His was the Virgin complaint letter heard around the world: when ad man Oli Beale penned his distaste for Richard Branson’s in-flight cuisine, his ire earned him internet glory. Smith saw potential in this part-time karaoke critic, creative who worked on the Kaiser Chiefs’ album launch (with fellow anonymous hotel reviewer Ricky Wilson) and frustrated commuter, so we secured his unflinching eye and mightier-than-the-sword penmanship for boutique hotel reviews. Since then, he’s inhaled canisters of oxygen from the minibar at The Standard, East Village (while wearing a scandalously bum-skimming bathrobe), inelegantly baptised Pembrokeshire stay The Grove Narberth with red wine, and somehow ended up in ‘Shagaluf’ while reviewing Mallorca’s Hotel Cort (below).
Surely, such a well-seasoned traveller would have a wealth of tips to hand, so we quizzed Oli on his travel disasters, bribing policemen, and airplane food, of course…
First things first, which Smith hotel have you most enjoyed reviewing?
The Standard, High Line (below), the first review I did for Smith. It’s a bastard of a building – brutal and ugly – but there’s just something about that hotel that keeps me coming back.
Excellent choice, do you have higher expectations for hotels since you’ve been reviewing for Smith?
Yes, definitely. Mrs Smith hates it; if I don’t like a room, I’ll try and get an upgrade or check out and go to a nicer hotel. I know that makes me a bit of a tosser, but hotels are one of my greatest pleasures, so I like them to be just right.
A man after our own hearts… If there was no limit, what would your dream Smith extra be?
I’ve never stayed in a honeymoon or presidential suite or similar; a proper Richard Gere sort of stay. I’d love a surprise upgrade to one of those, somewhere like the Le Royal Monceau Raffles Paris (below).
Erm, we’ll look into it for you. Aside from airline food, and booking six flights for one trip, have you had any travel disasters?
I’ve experienced some mental stuff: I saw police firing guns at a beach rave, I lost my passport in Thailand and bribed a police officer, I checked into a room one night and woke up in a hornets’ nest; however, these mishaps are interlaced with the funniest and happiest moments of my life.
Cripes – we’re glad you survived to review for us… You’re a hi-tech traveller, would you stay somewhere off-the-grid, like Les Jardins des Douars?
I would have to go there specifically to switch off. It sounds soul-cleansing, but I would probably get a bit bored. A few years ago I stayed at a yoga retreat in Tulum, where there was no WiFi, TV or anything. Luckily I’d packed three series’ worth of Breaking Bad box-sets and lay in my hammock for days watching them on my laptop – the yoga enthusiasts looked at me like I was a total loser, but I was in my own state of Nirvana. I’d have to bring my trusty Bose Bluetooth speaker too, which I take it everywhere.
Let’s talk airplane cuisine: what would your ideal in-flight meal be?
I actually really like airplane food. I love the ritual of it: the little foil lids, the cuboid of cheese, the bread roll, the little bottle of ice-cold red wine…
Have you flown with Virgin since, and has the food improved?
Yes, loads. I was invited on the flight to launch the new Virgin Upper Class, and they interviewed me about the food afterwards – it was great!