(Although you don’t really need to read part one of this story in order to get the most out of part two – if you feel so inclined you can read it here)
So – In the last post I began my story in the Ritz.
But how did I get there?
Well – the story regarding that starts a little before Thursday – when (shortly after winning the Man of the Year competition) I had the first of a few mails from Slimming World HQ.
The announcement of my win (they wrote) would be made at a press call in London to the National media. Since they planned to do a photo shoot with some journalists in the garden at the Ritz Carlton a suite would be booked – and as the rooms in it needed to be used I (and a guest) would unfortunately be forced to stay in the lap of luxury on Thursday night.
After much to-ing and fro-ing over e-mail, eventually a mutually agreeable press release was arrived at (they’re very flexible – and they were extremely keen that the story and words were mine rather than something that was generic and ‘advert-y’) and on Thursday morning (in quite balmy overcast weather) Angie, myself and my friend set out from Warwick Parkway.
(I’m sure you’ll agree that I didn’t appear like a total Diva for bringing along a bigger suitcase than both of my female companions for an overnight stay. A boy needs options after all!)
The train journey was pretty smooth and relaxing – and we actually all got to the station in time to catch an earlier train than I was expecting.
We ended up in London well before 11am!
Since everyone was in need of a little body magic (and my OCD was also kicking in about not having done enough exercise despite getting up at 4am to walk five miles around St Nics park) we started walking from Marleybone station to the Hilton hotel, which was where Angie and the PR team would be staying.
An hour or so later (after stopping for a wee and a drink at a pub on the way) we’d been there and dropped off her (massive) suitcase.
Immediately after we headed off to the Ritz to drop off my (smaller and more reserved) one with the concierge. It was just after midday.
We had originally been given an itinerary that involved a 2pm check in and a 3pm appointment with a stylist in the suite – however the PR team had changed their approach and we now had to go elsewhere.
I suspect that they realised that a virtually bald man without a beard that wears no makeup and doesn’t have a monobrow probably had little need for a makeover and changed their plans accordingly.
We signed in at the Ritz, checked our bags and told them we’d be back later for the room took some shameless selfies then started the next leg of our walk.
The new destination was the rather exclusive (at least from my perspective) salon and personal shopping experience area on the 3rd floor of Debenhams on Oxford Street.
When we arrived we were still a little early – which gave us a perfect opportunity to grab a bite to eat and check out the store.
Around the back of the building was a small pan-oriental restaurant called Chi Kitchen (link to menu) – and since we had no idea where else we should go with the time (it was around 1pm) we decided to use the lunch allowance we’d been given locally to get something we didn’t normally eat.
I wanted to keep things light. I must admit to being a bit of a creature of habit in the latter part of the week leading up to my weigh in. I know what makes my weight stay the same, and I know what usually results in a loss.
I had no idea what crab in batter with Sushi would do – but it looked flipping awesome!
(this is the ‘Spider soft-shell crab’ – which is sushi rice with soft shell crab tempura, cucumber, oyster mushroom, avocado, asparagus and green tobiko)
My companions went for some slightly different choices (kung po chicken for Angie and a chicken special fried rice for my friend) which looked pretty nice too!
After we’d had lunch we thankfully still had time to go and buy all of the items of makeup that Angie had realised were left sitting in a bag on her kitchen table at home.
Once eyeliner and mascara had been hastily sourced the brief panic was over and I started abstractly trying hats and jackets on to see what fitted and what didn’t in the menswear department with the ladies passing judgement and making suggestions.
Debenhams is waaaay bigger in London than it is in Leamington, and the variety of styles is therefore HUGE in comparison. There was a pretty awesome selection of waistcoats in there – and since I’ve never owned one I thought that now may be the time to experiment.
However – when we were met by the stylist – Rachael Fanconi – I quickly realised that she was not only really good at her job, but also an absolutely lovely lady.
Although she mentioned a few high profile clients when I asked about her work (particularly Helen Mirren and Dawn French) I found out later when I looked at her portfolio online (link) that this was the tip of the iceberg.
As well as many many other famous people she’s also apparently dressed Kelly Brook (I’m another step closer!!!) on top of doing lots of makeovers for Slimming World.
She also clearly understood some of the psychologies at play when someone like myself is faced with wearing figure hugging items after a lifetime of trying to hide curves and imperfections.
This can often lead to some real nervousness (it certainly does with me) and she immediately demonstrated to me that she knew how to make the most of what a person has to work with.
I felt like I was in safe hands.
After checking out my photos and reading through my questionnaire (I had to fill one out prior to my trip with my sizes, preferences and things I liked and disliked) it was also clear she had paid attention, and the available selection was filled with nicely patterned shirts and lots of blues and browns – something I really lean towards.
I like something a little eye catching and flamboyant.
The first outfit was pretty casual and I have to say I thought we’d stumbled onto a winner because I thought the whole lot worked REALLY well together – both with and without the jacket!
The shirt was ace!
We moved on however, and I was keen to try on a Hammond & Co blue check suit I’d seen further along the rail.
It was nice… but….
I felt something wasn’t quite right, so it was back to the drawing board. Rachael suggested we go with a lighter shirt and an open neck rather than a tie.
Although I liked the shirt I felt there was a little too much blue – and besides – I’d already secretly fallen for the pink shirt and (rather lovely) pink and blue signature silk tie.
Nevertheless we persisted with trying a few more styles.
It seemed that none of the items on the rail suited me and had way too much room in the waist for my liking (boy – what a problem to have!). All of the 38’s were too big but ok in the leg, whereas the 36’s were perfect in the waist but felt like jeggings.
The blue suit had almost been right – but it was a ‘long’ fit and would require a quick tailor turnaround overnight if we wanted it – so Rachel went hunting for a similar one – and came back with a slightly different blue three piece by ‘Racing Green’. She then tried pairing this with a Jasper Conran blue shirt and a dark gold (with blue detail) tie…
I didn’t like it at all.
It looked like I was going to a business meeting and didn’t warmly say ‘I’m happy to meet you‘ from what I could see. Instead I felt like it screamed ‘I want a job. Let me show you my CV.’
I may be wrong but I think my face said it all – so I went back to grab the original pink shirt and (absolutely lovely) tie to see how that all went together.
After adding a smart tan belt and some patterned blue socks it seemed like we were good to go – because by now (almost two hours later) I felt like a million dollars!!!
The wonderfully patient ladies waiting outside for me then sorted out the bill and we left with a few bags.
The next task was to get into the room at the Ritz (it wasn’t ready when we initially checked our bags) and then head out to a restaurant to discuss the events of the coming day over a meal.
We checked in and went up to the room with the concierge leading with the key and a porter following closely behind with our bags.
What awaited us was waaaaaaay beyond my wildest expectations for a hotel room.
This is soooooooo far outside of my frame of reference and comfort zone that it’s hard to describe.
I grew up on a council estate in the 80’s where unemployment benefit in Thatcher’s jobless Britain of the time framed my entire childhood’s points of reference.
People came from nothing and often remained in the same area forever with little else to show for their lives.
I’d been surrounded by poverty back then and had grown up in a rented house where the most violent rows (including the one that finally resulted in my family breaking up) were related to finances and the crippling lack of them.
Although I’ve never coveted or hoarded money (like some from a similar background might) I’ve always been careful to hang on to it and be sensible when I’ve come into it – because it might be gone when I least expect it.
I’ve always had to look after myself in the absence of a parental home I could fall back on in times of trouble – and I’ve also been single without a family of my own for many many years.
It’s shaped my attitude to when I do and don’t open my wallet.
I never do flashy – and I realised that this kind of environment didn’t sit well in my frame of reference. Being in a place like this just didn’t happen to me.
I had a lump in my throat and I really didn’t know what to do with all the things around me. As bizarre as it sounds I felt I had no idea how to process a marble bathroom that was five times the size of the one in my house.
How did I end up here and why? What on earth was going on?! It all seemed so unreal and alien…
Nevertheless – I was there.
AT THE RITZ.
I was determined to make the best of the experience.
My friend and I got changed and then headed down to the lobby to meet the PR team with Angie. She (like ourselves) had also thrown on a casually fabulous outfit – enabling all three of us (should we have so wished) to legitimately add ‘swanky‘ to our group description as we strolled to the nearby Gaucho steak restaurant.
As well as take selfies with my lovely companions this was yet another opportunity to also chat to the ladies from Slimming World HQ – who were all so insanely friendly that I had begun to wonder whether I needed to check if my wallet was still in my back pocket.
Surely no organisation could make this much of a fuss over a guy that has just lost some weight?
But make a fuss of me they did – and as we walked and talked I learned more about their backgrounds, their likes, dislikes and their capacities for retaining odd nuggets of general knowledge – which in some cases were strangely similar to my own.
I’d come face to face with the only other person I’ve met that knew humans are all allergic to pineapple and that because of this it dissolves human flesh. She could also reference obscure Dr Who episodes casually in conversation like it wasn’t at all niche as well as having the acumen and intelligence to comment that MY R2D2 WALLET WAS COOL.
(which it is)
When we arrived at our destination you’d have never guessed that financially Gaucho is hitting hard times at the moment.
I found out before leaving for London that both they and their partner chain ‘Cau’ are entering receivership (link). It’s a shame – because it’s a pretty impressive (although crazy expensive) place.
The experience started with the waiter coming around with a (instead of cheese) meat board to explain the different cuts, where they came from and what we could expect from them when they arrived on our plates.
This was beef with pedigree and provenance. Some was old enough it seemed to be on the antiques roadshow.
It was at this point that his little finger hovered over the mighty chunk of fat free fillet steak. It looked instantly Slimming World friendly.
‘This melts in the mouth and is the finest cut‘ the waiter said.
I looked at it and a quote from ‘Wayne’s World’ instantly began looping in my head.
I had to have that steak.
I’d never had a fillet of beef in a restaurant before.
However, when ordering the waiter threw me a curve ball. How about one that had been marinaded in olive oil, garlic and parsley? The Churrasco de Lomo was spiral cut and would (he said) allegedly appear on my plate laid wide open as if it were a butterfly about to take to the air.
It was the finest food that could possibly grace a tastebud he implied.
He was Spanish. He was also a waiter and that combo worked out really well for Shirley Valentine. It could work out for me too!
I decided to go for it. He looked like he knew what he was talking about when he was handling his meat.
I told him I’d also have the Tuna Ceviche as a starter with the rocket and kale salad as a main side. The steak should be cooked until it was medium rare.
For reader’s future reference the starter was pronounced [se-vee-chee].
This was a profound improvement upon my less than eloquent ordering technique – which comprised of saying ‘the tuna please but I don’t know how to say that‘ whilst pointing my ape like index finger in the word’s general direction on the menu.
Thankfully the Spanish waiter had my back. Shirley definitely knew what she was doing because he did me proud.
He not only taught me a new word – he returned with a symphony on a plate – because when my se-vee-chee arrived it looked the schnizzle.
What I hadn’t expect though was for the Tuna to be raw.
Angie looked at it and turned away. She doesn’t do raw.
I on the other hand was already waaaaaaaay outside of my comfort zone already so I just dove right in.
Oh boy – HOW HAD I NEVER HAD THIS BEFORE?!!!!
It was flipping amazing!!!! Although it didn’t take many mouthfuls to demolish, each one was a rolling wave of gently unfolding flavours. It was awesome!
One nil to Spain.
Hopefully they would score a hat-trick and take it home with the second course.
A few moments passed after the staff cleared plates and topped up drinks – and then the main courses arrived.
I’m not gonna lie.
Spain only flipping won the cup because it all tasted divine.
After this we all sat talking for a while. The press call was described by the PR team in great detail, and then (if I’m honest) I think I talked a bit too much about myself.
It was hard not to though.
Being there with people for a press call about everything that’s happened to me in such an unusual situation brought a lot to the surface.
I told them all about my dream the other day (link) and how firstly winning the competition, and then being interviewed by Slimming World for the video (link) had begun to unravel a problem I’d had with recurring, painful and negative nightmares for literally decades.
I was surprised (I said) at how – even now – there were things that were changing and evolving within me.
It was really really hard to stop myself from just continually thanking them for that – because honestly it’s pretty much all I wanted to do by that point – but instead I babbled on about what had led me there.
Thankfully I eventually ran out of steam, and they too shared their pasts, how they’d met partners, and why they’d come into the line of work they were in.
By the time we left and walked back to the hotel I think it was safe to say that everyone had had a good chat, and I was definitely a bit more clued up about the format of the day ahead.
As we approached the Ritz the PR people and Angie peeled off in the direction of their hotel and my friend and I headed up to the room – but not before taking a couple of sneaky pictures.
Once in the room, after checking the view from our antique writing desk, I made myself at home (I had finished the day with 16 miles walking under my belt!) as my friend busied herself with the room service menu.
As for what happened next – I’m afraid you’ll just have to wait for part three internet….
Tune in later for the next exciting episode of Davey goes to the land of surreal!!!!