The series that transforms failing hotels concludes. Alex Polizzi, whose family owns the renowned Rocco Forte group of hotels, is on a mission to change the fortunes of some of Britain’s most calamitous establishments. This week, Alex takes on one of her toughest cases yet as she attempts to convince a reluctant owner to clear out her hopelessly cluttered guesthouse in the South East.
Award-winning hotelier Alex Polizzi is on a quest to salvage some of Britain’s worst-run hotels and bed-and-breakfast establishments. As the granddaughter of Lord Forte and the niece of Sir Rocco Forte, Alex has all the industry experience and authority needed to turn flagging hotels into profitable ventures. She trained at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, worked for Marco Pierre White at the Criterion, and has done stints at Rocco Forte hotels in Cardiff, Rome and St Petersburg, as well as setting up her mother’s successful hotel, Tresanton, in Cornwall. She is now the proprietor of the prestigious Hotel Endsleigh in Devon.
This week, Alex visits a nine-bedroom guesthouse in Folkestone. Garden Lodge is only two miles from the Channel Tunnel and should be getting a healthy passing trade. But business is in decline and owners Sue and Ron Cooper desperately need help.
From the outside, the hotel seems perfectly acceptable. It is only when Alex steps inside that she gets a sense of the problem – overwhelming clutter. The dining room and living room are stuffed with personal items and so-called ‘collectables’, including stamps, figurines, commemorative plates and toby jugs. “You don’t really know where to look first, do you?” admits Sue.
The over-cluttered public areas soon become the primary battleground between Alex and the fiercely protective Sue. Alex describes her collections as “loony” and tries to make Sue see that the effect is overpowering. “It makes me feel slightly sick – there’s just so much stuff,” she says.
The clutter soon reveals a sad personal story. Sue lost her brother in the Bali bombings and much of the clutter is a tribute to him. Whilst taking care with this delicate issue, Alex wants to convince Sue that the only way to save the business is to declutter, depersonalise and clean the guesthouse from top to bottom.
Unfortunately, Sue disagrees, claiming that the guests enjoy the hotel’s personal charm. “People normally say, ‘Oh I love all this stuff, it’s so much to look at and it’s just so homely,’” she insists. “They love it.” On her second visit, Alex finds Sue has resisted all efforts to depersonalise the living room and instead wants to build a conservatory at the back of the dining room to house even more junk. Alex decides to gather evidence from guests to persuade Sue that she is wrong in her beliefs. She films a secret survey and plays Sue the results, but the stubborn owner accuses Alex of telling the respondents what to say.
Ahead of her third visit, Alex sends Sue the somewhat cheeky present of an empty skip, hinting that she might like to have a big clear-out. However, an offended Sue declares she has nothing that needs throwing away and tells the driver to take the skip back. Matters are not improved when Sue accuses Alex of having been born with a silver spoon in her mouth. “She’s got to prove to me what she wants to do is going to work,” Sue says. “Because I still don’t think Alex understands what a family-run guesthouse is.”
Eventually, Alex persuades Sue to allow a trial makeover of her dining room, albeit with a Balinese theme. Local businesses are invited for a re-launch party and the new look proves a success. But how long will Sue leave it that way after Alex has left?