There was just me and former call girl Christine Keeler for breakfast – with the entire dining room of Sheffield’s Grosvenor Hotel earwigging in. It wasn’t just the sausages spluttering as she talked loudly about three in a beds, naked swimming, whips and chains on that March morning.
And then we played footsie underneath the breakfast table. I’m sure it was accidental. It certainly was on my part. But her’s? This was the woman who styled herself the Great Strumpet for bringing down Tory minister John Profumo, having a simultaneous affair with him and Russian attaché Eugene Ivanov. Of course it was accidental but it didn’t stop me blushing deeply.
She was in Sheffield in 1983 to promote her autobiography and breakfast was the only time she could fit a reporter from The Star in, so to speak. Breakfast interviews are no fun for a reporter. It is extremely difficult to ask questions, write answers and eat at the same time. Going for the killer question or the swift interrupt is difficult if you’ve got a mouthful of mushroom and my mother taught me never to speak with my mouth full. So I just picked. But it was a memorable morning.
For the interviewee it’s different. Taking a forkful of something is good cover while you’re trying to come up with the right answer. I’m not sure which of the 100 rooms Ms Keeler stayed in but the most expensive was the Executive Suite at £170 a night.
In the Eighties, when there weren’t that many restaurants, the Grosvenor and the Hallam Tower were the places to eat. When Charles and Diana blew into town the following year the hotel put on a £6.95 Royal menu: Diana salad, crown roast lamb with princess potatoes and Prince of Wales gateau.
In 1988 it opened the Club House restaurant when Gary France was one of the city’s first home-based celebrity chefs. He was styled chef-patron (then a novelty) and went on to cook at the Harley Hotel, then a swank boutique hotel with a sprung dance floor and trio. Eventually he left for the Middle East to cook for wealthy Arabs but his mum kept him in touch with Sheffield by sending him my restaurant reviews.
Any hotel worth its salt has famous guests. The Grosvenor’s included celebrity players up for the World Snooker (I was sent, hopelessly, to ask Alex Higgins for an interview), Rick Wakeman of Yes, comic Charlie Drake and Walter Koenig, aka Ensign Chekov in Star Trek.
The Grosvenor was a regular place on my beat as the ‘colour writer’ for The Star because it was not shy of publicity stunts. In 1997 general manager Duncan Carr allowed motorcyclist Dougie Lampkin, competing at the Arena, to perform wheelies down the stairs for practice (and publicity).
And being a mini skyscraper people were always abseiling down the sides for charity. There was a rumour that Marilyn Monroe stayed here. She didn’t because she died four years before the hotel opened in 1966. People may have been confusing her with dancer Jean Monroe-Martin who, clad in only a fur bikini, danced on the roof in 1980. I can’t remember if I covered that one.