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A Sikh in starched white uniform suddenly appears and scrunches across the gravel drive to greet me, his white beard almost merging with his turban. I hadn't seen him emerge from the building but he somehow seemed to materialise from nowhere.
This could only be Raffles, one of the most famous hotel names in the world.
I am whisked into the cool embrace of the lobby, where a glass of chilled mineral water arrives almost before I've had a chance to park myself on a leather sofa.
The brand-new atrium is not that different from the old one. It has cleaner, sharper lines, but retains the same bold sweep that suggests an impressive and desirable combination of elegance and sophistication.
It was here that, according to some reports, 300 Japanese officers and men fell on their swords after the surrender of Singapore to the Allies in 1945.
But such grisly ghosts hardly hit the right note following a multi-million-pound refurbishment that has taken two-and-a-half years to complete. It officially reopened in the summer of 2019.
The hotel says the restoration was designed to ensure that everything that is so special about Raffles was carefully preserved – the ambience, the service, the charm and the heritage of the hotel. They have certainly succeeded in that.
There are still the graceful courtyards to relax in, while new bars, restaurants and shops have been added.
The changes have simply enhanced the comfort and splendour.
Raffles Singapore was born in 1887, the year the Armenian Sarkies brothers took over an unprepossessing ten-bedroom bungalow and set about pulling in the great and the good.
From such humble beginnings, the hotel was quickly expanded and word of mouth brought in royalty, as well as celebrities.
It was named after Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, who colonised Singapore 200 years ago for the British East India Company and became Lieutenant-Governor of the Dutch East Indies. It was a bold move to summon up this heroic, swashbuckling frontiersman – but, my goodness, it has paid off.
Noel Coward first stayed for a month in 1931, after completing Private Lives. He recalled in his memoirs drinking his first Singapore Sling and he remained a loyal guest until his final visit in 1968.
The literary roll call is impressive – Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, Somerset Maugham, French novelist, art historian and statesman Andre Malraux, German-born poet, novelist and painter Hermann Hesse and Chilean poet and politician Pablo Neruda for starters.
Then there are the glamorous fans: Ava Gardner, Elizabeth Taylor and, more recently, Johnny Depp and the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge.
There are 115 guest-rooms, all suites. I am shown into a State Room Suite overlooking the quad, with a huge marble bathroom and a bath the size of a small cargo vessel.
The double sink seems excessive for one man and his toothbrush. Ditto the opulent bed. But I'm not complaining.
The flat-screen TV has been discreetly inlaid into the wall so that it looks like a decorative obsidian plaque. 'I think we should pop down to the Long Bar and take a refreshment,' says my charming hotel guide.
Good idea. First, I pop into the Writers Bar, taking in the cool granite and mahogany, contrasting with marble and alabaster walls. It's as 'airy as a birdcage', as Conrad put it in his novella The End Of The Tether.
I wander down the colonnaded corridors and around the green quadrangle before settling at a table in the Long Bar.
A cast-iron hand-cranked contraption on the bar, designed for shaking multiple cocktails, gets to work producing the hotel's signature drink, the Singapore Sling. It is a powerful concoction made from Cointreau, pineapple and lime juice, gin, grenadine, cherry liqueur, Benedictine and Angostura bitters. That's all.
Order this in my local back home and the barman would think I was taking the mickey. Here, it's the most natural thing in the world.
First published in the Daily Mail - March 2020
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