I popped along to the opening of the new Dorsett Hotel on Shepherds Bush Green last night. It was an invitation I couldn’t turn down: I’ve lived in and around Shepherds Bush forever, and for years I’ve wondered what was going on with the old Pavilion, the huge, grand ex-cinema that stands proudly along the west side of the Green itself. Built in 1923, it was damaged by a flying bomb in 1944, restored in the ’50s, re-opened as a bingo hall, and had been unoccupied as far as I could tell for the last 20 years or so. I’ve been hoping for years that someone would do something with it. Enter stage right Dorsett Hotels, an Asian hospitality chain branching out into Europe for the first time. Shepherds Bush may seem an unlikely spot for a luxury hotel, but it’s not really. We’ve got Westfield on our doorstep, Soho House moving in soon to cater to the media set, Heathrow a short cab ride away, Notting Hill, Bayswater, Knightsbridge and Kensington all within easy reach, not to mention the M4 and the M40 out of town, and of course the West End and the City just a short hop away by tube (or chauffeur-driven Merc, whatevs), etc. Essentially, W12 is the centre of the world. Anyway. Where were we?
Ah yes, the building itself. The Pavilion has been extensively remodelled, to the point where once you’re inside, you don’t really get any sense of the history of the building. The frontage remains, but it’s just a few bricks; the hotel inside is all new. And pretty swanky it is too, with a breathtaking atrium stretching up to the sky and beyond, an 8th-floor spa boasting “views across Shepherds Bush”, two restaurants, 317 rooms, and lots of the sorts of touches you’d expect from an expensive hotel. It’s clean, it’s shiny and it’s new. Plus there are a load of lucky cats dotted around the place, waving happily.
On launch night we were treated to a lady sitting in a hoop dispensing champagne to partygoers below, a string quartet playing the Village People’s YMCA, a charming speech from president and executive director Winnie Chiu, in which she talked about going to the pub for pints of beer and ‘packets of chips’ for supper with the Dorsett management team, and even a videoed message from Boris Johnson himself (“our favourite mayor”, Winnie announced, seemingly forgetting that among her audience was the mayor of Hammersmith and Fulham, Mercy Umeh… ouch): “last year, London welcomed 16.9 million visitors,” Boris mumbled on the pre-recorded message. “More tourists visit London than Paris or New York.” He talked about how pleased he was to have Dorsett Hotels setting up shop in London. “Dorsett? I endorse it,” he said emphatically, getting the biggest round of applause of the night.
Times change, and things move on. I’m glad the Grade II facade has been protected; I’m glad the building has come back to life. I can’t help but feel a touch sad that most of the old building’s character has been lost along the way, even though it was inevitable. And that the new incarnation prides itself on being ‘exclusive’ – what a change from the inclusivity and accessibility of the old bingo hall or the old cinema. But look, if that’s the price to pay for having a perfectly good building in use rather than languishing unloved, it’s probably a fair trade-off. And there are always the lucky cats. 拜拜啦!*