“It was the food” he cried

The Savoy Hotel was once the most beautiful and prestigious hotel in London. Currently closed for refurbishment*** and due to reopen shortly, I’d love to attend a dinner party there like the one George Kessler held for King Edward VII’s birthday in 1905.

Edward VII, his son and grandsons

It is a balmy July evening in London. A silk-lined gondola, strewn with 12,000 carnations, bobs on a Venetian canal, escorted by pearl-white swans. A baby elephant, groaning under the weight of a 5ft-high birthday cake, is escorted on board the gondola, accompanied by Enrico Caruso, who croons “O Sole Mio” under a paper moon. The scene is illuminated by 400 hand-made paper lamps. In the air above them flutter 100 white doves.

Caruso image

Waiters costumed as gondoliers served twelve courses to twice that number of diners seated on gold chairs. Three impressive lions carved out of ice bore trays of peaches and glace fruits while a bevy of Gaiety Girls drank the health of the monarch in Moet et Chandon champagne.


The al fresco dinner saw the Savoy’s forecourt, which was later turned into a Japanese garden to entertain the Japanese Royal Family, and now lies under the Lancaster Ballroom, flooded and turned into a reproduction of Venice. The bill came to £3,000, a fortune at the time. (Kessler presumably also had to pay for the swans, which were overcome by the blue dye in the mock canal).

Blue swans by Jeff Sie

*** one of the highlights of the auction held when the Savoy closed was the oak parquet dance floor. Rumour has it that Marlene Dietrich made love in the ballroom five times, but not, presumably, on the same night


*** another auction highlight was a mahogany chest of drawers from the room Richard Harris lived in.

“In 2002, Harris was taken ill while in residence at the hotel. As he was carried out on a stretcher he is famously remembered as calling out “It was the food!” to anyone within earshot.”

Richard Harris image

Published in: on July 21, 2010 at 8:31 am  Comments (37)  
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  1. $3,000 is a fortune today. I would love to have been in London when the sun didn’t set on the British Empire. I was born too late and too poor. Actually, I wish I was typing this from London right now!

    • But you live in the greatest city in the world….

  2. a baby elephant, carrying a 5′ wedding cake, floating in a gondola on a fabricated canal inside a hotel?

    damn. i’m going to have to kick up things for my next party. i’m doin’ it wrong.

    • I’ve partied with you daisyfae… you’re doing it better

  3. How do they get an elephant to walk such that it doesn’t topple a five foot cake I wonder?

    • I was wondering how come no one complained about dove shit dropping on their heads….

  4. Richard Harris’s remarks remind me of the epitaph on Spike Milligan’s headstone: “I told you I was ill!”

    • Good old Spike – he was practically an Australian

      • My fave Spike story was that when he had (frequent) fights with his family, he would lock himself in his bedroom upstairs and have telegrams delivered to the front door requesting his meals.

  5. When I grow up I want to be a Gaiety Girl!

    • I think you’d qualify now Mitzi

  6. Swans are known for being vicious creatures, so it’s good to know they are weak against blue dye.

    Also, I was not aware that Marlene Dietrich was all leg.

    • Blue dye is swan kryptonite

  7. Cracking piccy of Marlene ….. reminds me of the TG …..

  8. Any story that starts off with gondolas and 5ft cake can only get better.

    • Mmmm… cake…..

  9. marlene’s legs look a mile long….

    • That’s because they go all the way up to her hips

  10. I just heard that Ramsey is opening his next restaurant in the London Savoy.

    I hate to beat a dead horse (unless he’s asking nicely) but Marlene Dietrich was one tall drink of water wasn’t she? Damn!

    • Ramsey? oh dear…..

      • Oops. Ok, Ramsay.

  11. My God I shudder to think what that would cost today. but wow !

    • If I had 3000 pounds to spare I’d rather spend it on a holiday than a party… then again, I’d rather stay home with a book than go to most parties. Celebrations have to be pretty special for me to even leave the house these days.

  12. I have a request, the seedy history of New York’s Chelsea Hotel

  13. From what I’ve heard about Marlene, it could have been in the same night! Was it with the same person?

  14. To make sure you get the reference when I link to this post on Sunday:

  15. I’ll meet you in London when it reopens, NM.

    Though I’ll need a few drinks before taking my turn on the dance floor.

  16. Just as well that Richard Harris line was uttered so long ago – today he (or his estate) would have been sued! I can see the headline now – “Richard Harris Sous Chef”

  17. Just as well that Richard Harris line was uttered so long ago – today he (or his estate) would have been sued! I can see the headline now – “Richard Harris; Chef to Sous Actor”

  18. The entire setting sounds so fluttery and fantastic, but when it comes down to it all you really need is that ‘balmy evening’ in London…and maybe the Moet….

  19. Very funny ending to this story! My D-Man is turning 14 on Monday. I know every kid looks forward to his birthday, but D-Man has always expected every bit of grandiosity as Edward had. …Of course he doesn’t get it. That’s one hell of a carnation collection. My mother always said they were for funerals. 🙂

  20. That’s a fabulous photo of Dietrich.

  21. It sounds like a Dali painting.

  22. i love the photo of marlene dietrich.
    i feel sorry for the poor swans that died.
    i’ve always imagined a gondola as being a rather small boat for two, plus the gondolier. perhaps my imagination has been limited by my romantic image of venice and its famous canals. therefore, the image of an elephant (albeit a baby elephant) on a gondola seems quite incongruous.

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