The Ritz hotel in London is a British icon that has stood on Piccadilly for over a hundred years. Beloved by politicians, film stars and royalty, it overlooks Green Park and is a short walk to the Royal Academy of Arts and, beyond, Piccadilly Circus.
Famous the world over for it’s opulent Louis XVI decor, it is the kind of place that little girls dream of going to for afternoon tea, the kind of place Downton Abbey fans would love to spend the night, the kind of place that turned away Mick Jagger because he wasn’t wearing a jacket and tie. It is decadent and spectacular and very very British.
When I walked into the lobby of the hotel one September morning to meet a friend, I was absolutely living out a childhood fantasy: I walked along the arcade- the covered walkway along the face of the hotel- from Green Park tube station, smiling at the iconic light-up The Ritz sign as I walked under it. I pictured the Palm Court, with it’s mirrors and gold and dainty chairs, in my head, giddy.
The lobby is dark with wood panelling, expensive rugs and leather seating. It had a library hush that wrapped around you. It was all I ever saw of The Ritz. For whilst I had been on the tube, there had been an incident in New York. Implausibly, an aircraft had crashed into one of the Twin Towers. A terrible accident. As this information was relayed to me, the air grew still around us, and I learnt what it felt like to be in a room so quiet you could hear a pin drop.
There was an anguished sound from someone, as we all simultaneously realised that it was not an unimaginable accident, but an unimaginable act of violence.
In the lobby of The Ritz hotel I witnessed the birth of a new age. Across the road, people jostled outside the large glass frontage of an airline offices, whose equally large TV screens were playing in real time the aftermath of not one, but two aircraft embedding themselves in the sides of a landmark as iconic to New York as The Ritz is to London. A landmark that would cease to exist within minutes.
I have never forgotten that moment with my friend, on the street corner in Piccadilly. I have never been back to The Ritz.