It’s a popular family ritual across the world – settling the children down and reading them ’Twas the Night Before Christmas as the excitement builds for the big day.
But if you’re super wealthy you can choose to have a professional read it for you as part of a minimum £3,000 festive break at a five-star hotel in Mayfair.
Families checking in to Claridge’s on Christmas Eve are promised “Christmas just as it should be: elegant, indulgent – and totally effortless”. After drinking the complimentary champagne, parents can let their children explore the hotel suite, complete with its own private Christmas tree, before settling them down at 6pm for some storytelling, including the classic 19th century poem.
Claridge’s dedicated service this Christmas is the latest foray in a battle between London’s poshest hotels competing for high-spending Brits and overseas visitors coming to the capital for the festivities.
The grade II listed Ritz on Piccadilly has installed a 7.6m (25ft) Christmas tree in its Louis XVI lobby, and promises a “board-game butler” to “recreate the magic of a family games night”. The Ritz’s Prince of Wales suite – the only suite still available – can be yours for £7,475 a night.
The Connaught, near Berkeley Square, promises “the most perfect Christmas imaginable”, including “a special letter from Father Christmas to say he’ll see you at the Connaught”. The minimum price is £2,310 for two nights.
On Christmas morn there will be no need to get up before dawn to put the turkey in the oven, as the Michelin-starred chefs at Claridge’s have got it covered and will serve a six-course feast in the former Gordon Ramsay restaurant.
After lunch the hotel – which has played host to Barbara Cartland, Winston Churchill and countless visiting royals – guarantees guests a visit from Father Christmas as well as a magician, caricaturists, cartoon entertainers Sharky and George for the children, and a set from acoustic trio Wandering Hands for the parents. You might have a relaxing day planned, but the Wandering Hands won’t – they are also performing at the Ritz.
All the hotels have spent vast sums on decorations. The Ritz’s dedicated florist Paul Thomas called in a team of 25 to help him install the 7.6m tree. Thomas “travelled to the [Scottish] Highlands to handpick our tree from a choice of three which are all especially grown for us”, according to the hotel.
Decorating it with cherubs, luxurious wrapped presents, model deer and Ritz teapots took seven hours. In total there are over 10,000 decorations and more than 6,500 lights.
The Connaught has installed a 9.1m (30ft) Norway spruce decorated in “Connaught purple” lights. The lights spell out a poem written especially for the hotel by Tracey Emin.
The fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld had the decorating honours at Claridge’s, and decided to install a 4.9m (16ft) inverted Christmas tree with silver gilded roots in the art deco lobby. “Reminiscent of a silver stalactite,” the hotel said. “It is hung with traditional silver lametta decorations, silver butter-leather feathers and snowflakes handmade by craftsmen in Germany, with tree candles giving a warm, inviting glow.”
Beneath the tree are hand-sewn white Icelandic sheepskin rugs to “reflect a recent snowfall”. In previous years, Apple’s Sir Jonathan Ive, Burberry’s Christopher Bailey and Dolce & Gabbana have decorated the Claridge’s tree.
Hotel staff have thought of everything, they boast, from installing Christmas trees in every suite to providing stockings for children and adults to hang from the fireplaces. Martin Ballard, the head concierge who has been with Claridge’s for 30 years, even ensures there are sufficient mince pies and carrots for children to place on the mantelpiece for Father Christmas and his reindeer.
Claridge’s, which heavily promotes its Christmas offering to rich overseas guests, declined to speak to the Guardian, with a spokeswoman citing the need to “maintain the level of discretion for our guests”.
Andrew Love, the deputy chair of the Ritz, provided a tour of the 111-year-old, billionaire Barclay brothers-owned hotel, decorated with nearly 100 Christmas trees. “It’s all about families at the Ritz,” said Love, who has been with the hotel for nearly 20 years and knows many of the guests by sight. “We have Christmas carols every day.”
Love was reluctant to speak about guests who stay at the hotel over Christmas. But he said most were British families who have been spending the festive period at the hotel for generations, some of whom “take over full suites of rooms”.
“The truth is you have got families whose great grandfather has been coming to the hotel since 1906, and the great-great grandchildren still stay here.”