st alfeges (2/7)

Five’s documentary series examining failing hotels in the UK returns to take another look at some of the establishments that featured in earlier programmes. Following on from the first visit of hotelier and author Ruth Watson, this week’s show sees the cameras return to Greenwich in South London to see how actor-hotelier Robert Gray has changed his three-bedroom B&B.

Actor Robert Gray turned his home into St Alfeges B&B five years ago to maintain the cashflow between acting jobs. A former antiques dealer, he filled his house with unusual art and objects and decorated with flair and personality – but he was the first to admit that the ‘shabby-chic’ look was starting to just look shabby. “I think we need a facelift,” he confessed before Ruth’s first visit.

Robert called in Ruth to assess his hotel and come up with a plan to keep it performing to a full house. Upon arrival, however, Ruth was not impressed by the B&B’s exterior – a lack of signage caused much confusion, and massively overgrown bushes made it hard to even get to the front door.

Ruth finally managed to get inside and have a chat with Robert about the B&B’s problems. The first issue she raised was Robert’s website, which described the hotel as a “cheap, gay B&B in central London”. “If ever there was a more tacky message than that, I think you’d be hard-pressed to find it!” said Ruth, adding that his description may alienate straight guests and give the wrong message. Ruth approved of the bedrooms’ décor, but expressed concern that only one had an ensuite bathroom. Inside the en suite was an unpleasant surprise: an awful smell emanating from the shower. “Something has died in there!” she exclaimed. “That is just evil!”

Despite these issues, Ruth saw that St Alfeges had a lot of potential and set about helping Robert to remedy the problems. He agreed to add a discreet sign in keeping with the building’s character, and tidy up his “madcap garden”. He also resolved to revamp the B&B’s marketing by changing the website and applying to be included in a prestigious guidebook – ‘Alastair Sawday’s Special Places to Stay’. Inclusion in this guide to idiosyncratic and individual places would bring in more guests who would appreciate the hotel’s unusual charms. Ruth also suggested that Robert offer guided tours of Greenwich as an additional service – which would utilise his acting skills and his knowledge of the area.

As far as the bathroom situation went, Ruth had a dramatic suggestion: knock the tiny bedroom and its neighbour into one, which would give Robert two large en-suite rooms and allow him to charge more. But when she returned a few weeks later, she was unimpressed to discover that Robert had decided to install a tiny en suite in the smallest room. “Oh Rob, come on…” she pleaded. “This is silly.”

A few days later, St Alfeges was a hive of activity: Alastair Sawday himself was soon to visit to see if Robert’s B&B was good enough for inclusion in his guidebook. A new sign had been painted; the garden was much tidier; and work was going ahead on the new en suite. Robert fully expected another battle with Ruth about the tiny room: “I can’t wait!” he said, grimly. However, when Ruth saw the finished product she was forced to grudgingly admit that it looked good. Some months after Ruth’s first visit, the Hotel Inspector returns to Robert’s establishment to see what changes he has made to his business. Is the place still in need of a facelift? Has Robert won a coveted place in Alastair Sawday’s guidebook? And has he managed to master the art of promoting his hotel online?

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