The former prime minister now calls the Ritz her home – and she joins a long list of other famous people who lived out their final days in the luxury of a hotel suite
One of the many irritants of ageing is how difficult it becomes to do even the simplest jobs around the house. At first it may only be stiff jam jars, but soon everything – from baths to cookers – gets to be a challenge. You can buy helpful devices to overcome the problems as they arise or, like Lady Thatcher, you can take the direct approach. No longer comfortable with the stairs in her Belgravia home following a recent operation, she has now simply moved into the Ritz hotel. Its owners, the Barclay brothers, are longtime supporters, and have promised she can stay as long as she likes.
By moving into a hotel room, Lady Thatcher joins a long tradition woven from two strands: the glamorous and distinguished, and the somewhat strange. (Decide for yourself which category, if either, she belongs in.) Among the great names who spent their final years in hotels are Tennesee Williams (at the Elysée, New York, where he famously choked to death on the cap from a bottle of eyedrops), Vladimir Nabokov (the Montreux Palace Hotel in Switzerland) and General McArthur (the Waldorf-Astoria, New York).
Some great names have made a lifestyle of it. Omar Sharif has lived in hotels since his early 30s. Coco Chanel moved into the Ritz hotel in Paris during the war, along with many Nazi officers, and remained there for much of the next 30 years. The actor Richard Harris lived at the Savoy hotel in London. When he was finally carried out on a stretcher in 2002, he is said to have remarked to passersby, “It was the food.”
And of course if you are, let’s say, unusual, hotels are most convenient. Larry Fine of the Three Stooges was such a relentless partier – and his wife so reluctant to clear up after him – that they lived exclusively in hotels for many years, even bringing up their daughter that way. (In this, she was not alone. America’s former vice-president Al Gore, a senator’s son, grew up more or less entirely in hotels.) But by far the most eccentric hotel resident was Howard Hughes, who spent much of his later life living in various penthouses, often naked but for a well-placed napkin. Even the eventful life that Alan Partridge led in Linton Travel Tavern seems uninteresting by comparison.
There are some disadvantages, of course. You don’t have room for many possessions, you can’t cook anything, and people keep making Howard Hughes jokes about you. But otherwise, for moderately wealthy people, hotels can be very practical. At around £70 per night, for instance, it is cheaper for you and your lucky partner to live in a double room in a central London Travelodge than to rent many two-bedroom flats nearby. That includes bills, remember, plus all the breakfast you can face. The cheapest room at the Ritz, meanwhile, costs £285 per night – or a little over £8,500 per calendar month.