Naked guests and a cheese too cheesy

Naked guests and a cheese too cheesy

08/23/2022

Guests stealing TVs, revellers barricading themselves in bedrooms and complaints over ‘cheese that’s too cheesy’… it’s all in a day’s work for the team behind the celeb-approved hotel group in a new BBC fly-on-the-wall series

  • BBC series follows Northern Ireland’s largest family-owned luxury hotel chai 
  • Hastings Hotel Group welcomed cameras documented its comeback post Covid
  • They share stories about guests including a celebrity who the staff couldn’t look at and another who asked allusive services to be delivered to their hotel room 
  • The Hotel People starts on Tuesday, August 23, on BBC2 at 8pm 

Naked guests, others trying to steal TVs from the walls or complain about cheese being too ‘cheesy’, not to mention diva celebrities… it’s all in a day’s work for the team who run the Hastings Hotel Group. 

Now a new six-part BBC series follows the hard-working cast of characters at Northern Ireland’s largest family-owned luxury hotel chain as they try to bounce back from some of the toughest times the hospitality industry has ever faced.

Founded over 50 years ago by Sir William Hastings, the group has seven unique hotels and is still run by his family. 

But after nearly 18 months of closures and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, during which they suffered losses of more than £16.5 million, the challenge now is to find inventive ways to bring business back quickly in the face of some immense obstacles.

New six-part BBC series The Hotel People goes behind-the-scenes in the Hastings Hotel Group. L-R: Kyle Greer, Sam Denning, Damian Tumilty, Trisha, Michael Weston, Stephen Meldrum, Hazel Magill, Caelan McVeigh, Joseph Neeson, Andy McNeill, Thomas Kuriakose, Scott, Rose O’Neill, Aine Finnegan, Samira, Kimberly, outside the Culloden Estate and Spa

Managing director James McGinn, (pictured) celebrates his own personal milestone of 25 years with the group, almost every hour of which has been spent at work

The Hotel People follows Hastings’ perfectionist managing director James McGinn, who’s celebrating his own personal milestone of 25 years with the group, almost every hour of which has been spent at work. 

‘The show is about normal people,’ says James, who along with his team is hoping to welcome over 100,000 guests this summer. 

‘It’s not the Ritz, it’s not Claridges, but everything has happened here. There’s always some sort of drama.’

Today, Aine Finnegan, head of housekeeping at the flagship Europa hotel, is dealing with a somewhat spurious complaint. 

‘A guest has just checked out and said his wife’s feet are itching, and when he scratched his head a bug fell out of his hair,’ she says. 

‘Bedbugs are pretty easy to spot as they bite, they trap blood so you can see the marks, and there’s a routine we do with torches to look for them. 

The hotel staff across Hastings Hotel Group share stories of their experience working in the Europa and Culloden hotels. L-R: Martin Mulholland, Head Concierge, Europa with Stephen Meldrum, Lauren Coughlan, Sam Denning, James McGinn, Andy McNeill, Kyle Greer, Rose O’Neill and Caelan McVeigh

‘We know we’ve followed the right procedures and we know there aren’t any issues here.

‘These are brand new mattresses too. Unfortunately we do have guests looking for faults to maybe get a free night’s stay. 

‘And one couple tried to steal everything, including the TV off the wall.’

Handling tricky guests with diplomacy is an art form when you’re working in a top hotel, and Aine needs to employ it when dealing with some drunken guests. 

‘There were three guys in a room when there should only have been two. When our night manager tried to get them out last night, they pushed the bed up against the door. 

‘Now they’ve sobered up and we’ve managed to get them out, but there are pizza boxes on the floor, cigarette ash on the window sill and drink up the walls.’

In the first episode, Europa head of  housekeeping Aine Finnegan, (middle) is dealing with a somewhat spurious complaint regarding bedbugs 

James has seen it all before. ‘People arrive perfectly sober and happy but then they go to the bar to have a few drinks and things happen,’ he sighs. 

‘We once had a woman walking the corridors in just her pants mid-afternoon. She wanted to get in her car and drive home. It took hours to talk sense into her.’

Hastings Hotels welcome everyone from Premiership footballers and A-list stars such as Katy Perry and Sarah Jessica Parker, while making sure they don’t notice any behind-the-scenes drama. 

‘I remember the time a certain celebrity took over the whole top floor and the damage they caused,’ recalls Rose O’Neill, head of housekeeping at the Culloden Hotel And Spa. 

Rose O’Neill, head of housekeeping at the Culloden Hotel And Spa (pictured) recalls how a celebrity took over the whole top floor and caused a lot of damage 

‘One of their security guys also asked the concierge where they could get special ladies sent to the hotel and we had to say, “We don’t offer that service.”

‘And another celebrity complained that our housekeeping staff were harassing her, so we put her picture up on our office wall and told the staff to stop talking to her,’ adds Aine.

But now the staff at The Europa are abuzz about the arrival of one of Belfast’s biggest stars, singer-songwriter Van Morrison, for four nights of exclusive gigs.

‘It’s a golden ticket, bring in Van The Man as we need the money,’ says James. 

‘We need to be creative and people love music.’

Van Morrison was set to play at the Europa (pictured) but due to the ever-changing pandemic rules on live music it was cancelled just the day before 

Tragically, however, despite guests having flown from all over the world for the concerts, the ever-changing pandemic rules on live music when the series was filmed last year mean the gigs have to be cancelled just the day before.

Despite two weeks of preparations and the offer of dinner and drinks with Van in person at socially distanced tables while his music is streamed in, James and the team have to handle a crowd of disappointed guests. 

‘To take the sting out of the tail we’re going to absorb all the costs and guests can have their concert tickets refunded,’ says James. 

‘You get a bit of adrenaline, the show has to go on and it did go on.’

The group’s newest hotel is The Grand Central, which opened in 2017 and is the most expensive hotel ever to be built in Northern Ireland at £53 million. 

Its Observatory Bar on the top floor offers spectacular views across the city, afternoon teas, a high-end menu and cocktails. 

Head chef at The Europa Kyle Greer (pictured) recalls various complaints from London tourists including how the goat’s cheese tasted too goat’s cheesy 

Pastry chef Caitlin Lopes has her work cut out today as they have a full house of afternoon teas, but things aren’t exactly running like clockwork due to chronic staff shortages.

‘Four minutes before we were due to re-open the bar and serve afternoon teas, the bar and bathrooms had to be cleaned by the manager, and often the tea tables have to be reset by our hosts whose job is to greet the guests and monitor the tables,’ says bar manager Calean McVeigh. ‘It’s not great.’

Head chef at The Europa Kyle Greer and his team also have their frustrations. 

‘A lot of our complaints come from London travellers who are maybe expecting things like guava juice, but we’re in Belfast,’ he says. 

‘And someone complained the goat’s cheese tasted too goat’s cheesy, honestly, and I don’t know how to fix that.’

But the teams all pull together when times are tough. 

‘God knows what tomorrow is going to bring, but we dealt with today and we’ll deal with tomorrow and every other day thereafter,’ says James.

‘There’s no point in getting frustrated, at the end of the day the guest is always right.’

  • The Hotel People starts on Tuesday, August 23, on BBC2 at 8pm and will be on iPlayer

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