- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 13, 2002

If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. The third time worked like a charm for the Savoy Group, the British luxury hospitality company, when it played host to a goodwill reception for clients and well-wishers last Wednesday in the eminently hospitable British Embassy.
The same event originally was scheduled in April and then was canceled due to the death of England's Queen Mother. Rescheduled for October, the second date proved to be too soon for comfort's sake after the anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Early November looked benign enough, but at least one Savoy hotel managing director Barry Hancox, who runs the Lygon Arms in England's Cotswolds admitted that he had had some qualms hearing about Washington's deadly reign of sniper terror in October.
"It's good to see so many lovers of comfortable beds," said jovial British Ambassador Sir Christopher Meyer, introducing Stephen Schwarzman, president and chief executive officer of the Blackstone Group, Savoy's majority owner, and Geraldine McKenna, Savoy's executive vice president.
Quite expensive beds they can be, since the group includes many of England's most recognized names in the hotel and restaurant trade: the Berkeley, Claridge's, the Connaught, the Savoy, Simpson's-in-the-Strand and the Michel three-star restaurant run by chef Gordon Ramsay in Claridge's.
"One of the reasons why Americans spend $5 billion a year in the United Kingdom is because they know when they come to London they have such a superb choice," Mr. Meyer told guests in super-salesman fashion, throwing out a little joke about the possibility of the Connaught opening a fish-and-chip shop.
Jim Johnson, chairman of the John F. Kennedy Center, paid respects to the chief officer of the Connaught, which is near the flat he owns in London. Kennedy Center trustee Mel Estrin joked in conversation that he, for one, felt he owned part of "Gordon Ramsay at Claridge's" after paying his bill there.
Except for a few Democrats in the crowd mourning the previous day's election results, the evening was a convivial and lighthearted occasion befitting traditionally amicable Anglo-American relations when it wasn't also heartfelt. Mr. Schwarzman, former CEO of New York City's Lehman Brothers, in turn praised the fine hospitality of the ambassador and his wife. Ms. McKenna recalled that the Savoy Hotel was where her friend Lady Catherine Meyer had started her foundation, PACT (Parents & Abducted Children Together), then called the Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Champagne flowed as succulent canapes were passed by waiters. Real logs burned in the fireplaces in the embassy's grand reception room. A real London police officer's hat, the familiar tall helmet with chin strap, sat atop a stern marble bust in the hallway a reminder, perhaps, that duty in diplomatic precincts is seldom devoid of charm.

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