Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Master of the Oriental

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Master of the Oriental

Article excerpt

Byline: JOHN GIBB

IN the cool, cavernous lobby a string quartet is playing the Londonderry Air as a tall cove in a smart suit walks over and says, "Hello."ItisKurt Wachtveitl, legendary manager of the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok, rated by many as the best hotel in the world and just voted second best in Zagat's 2001 Top International Hotels, Resorts and Spas. The Oriental opened its doors in 1875 and Kurt was appointed manager in 1968.

What makes him special is the raffish ambience he has managed to preserve while providing an extraordinary level of service. He's an oldfashioned operator who believes in the personal touch and it is undoubtedly because of his vision that the Oriental has become known as the best hotel in the world.

Secrets are part of his job.

"Well, if you look at the people who have stayed here: Margaret Thatcher, George Bush, The Duke of Edinburgh, Douglas Fairbanks, Peter Ustinov, Charles and Diana, endless statesmen, artists, actors, politicians. Of course we know things, but we must be discreet. I never break a confidence." As if to disprove his point, he launches into a scurrilous story about John le Carr?, making me promise to keep it to myself.

The Oriental strikes me as a place for intrigue and naughtiness, pleasure and self-indulgence. The old part of the hotel has been kept much as it was.

It has the charm of a set from Salad Days; cool, with lettuce-coloured slatted shutters and succulent palm trees. Tucked away in a corner is a discreet salon cluttered with black-

and-white photographs of authors, piles of books and a battered oak desk where you can write letters and postcards in peace. I had retreated here on previous visits, not realising that it had been renamed The Jeffrey Archer Reading Room.

It is where Kurt invites me to tea with platefuls of cucumber sandwiches individually wrapped in greaseproof paper.

I asked him why Lord Archer has been honoured.

"He's a great storyteller and I like his books. I buy them at airports and read them on long-haul flights. He is charming; took me to the House of Lords and for drinks in his penthouse in Peninsular Heights. …

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