A Nobel Prize for a Grand Hotel; Simon Heptinstall Samples the Laureates' Life in Stockholm

Article excerpt

Byline: SIMON HEPTINSTALL

LADIES and Gentlemen,' announced the esteemed head of the Swedish Academy, 'this year's Nobel Prize Winner for Literature is Simon Heptinstall for his excellent travel articles in The Mail on Sunday.' The cheers rang out as I stood to receive the world's greatest writing prize. The international recognition was, of course, no more than I deserved. The million-pound cheque would come in handy, too.

But, as I waved to the crowds, it seemed that the trumpet fanfares were sounding increasingly like bells. Then I woke up. It was my alarm clock.

Oh well, it's easy to have ambitious dreams when you are sleeping in the Nobel Suite in Stockholm's Grand Hotel. This magnificent four-roomed penthouse is where the Nobel Literature prize winner is put up before the awards ceremony each year.

Tomorrow the British writer V. S. Naipaul will become the 100th recipient of the Nobel Literature Prize and today is staying in the room I occupied a few days ago. I can picture him anxiously pacing around the glass-topped coffee table practising his acceptance speech - there's a copy of Alfred Nobel's will on the wall to remind him of what it's all about.

Or he may be calming his nerves in the giant whirlpool bath under its glass-domed roof or enjoying the private mosaic-tiled sauna cubicle. But if he tries to hide in the bedroom, with its wonderful view over the Royal Palace across the harbour, there will be a stern portrait of Alfred Nobel staring down at him.

This week the Nobel prize winners get the best rooms at the Grand - but during the rest of the year ordinary guests like me get to stay in them. The Nobel Suite, though, costs a hefty [pound]740 a night.

Do many people really go on holiday to use the bath where Samuel Beckett wallowed in 1969 or to eat breakfast in the rooms where Einstein ate in 1921?

We don't hear that much in the UK about the Nobel prizes but, in Sweden, tomorrow's presentation and dinner are the biggest events of the year. There are five hours of live TV coverage, tickets are almost as valuable as a Nobel prize and the winners are treated like royalty for a whole week of ceremonies.

So what's the story behind these unique global honours? The Nobel Museum in Stockholm's old town clearly explains (in English) how the Nobel prizes have been awarded since 1901 as decreed in the will of Alfred Nobel, the multimillionaire Swedish inventor of dynamite.

Every year panels of experts award gigantic cash prizes from Nobel's legacy to individuals who have excelled in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and the promotion of peace. The winners should 'have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind', said Nobel. To encourage them he left a big chunk of his fortune.

This year's prizes are worth more than [pound]1 million each.

The museum's special centenary exhibition turned out to be a world-class presentation of the Nobel story. There's an overhead conveyor belt dangling portraits of the prize winners, continuous shows of excellent short films about famous winners, interactive computer terminals, audio tapes and lovely old news footage.

THE daunting list of Nobel Laureates over the past 99 years includes Nelson Mandela, Winston Churchill, Alexander-Fleming, Lech Walesa, Marie Curie, Martin Luther King, Einstein and Mother Teresa.

And the Literature prize winners include some of the truly great writers such as Hemingway, Kipling, Golding, Solzhenitsyn, Galsworthy and George Bernard Shaw.

As well as the cash prize, a gold medal and a posh dinner, the Nobel Foundation traditionally pays for the award winners to stay in the most luxurious and historic hotel in Stockholm.

The Grand has stood for 125 years on a quayside in the heart of one of Europe's most picturesque capitals. There's an old- fashioned grandeur throughout and some of the rooms look as though they belong in a stately home. …