29 April 2008 Juliet SO we've both been busy bees...…
Martin Miller doesn’t like birthdays, doesn’t really like weddings, and isn’t sure if he likes hotels (other than Miller’s Residence of course). He used to like partying – still does every now and then – loves a G&T (made with Martin Miller’s Gin), prefers his bedrooms on the cosy side and has a magnetic attraction to big piles of bricks, especially ones itching for a refurb. In short, he’s a man after my own heart.
This year marks the west London lair’s 15th birthday, and since Smith (uncharacteristically) missed the party, we secured a tête-à-tête with the birthday boy himself. Sat by the crackling wood fire in the drawing room, esconced in cosy armchairs, surrounded by all the accoutrements of a country house (flickering candles, globes, rugs, antique clocks, paintings, mirrors, books and a macabre skull) and with G&Ts in hand, Notting Hill’s hustle seemed far away.
Tell us about the early days…
When we found this place 15 years ago, it was basically a wreck. We brought in lots of antiques and put together a simple bed and breakfast operation. (Which in essence it still is, though we’ve done a lot of renovations and introduced a free bar.) We’re not like old-fashioned B&Bs, where you’d get kicked out after breakfast – you can hang around all day here. Hence we’re a residence – not strictly a hotel, not strictly a B&B. We don’t fit in anywhere, we’re in our own little world.
Was Miller’s an instant success?
No, not really. I always think it takes three or four years for the world to get to know you’re around.
How is it unique?
There’s nowhere else in London where you can sit up all night in a candle-lit drawing room and drink until five or six in the morning. It’s very sociable, but it’s also low key – there’s rarely more than 16 people at one time.
Miller’s was your home for a while wasn’t it?
Yes, I used to live in the Blake Room, before I got married. I miss being here, but I have other projects on the go. I get a lot more early nights these days. The Blake Room is still my favourite, it’s nice and cosy. I’m not really a big bedroom person – what I tend to do with big rooms is make them smaller by filling them up. I think it harks back to when I was making dens and camps and playing in treehouses as a boy.
Why all the antiques?
I’ve loved antiques all my life, from back when I used to go to jumble sales. I mainly use auctions now – I can bid on 40 things, win 20, and have them delivered by my favourite carriers. Car boot sales involve far too much traipsing. Every time I go to a car boot sale I buy too much and have to make five journeys back and forth through a muddy field. It takes an hour and a half to lug everything around and I end up wondering why I’m making the effort.
If Miller’s was to go up in flames, what would you rescue?
Nothing. Nothing’s that important. I don’t have that sort of feeling about it – everything is replaceable, it’s all just objects. The other thing is, if you start getting precious about things, you get paranoid about them breaking. I like the look, the whole thing, and any one item is not going to change that look.
Any particularly proud moments?
Well, we’ve had a lot of personalities here. Marianne Faithfull used to stay with us, so Kate Moss, Hugh Grant, Stella McCartney and all that set started coming. One night we had a music industry event here, and Jimmy Page, Chrissie Hynde and Slash from Guns N’ Roses were jamming in the drawing room. We had two or three guests staying who couldn’t believe their luck. The month before that we had a birthday party for John Cleese. A guy was staying here who had written an essay when he was 10, saying that the person he most wanted to meet in the world was John Cleese. He just happened to be here on the night of the party, so he ended up meeting John and his friends.
Has anyone ever got married in here?
No, we don’t have a marriage licence. Personally, I hate weddings, and I try to stay away from them. If I do go, I like to keep my exit routes open.
Do you ever crave minimalism or want to start afresh?
I always like the thought of starting afresh. I could sell Miller’s tomorrow if I had another project to get excited about. I would never think about re-doing this place though, just to think about redecorating would be nuts. That said, we were talking the other day about getting rid of the front door and putting a police box or tardis there. So guests would come through the tardis into the hotel. Sadly, if you try and do that in Notting Hill you’ll just get people peeing in it.
Do you have a favourite hotel?
Funnily enough, I don’t like staying in hotels. Normally, when we go away, we stay with friends. The other thing is that I don’t really like travelling, I get aggravated by airports and all that. No, I know it sounds horrible, but I’d rather people came to me.
Describe your perfect day…
My perfect day is actually hanging pictures and that sort of thing. I like doing places up. I’m never happier than when I have a load of stuff to decorate a room with.
And on your birthday?
I used to be a big party animal but I don’t do parties these days. And I would never think about celebrating my birthday. I’d rather stay home and watch telly, or read a book. It’s different when you’re single, and you’re out on the pull. In the early days here, my Monday parties were legendary. I’d meet people in the week and invite 50 or 60 of them back for the party. It would all end around midnight though – I don’t believe any conversation after 2am is worth having.
Well we’ve got this place to look after, we’ve got Miller’s at Glencot House, we’ve got Miller’s at The Anchor and I’ve just bought another place in Devon, which will be a 30-bedroom hotel. That will be my big arts club hotel. I’m interested in artistic, literary retreats. There’s a place I’m looking at doing at the moment that I call my monastery without the monks. It will be run on a very simple basis. I don’t think people really want pretension, waiters at their elbows and all that. We’ve also just launched the Association of Historic Hotels.
Could you have predicted all this?
I was lucky at school, as I knew I was never going to get a job. I could just relax, and plunge rapidly to the bottom grades. It was very easy. Probably not for my parents, though. But I’ve never worked for anyone, I never had any intention of doing so. I’ve muddled through all right so far. There are probably lots of other things I could have done, but you never know do you? God smiles on he who makes plans. Or is that the devil?
Reluctantly, I left Martin musing on divine machinations amid the candlelight, and closed Miller’s cherry red door behind me. Having heard rumours of a martini masterclass hosted by Martin and a gin maestro, I knew it wouldn’t be long till we returned…