Elton John World News: Celebrity Haunt to Close For a Time

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Tuesday 5 September 2006 @ 17:33 - GMT

One of Britain's most famous hotels, The Savoy, is to close its doors for the first time in its 117-year history, the Evening Standard has announced.

The prestigious London site was last year bought by Saudi Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal, who now plans a £100million refit that could mean guests turned away for up to a year.

It is believed the Prince is modelling the redesign on the luxurious George V in Paris which he bought and transformed in 1996.

He bought The Savoy, a favourite haunt of Sir Winston Churchill, Elizabeth Taylor and Elton over the years, and sister restaurant Simpsons-in-the Strand in a deal worth £220million.

The prince, who is worth about £18billion, is also considering opening a casino on the first floor of the 178-year-old restaurant after learning of the success of the casino at rival hotel The Ritz.

A source close to the hotel said plans to shut the establishment have shocked the industry, and that many staff fear for their jobs during the closure.

"Simpsons is in disarray. There is no general manager so nobody knows what's going on and plans seem to change from minute to minute," the source said. "There is concern that there will be a lot of redundancies and no one can quite believe that The Savoy is going to close its doors for the first time.

"The rumours that there might be a casino at Simpsons have not gone down well. People don't seem to like the idea of a traditional English establishment being turned into a tacky money-making venture.

"Apparently the Prince is aware that The Ritz makes more money through its casino in one night than it does through its hotel in one week."

Savoy spokeswoman Pam Carter confirmed the closure of the hotel on the Strand. "It is possible the hotel could close for a year," she said. "The renovation programme is due to start at the end of 2007 and will involve a redesign of the Thames Foyer and River Restaurant and the refurbishment of two-thirds of the 263 bedrooms and suites, plus all the corridors.

"Simpsons will also be refurbished but the plans are only now being drawn up and it is impossible to say what, if anything, is going to close."

Speaking about the casino, Miss Carter said: "There were rumours about this flying around two or three years ago, but there are absolutely no plans to open a casino."

The Savoy underwent a £60million refurbishment in the mid-Nineties when its front hall, first built in 1904, was restored to its former glory.



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