Feuiletton 360 — The Letter
Dear Friends of The Most Famous Hotels in the World,
By Lisa Augustin (for a change)
Time flies, only my father takes slow boats and sends letters via surface postal services. Yesterday an envelope arrived containing photographs, and an interview, typed on a typewriter!
After the MS Serendipity has safely moored at the jetty of Colombo’s harbour, he has met the chairman of the Galle Face Hotel, Sanjeev Gardiner, whom he knows since he travelled to Sri Lanka in the 1980s as a foreign correspondent. Now he is compiling the stories for his book THE GALLE FACE TREASURY. Let me share with you - and I trust that is all right with him - the interview with Sanjeev Gardiner.
Sanjeev Gardiner (left) awarding doorman Banda for his services.
Sanjeev, so good to see you again. Good that you have time for a little interview for our readers around the world. You have taken over as Chairman of the Galle Face Hotel, the related group and all other businesses from your late father in the 1990s, tell me: what is the Galle Face Hotel for you?
’For me, as Mr Gardiner the chairman but also as Sanjeev the person, the Galle Face Hotel is a legacy in three ways. Firstly, it is the heritage of our family, so I will always treasure it. Secondly, it is the heritage of Sri Lanka, of Ceylon, of our country and our nation. It is 100% Sri Lankan. No international group diverting profits from our people is involved.
Lastly, it is the heritage of our people. No other hotel is deeper rooted in the hearts of the Sri Lankans than the Galle Face Hotel. Not only in the hearts of our guests, but in particular of our staff, our smiling faces, our ambassadors. No other hotel has these wonderful people!
How old is the Galle Face Hotel really?
In fact, it is as old as time. In its place stood a 18th century Dutch Villa which is prominently displayed in paintings.
We say: everybody fears time, but time fears the Galle Face Hotel. Just joking! We officially started our operation in 1864, while the Suez Canal was being built. This new sea route was the main reason for creating a magnificent grand hotel in this particular location. (The date has only recently been proved beyond doubt by historian Carola Augustin of The Most Famous Hotels in the World.) On 31 December 1864, the cornerstone was laid to begin the creation of the Galle Face Hotel.
Sanjeev (left), with his late father Cyril Gardiner and 2001-Odyssey Author Arthur C. Clark (the Grand Master of Science Fiction, finished The Final Odyssey at the Galle Face Hotel).
What are the most significant periods in history of the Galle Face Hotel?
East of the Suez Suez, we were the first civilised hotel en route to Yangon, Penang or Singapore. The hotel was extremely popular with travellers from all corners of the globe until the outbreak of the so called Great War in 1914. Aftet that, in the 20th century, the Galle Face Hotel has gone through three significant periods.
1. The 1920/30s marked the beginning of the grand journeys: luxurious ocean steamers, paquebots to Indochina and liners to Singapore and Hong Kong arrived on a daily base, air traffic started, everybody broke the journey for a few days to see Ceylon; the hotel was world famous, the place to be. It played a role in novels and dramas, everybody who was somebody visited it because to be on its lawn at sunset was the height of chic. As you have probably heard, many love stories started here. Not all ended so tragically as Bonnie’s story from The Galle Face Hotel Treasury, our first history book.
2. The second high time at Galle Face Hotel were certainly the 1960s, when my father had taken it over. He was a PR genius and the first Sri Lankan to operate the hotel single-handed. He made the hotel the place to be for all Sri Lankans.
3. Last but not least, the third high-spirited period is certainly now. We are the hub of social life of the island, and certainly the most popular hotel for weddings, honeymoons and families. Artists from all over the world visit us. The GFH is the most written about hotel, painted a hundred times. Our list of famous visitors, compiled for our book The Galle Face Treasury, comprises some 300 names. It was exciting to be working with Andreas and Carola Augustin and I enjoy sitting together with them discussing the various aspects of our rich legacy.
That's it for this week — I will keep you posted about the travels of my nearest and dearest,