Hilton Tales #1

I never actually worked for the Park Lane Hilton hotel in Mayfair but worked for Trader Travel Ltd, an executive jet company which had a concession right by the lobby bar in the early 70s, the era of maxi skirts and flower power.

It was odd how I got the job. I was invited by South African Lionel Hodes, the man who married my first cousin Ruth, for a drink in a coffee bar close to the Hilton.  Lionel was an intellectual lawyer who often travelled to Europe and Israel and always looked me up when he came through London. I marvelled at his being able to speak at least 6 languages. Little did I know that 4 decades later, I, too, would speak almost as many! I would find out, after his death first hand, from my cousin, that in fact Lionel really travelled undercover as an international lawyer when he really represented the South African Zionists and was instrumental in preventing the German Nazis infiltrating South Africa as they had done in Peron's Argentina!

The coffee bar (one of the first in London) had no loo and so I suggested popping in to the nearby Hilton so I could pee in style! On my way out I noticed the Trader Travel concession by the bar in the lobby. 'I'd love a job there.' I said to myself wistfully making a note of the phone number.

 I had worked 2 years in tourism for Global Tours (number 3 tour operator in the U.K. with offices in Canada, America, Australia and South Africa for incoming tourists) from 1968-70. Then I scarpered off to South America giving up my job to follow my dream at the age at about 25. I still wanted to continue working in tourism but was jobless having just returned from 10 months in Brazil and 2 months in Argentina. I just took off and followed my dream, something today, decades later, I encourage everyone in a rut to do!

The next day I phoned Trader Travel, the executive jet company, and asked for the manager. He surprised me by saying he would come to London the very next day, Did I mind working starting late and finishing late? No, I replied. Then he said he would take me for lunch at the Hilton and interview me. I was an unemployed hungry young lady so I jumped at his suggestion.

The next day dawned and I was excited. I dressed up maxi, complete with heavy makeup and pale pink lipstick that was very fashionable in 1972. Fortunately the manager was desperate for someone to do the later shift starting at 14.00 and finishing at 20.00. He had John who worked the 9.00-4.00 shift but needed someone to stay on later. No problem. I started there and then on the following Monday with reasonable pay and could eat in the Hilton canteen but was never informed of the Hilton staff rules as I was working for Trader Travel, non ABTA registered and thus without travel concessions, not for the Hilton Hotel with its strict rules and regulations that I was later to discover.  Airline, cruise and holiday tickets had to be sent from head office somewhere in Kent so the service was not so quick and efficient as really the concession was publicity for hiring their executive jets - except no one ever inquired for that service!

Well, one man engaged me in conversation about the jet company. I just gave him a glossy brochure on the fleet. What did I know about aviation? I remember him well. Daper, smartly dressed in a grey suit and tie and well spoken. In his 30s and not bad looking if you liked typical pale and pasty English looks. John had just taken a cash deposit of several hundred pounds for a cruise. I suddenly noticed that the man was looking beyond me, obviously watching someone behind me. I turned and saw a burly, swarthy Italian thug like character with his arm stretched across the counter. John was not there. As I turned to look, the man moved away from the counter into the bar and when I turned back, Mr Daper had disappeared. John returned and wailed to me. 'The cash deposit has been stolen!' The police were summoned but the con-men got away. Of course Trader Travel were insured.

I met and saw several rich, successful and famous people during my year at the Hilton and got into hot water, stories for another time!

Written at Casa de los Bates, Motril, Spain 10/2/17.

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