Campbell Gray's four-year-old One Aldwych is indeed unswervingly welcoming, comfortable and serene--an impression borne out by occupancy rates that are among London's highest. Yet, you may wonder, how much can the owner of a superdeluxe hotel really know about generosity? Well, in Gordon Campbell Gray's case, a great deal.
His biography starts conventionally enough. He spent his childhood in the countryside near Glasgow then went on to hotel school and jobs "in all the big hotel companies." He was "a fanatical traveler since the age of dot," planning trips around a single night in a legendary hotel, stays he invariably found disappointing. ("I was always wanting to sing that Peggy Lee song 'Is That All There Is?'") But in his mid-twenties, he heard about the Save the Children fund and dropped everything to offer his services. After five years of setting up child nutrition centers, schools and orphanages, and acting as an overseas director for projects in Bangladesh, Morocco and Nicaragua, he came back to Britain to continue where he'd left off. Not surprisingly, his vision had broadened. When, as deputy manager of a famous London hotel, he peeked at his confidential appraisal and read "Tends to be insubordinate to superiors," he wrote on it in red pen "Please define 'superiors,'" and quit. "And that was my last job working for somebody else."
What Campbell Gray did next, in 1982, was set up The Feathers. Located in Woodstock, in Oxfordshire, about 60 miles from London, it was one of the first luxury hotels outside a city, and its success accounted for the buzz that attended the One Aldwych opening. But along the way Campbell Gray had to fight. "If six banks turned me down for financing The Feathers, 67 turned me down for One Aldwych. I had an impeccable record, but it was going to be different, and no one wanted to risk it."