We all know money can’t buy you love. But, my goodness, it can make you rude, lonely, unhappy, resentful, self-absorbed — and thoroughly unenviable.
And in case we need reminding just how impoverished the wealthy can be, it’s simply a question of tuning into the latest must-see TV series, The White Lotus.
This six-parter is now the most talked-about show, with a feel-good factor entirely generated by the ghastliness of its over-privileged characters, for whom spending £20,000 a night for a sea-view suite in Hawaii is like ordering an extra shot in their morning coffee.
In case we need reminding just how impoverished the wealthy can be, it’s simply a question of tuning into the latest must-see TV series, The White Lotus
They are so awful that you don’t want to miss an excruciating minute. And while people have not been able to travel freely for the past 18 months, this HBO comedy drama — launched here on Sky Atlantic — makes the case for thinking you might be better off at home with the cat on your lap rather than be surrounded by this lot.
A group of entitled Americans arrive at their five-star hotel — actually the Four Seasons on the island of Maui — to be greeted by the gay Australian general manager and recovering addict, Armond.
Think Basil Fawlty, but funnier and better dressed, as he smiles at guests from one side of his mouth and with contempt from the other.
They include the Mossbacher family (four of them, plus a friend of one of the teenagers); Shane and Rachel, on a disastrous honeymoon; and the middle-aged Tanya who, upon arrival, needs a massage now, even though there are no slots until the next day.
Alexandra Daddario (pictured) stars as Rachel in the HBO show
This poses a problem for Armond and his team, who are under strict instructions to cater to a guest’s every demand. But, then, that’s what is supposed to happen in five-star hotels across the world.
‘When people are paying thousands of pounds a night they expect to get exactly what they want and when they want it. And the tiniest mistake can become a huge issue,’ says a former general manager (GM) of a luxury hotel in the Caribbean.
Consider the case of the American who went on holiday in St Lucia with his wife and mistress, with neither knowing the other was there.
Fortunately, the property was large enough to keep the women in separate villas, while the guest raced between each room on resort buggies.
This six-parter is now the most talked-about show, with a feel-good factor entirely generated by the ghastliness of its over-privileged characters, for whom spending £20,000 a night for a sea-view suite in Hawaii is like ordering an extra shot in their morning coffee
‘The staff were fully briefed to do everything in their power to ensure there were no accidental meetings,’ says the hotel GM, who wishes not to be identified.
Meticulous itineraries of spa treatments, fitness activities and experiences were curated for each lady so the gentleman could manage their time and his.
One lady would sunbathe on the main beach, the other would be tucked away on the more private strip of sand at the opposite end of the property. A personal time manager was appointed to remind the gentleman which lady he should be seeing and where to meet her. By the end of the holiday, the man was a wreck and the staff were exhausted.
But demands must be met. At Dukes hotel, off London’s St James’s Street, a regular guest from New York stays in The Duke of Clarence Suite, which starts at £1,249 a night. He is known to staff as a SAG (Special Attention Guest) — and for good reason.
Alcohol is to be removed from his minibar and replaced with prune juice and Mars bars.
Paradise lost: Sydney Sweeney plays the Mossbachers’ daughter
On the table, there must be a glass bowl with kiwi and dragon fruit in it, plus pomegranate in a separate container.
He requires a bowl of Jelly Babies, barbecue-flavoured crisps and, as a cigar smoker, an ashtray left on a particular corner of the balcony table. Another Dukes guest insists on all TVs being removed from his suite, only sparkling water in the minibar, and if any magazines or leaflets are on display… well, it doesn’t bear thinking about.
A GM friend of mine would rather forget the guest who, she says, ‘holds the record for being the most demanding person I have ever had the misfortune to deal with’.
Even before her arrival, this woman was making daily calls to outline expectations and itemise her requirements.
Hotel shows you have to check out
Crossroads (1964-1988, and 2001-2003): Set in a motel in the Birmingham area, this soap was the favourite show of Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s wife, Mary. It starred Noele Gordon as kindly but brusque owner Meg, with Jane Rossington as her daughter Jill. Victoria Wood lovingly sent up its wobbly sets and wooden dialogue in Acorn Antiques.
Fawlty Towers (1975-1979): One of the best-loved sitcoms of all time, and still repeated on BBC1 despite controversies over its gleeful lack of political correctness, this comedy set in a Torquay hotel was inspired when John Cleese (right) and his Monty Python chums stayed in a seaside B&B with an eccentric, irascible proprietor.
The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011): Based on a novel by Deborah Moggach, this movie starred a clutch of national treasures — including Maggie Smith, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton and Bill Nighy — as retired Brits who set up home in a hotel in Jaipur, India. A sequel followed in 2015, as well as a series of BBC1 reality shows with celebrities such as Miriam Margolyes and Bill Oddie.
Hotel Babylon (2006-2009): Tamzin Outhwaite plays the general manager of a five-star hotel in London, where her staff cope with everything from bailiffs to terrorists. Max Beesley is the ambitious receptionist and Dexter Fletcher plays the put-upon concierge. The fourth series ended on a cliffhanger, and fans were outraged when it was then cancelled.
The Night Manager (2016): John Le Carre’s novel became a spectacular one-off series starring Hugh Laurie as arms dealer Dicky Roper and Tom Hollander as his spiteful fixer. Their crime ring is infiltrated by a former special forces soldier, Jonathan Pine (Tom Hiddleston) — who is working as the night manager of a Cairo hotel.
‘There was to be a bowl of Smarties, but blue only, a bottle of Dom Perignon opened no more than ten seconds before she stepped in the door of her villa, specific toys and free gifts for her toddler, truffles made from a specific exotic cocoa bean from South America, and the villa pool had to be set at a specific temperature — she brought her own thermometer to check.’
I know first-hand how easy it is to become spoilt. After getting married for the second time, I whisked my wife off on a five-star trip to India, followed by a few days in a Maldives resort with over-the-water suites. At each hotel, we were handed a refrigerated towel to mop our brows, in what became a protracted ceremony.
Shamefully, at a hotel in Agra where we were staying to see the Taj Mahal, I complained the towel I was given was too cold. ‘I can’t believe you said that,’ my mortified wife said later.
But such are the unpleasant side effects of injecting yourself with too much luxury.
And what happens if you’ve saved up for years to stay in an absurdly expensive hotel and find yourselves trying to avoid an obnoxious family such as the Mossbachers? Paradise quickly becomes hell, but with comfier beds. Our stay in the Maldives coincided with that of four couples who were so loud, louche and drunk each night in the restaurant that we dreaded turning up for dinner.
Instead, we cowered in our room and ordered room service — even more expensive.
I feel sorry for the GM of a hotel on a private Seychelles island who was told by a guest, who hated the food, that she wanted tins of sweetcorn. There was none of the kind she wanted in the Seychelles. She wasn’t happy. Threatening behaviour ensued before the GM managed to fly in a crate of the stuff from Dubai.
This strikes a chord with a GM friend who used to be in charge of a hotel in Paris. He often saw his role as being a peacemaker.
‘One day, a regular guest booked a top suite for him and his mistress. While they were at dinner his suspecting wife turned up at reception and asked for a key to the suite after showing her passport — as is normal practice,’ he said.
The wife waited in the room until they returned in the early hours, whereupon she started screaming and throwing things, waking up guests and causing pandemonium. ‘Eventually I managed to persuade the woman to come to my office where I tried to calm her down. By the end of the night I felt more like a therapist than a hotel manager.’
In The White Lotus, staff must make guests feel like ‘the special chosen baby child of the hotel’. But we know there’s no consoling babies when they don’t get what they want — especially when they don’t know what they want. What’s more, even if you have all the money in the world, you have to take yourself with you on an expensive holiday.
‘Luxury is the enemy of observation,’ says travel writer Paul Theroux. ‘A costly indulgence that spoils and infantilises you and prevents you from knowing the world.’ The White Lotus’s money-no-object guests certainly bear testimony to that.