If the 21st century has become dominated by the global tech giants, it’s easy to forget that 100 years ago it was the national newspaper barons that called all the shots.
And they came no bigger nor more influential than Lord Beaverbrook, the proprietor of one of Britain’s largest circulation titles, the Daily Express and Sunday Express.
Kings, Prime Ministers, and stars of stage and literature knew he had the power to make or break reputations - and frequently did. They coveted an invitation to his palatial country home stunningly located above the Surrey hills.
Today, Cherkley Court has lost none of its opulence nor its ability to entertain on a lavish scale. This stunning late Victorian mansion with a hint of both the neo-classical in its facade and the French chateau in its roofline enjoys sweeping views across the most beautiful part of the county.
But it is not as the centre of the Beaverbrook empire that it is now renowned.
Today it is as an hotel - with ambitions in setting new standards of hospitality as well as is in celebrating due reverence to its glorious past.
Not only has the estate adopted the Beaverbrook name, but it rejoices in its ancestry.
There are 18 bedrooms in The House with five categories of rooms: Classic, Turret, Studio Suite, Suite, Dowager Suite with each named after a famous guest who once stayed at Cherkley Court.
Rudyard Kipling, Elizabeth Taylor, Ian Fleming, Rose Kennedy, Charlie Chaplin, Winston Churchill, Harold Macmillan, Wallis Simpson and HG Wells are all proudly enscribed in the doors, with photographs, paintings and copies of their books offering more tangible reminders of their connection.
The main reception rooms have retained an intimacy about them too - it’s hard to distinguish between hotel and the effervescent power of Beaverbrook’s famed retreat.
Every detail has been carefully selected to make a statement.
From the immaculately braced attire of the young waiting men in the Parrot bar to the swirl of the main staircase with works of art that owe more than a nudge to the politicians who dined there - often at times of national crisis.
In the midst of it all, just outside Beaverbrook’s study, hangs a framed front page of the Daily Express from the 1960s: ‘At 4.15pm - two weeks after his 85th birthday LORD BEAVERBROOK DIES’ the typeface pronounces with due solemnity.
Beaverbrook knew, of course, of the power of print - of its ability to transfix a nation in a pre-digital age and turn attitudes and moods with the subtle choice of an adjective in the first paragraph.
He reportedly once said that news was something someone else didn’t want you to know about. “If they want you to know about it, it’s propaganda. If they don’t want you to know about it, it’s news.”
How different history might have otherwise been. Would Edward VIII have abdicated? Would Churchill’s moving exhortations to the British people during the second world war have hit their mark and won the day without this press baron’s literary amplification?
We visited the hotel at the peak of the recent hot weather.
What an oasis. The air conditioning in the bedroom gave welcome respite from the unremitting 30 degrees outside. Breakfast on the shaded terrace was bliss.
All good hotels now serve afternoon tea. This one was in resplendent style with finger sandwiches, home made scones, clotted cream and delicate cakes. How pleasing to enjoy it with bone china this fine and silver plated teapots of the 1930s with their loose leaf tea and spouts that poured properly.
We didn’t have time to sample the Dining Room, Japanese Grill with Head Chef Taiji Maruyama at the helm. Trained at Tokyo’s famous Kojyu, chef Maruyama has worked extensively at Nobu in both London and Monaco and as Executive Chef and Founder of Kiru.
Instead, we did get the chance to eat at the relaxed Garden House Restaurant - a short buggy ride away from the main house.
Locally sourced ingredients create the Anglo-Italian inspired dishes where menus move with the kitchen garden’s season. Head Chef Kaz Suzuki’s style is home cooked and rustic where you can expect a menu of Italian inspired dishes such as Beetroot & Burrata, Chicken Milanese & Black Truffle, Chard & Borlotti Beans or Crab Chili Linguine. The menu changes on a monthly basis in order to accommodate for the seasonal produce available.
Beaverbrook was never a man to stand still. Mischievous, outspoken, a giant of a character who understood the public’s taste far better than any politician - he was always looking ahead.
So too is the hotel that takes his name.
In February a school of cookery was launched. At the end of the summer, the Coach House Spa will be unveiled.
How good either will prove, I could not yet say.
But based on our experience of the main house, this hotel deserves the shoal of awards it has already scooped. Quiet opulence, respect for a terrific past, and great confidence in the future.
Now Beaverbrook would have held the front page for that!
We were invited to the Beaverbrook to review. But this was not an advertisement or commercial feature and our comments give an independent view of our stay.
Address: Beaverbrook, Reigate Road, Leatherhead, Surrey KT22 8QX