel and Mr Humm have ‘mutually’ decided to part ways as the US-born chef aims to bring a ‘bold new vision’ of fully plant-based eating to London
Yesterday one hotel insider told the Daily Mail’s Richard Eden ‘it’s a nightmare’. They added: ‘Bosses are terrified that Humm will leave if his demands are not met.’ Pictured, Claridge’s
‘But if they turn the restaurant vegan, they will upset thousands of regular guests.’
It comes after Mr Humm turned the £250-a-head menu at his three-Michelin-starred New York restaurant, Eleven Madison Park, plant-based.
Items on the menu now include cucumber with melon and smoked daikon; fried pepper with Swiss chard; and courgette with lemongrass and tofu.
Meanwhile, a four-course menu at the Claridge’s menu Davies And Brook, costs £125 a head and includes caviar; roasted venison with beetroot; and foie gras with black truffle.
A Claridge’s spokesman yesterday said the hotel was in talks with Mr Humm. ‘We are constantly reviewing the offerings at Davies And Brook, including the possible introduction of a fully plant-based menu,’ they said.
Mr Humm recently attended the Cop26 eco summit in Glasgow, where he said his mission in life was ‘to make plant-based food delicious, magical and luxurious’.
He added: ‘It’s better for our planet and our health.’
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