Kensington’s Royal Garden Hotel was there for England’s finest footballing hour and 50 years later it’s still a champion venue
Words: Stuart Derrick Photos: Miles Willis
Spring has not quite arrived as I head along High Street Kensington towards the five-star Royal Garden Hotel
. Like some of the glamorous ladies on nearby Kensington Church Street, it’s a little older than it looks and I’m surprised to learn that it’s celebrating its 50th anniversary. In the hotel’s case it’s had a bit of help, having been refaced in 1997. I can’t vouch for the ladies of Kensington.
The hotel opened in 1966, which was also the last time England hosted, and won, the football World Cup. It’s a date that the Royal Garden is making no little fuss of as it was the official hotel for the championship, and the England team celebrated its victory in the final here.
To commemorate both these 50th anniversaries, the hotel aims to raise £50,000 for the Bobby Moore Fund this year. England legends Sir Geoff Hurst, Gordon Banks, George Cohen and Martin Peters revisited the hotel with the Jules Rimet trophy earlier this year, and other commemorative events are planned. Groups can also book special Bobby Moore room packages, and the hotel’s Bertie’s Bar will be renamed the Bobby Moore Bar in July.
Following in the footsteps of the boys of ’66, sports teams have continued to be drawn to the 394-room hotel. It was one of the IRB’s official hotels for last year’s Rugby World Cup. Australia stayed during the last Ashes – as a signed shirt on an eighth-floor wall attests. Premiership teams regularly make it their base. Steve McClaren was recently in for one of his last matches as manager of Newcastle – a 5-1 battering by Chelsea.
If you’re meeting in the hotel, I’d arrive early and grab a drink in the mezzanine Bertie’s Bar – it’s good for people-watching. It’s a classic hotel bar with large, wingback leather armchairs to sink into. The bar can also be grouped with the nearby Lancaster and York suites for events. Sports teams use the suites for pre- and post-match meals when they need privacy and even set up physio sessions in them. I’d use the naturally lit York suite for a conference with Bertie’s providing a nice mingling point for registration, coffee breaks and lunch. The Lancaster would make an excellent breakout space.
MEET AT THE GARDEN
The main event space on the lower ground floor forms a discrete entity with its own dedicated entrance. Guests for a red-carpet event will feel the atmosphere from the off as they descend into the Palace Suites where the 1966 World Cup draw was made.
There are eight event spaces in this area as well as washrooms and a cloakroom. It’s a really flexible, interconnected space that groups can make their own. As I look around, a bursary fundraising lunch is being set up in the main Palace Suite. Organisers are displaying artworks on the lobby walls to give a flavour of the work of students. Smaller rooms can be used for breakouts. Guests can assemble in the spacious foyer area outside the main function hall where twin bars are available to serve guests. This area could really be cooking as the reception space for an awards event or gala dinner.
The main suite itself offers plenty of staging options with 30 rigging points on the 4m-high ceiling. A loading bay at the back means that set-up won’t be disruptive for the rest of the hotel. Cars and even speedboats have been brought in. A conference could be quickly turned around for an evening event. Many of the staff at the Royal Garden are long-time employees and have in-depth knowledge of how the venue works best. Operations manager Alan has been here for almost 20 years.
One regular visitor is the International Live Music Conference (ILMC), which has held its annual get-together at the hotel for the past 15 years. The location near famous music venues such as the Royal Albert Hall, Hammersmith Apollo and Shepherd’s Bush Empire makes it something of a rockers’ retreat. Rod Stewart, Neil Young, Justin Bieber and Bob Dylan are just a handful of the stars who’ve enjoyed room service here.
The higher up the building you go, the better the views of London. You can also track the evidence of famous guests in the form of signed pictures and mementos, such as those left by Elton John’s band and Justin Bieber on floor seven. Rather than throwing the TV out of the window like a 70s rock star, Bieber left his autograph on the wall of his room, so the wallpaper was removed and framed.
Onwards and upwards to the tenth floor, where the pre-lunch aromas emanating from the hotel’s Chinese restaurant, Min Jiang
, make me feel decidedly peckish. Unlike many hotel restaurants, Min Jiang is a destination in its own right. Its private dining space seats 20 and is behind a glass wall, so you don’t miss out on the sweeping views of Hyde Park. It’s worth ordering the signature wood-fired Peking duck in advance: it’s great for sharing and breaking the ice.
Those without a head for heights, or a taste for Chinese cuisine, may wish to try the ground-floor Park Terrace
. The food in the 40-cover private dining space is modern British, and the space is flooded with light thanks to massive picture windows.
As I return to the lobby, I can’t help but think all this could be a good omen for the Euros this summer. Come on England!
ROYAL GARDEN HOTEL FACTS
+ The hotel was purpose-built and designed by Richard Seifert, the architect behind such modernist statements as Centre Point, the Nat West Tower and Euston Station.
+ During its 50 years, around 7.5m guests have stayed at the hotel.
+ The 394-room property is the largest independent five-star hotel in London.
+ Royal guests have included the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, who met Singapore’s president, Tony Tan Keng Yam, here in 2014.
+ The hotel hosted 40 sumo wrestlers in 1991, the first time that a sumo tournament had taken place outside Japan. The management had to weight-test the lavatories, reinforce beds and chairs and fit special detachable showers for the rikishi (contestants).
+ Before the hotel was refaced in the 90s, rooms had balconies, which must have been a bit of a health and safety concern when hellraising rock stars were in residence.
Located on a dedicated floor, the main conference space seats 550 theatre style or 430 for dinner. It subdivides into the Buckingham and St James suites, and has its own foyer.
Composed of the linked Albert and Victoria suites, the Kensington serves as an additional conference area for 140, or two breakouts for 80 delegates each.
The larger of two boardrooms that can be used as breakout space for conferences, or as an office for organisers. It seats 24, while the smaller Chelsea room next door takes 14.
On a mezzanine above the hotel entrance, the naturally lit York Suite seats 150.
Adjacent to the York, this 100-seat room is often hired in conjunction as a breakout space or for meals. It can also be linked with Bertie’s Bar.
Balmoral & Highgrove Boardrooms
These two naturally lit executive boardrooms on the second floor provide space for 30 and 15 guests respectively.
Both Park Terrace (40 covers) and Min Jiang (20) offer light and airy private dining spaces.
Royal Garden Hotel
2-24 Kensington High Street, W8 4PT | 020 7937 8000
This article was first published in Squaremeal Venues + Events, Spring 2016