"You've got to be the best at what you can do, be the best at it! And the best has to be the best, you can't just fiddle around and hope", Anouska Hempel bellows. This dynamo of a lady left the glamorous world of nineteen seventies acting to pioneer the iconic Blakes Hotel in London. Today she had an easy, engaging charm, yet her powerful personality stamps itself on everyone she shares a room with. Fizzing with energy she speaks with the authority of someone who has done something seriously special with her life.
"Acting was fun for a while. I loved every minute of the really good things I did but probably wasn't as good as I should have been. If you are good at one thing it doesn't mean that you can't just diversify into something else. The government was giving grants and I happened to find a property in London. Somebody else gave me another bit of money and then I was making commercials. And the money I made on those commercials and the repeats paid for the roof of Blakes, paid for this, paid for that..."
This most special of places, Blakes opened its doors in 1978. One of the world's first ever luxury boutique hotels, it was a blueprint for so many other similar such ventures that followed. "I had a lot of great ideas, the way I put things together, the juxtaposition of things. The colours, the textures, the fabrics, and where they're put and how they work in a hotel situation... I was always drawn to make it look that bit better. I always look East and West. I got carried away with a bit of European grandeur and splendour, which was fun. Now I've gone back to minimalism again, or somewhere in between."
Whereas some high end hotels are plumped up with formality and self-importance, Blakes transports guests to a dreamy, romantic world. Its creator's DNA runs through its every fixture and fitting. A London evening is easily passed sitting in the sumptuous bar area amidst the scatter cushions, sipping a dry Martini. The hotel's ambience - the decor, furnishings, art, use of space, light and smell - feels glamorous yet distinctive.
Anouska Hempel remembers the early days of Blakes: "I fell madly in love with folk singer Bob Dylan. There were so many great things happening all around us all. Everybody hung out in this home from home, whether they were acting friends or friends from Portobello Road, or painting friends or decorating friends, whatever. It just became a meeting place for all walks of life, and the odd star turning up didn't hurt! It was a great time and I was working doing a hundred and one things everywhere!"
After opening Blakes in London's posh South Kensington district, she designed the minimalist Hempel Hotel beloved by Michael Jackson and Victoria Beckham, and then Blakes Amsterdam. Nowadays, she works on various properties around the world, including Singapore, China and London. Anouska Hempel Design is the creative force behind these projects, and she has a team of around thirty people working for her of various nationalities.
Although Anouska jets around the world on a regular basis, she is very much in love with London. "You have a chance now in London that no one has ever had before, because everybody appreciates everything. You don't have to train people, you don't have to say it's Lebanese, Japanese, Chinese or whatever - everybody knows that, everyone has travelled. There's a whole world coming back into London; there's a melting pot here for everybody that's got any type of talent and I think that is remarkable and I love it. The place is buzzing and busy. I love it. Actually I don't think it's changed, I just think that it has developed and is more intense now."
What is Anouska's secret? "I like people. Listen, if you're a hotelier, if you're a creative person and you're working with the things that I do, then you have to like people, otherwise you simply can't get anywhere. And I like managing people, building something, making it stay, developing it, making it blossom. Which means I am probably a control freak. What do you reckon?"
"Good people," she confides, "can get you out of a thousand problems with charm and kindness. It is the hotel staff who carry that magic in their chatter and in their talk and in their connection with guests - all the time. It is happiness, it's liking people. Listen, Blakes grew up as one happy family. Every member of staff became a friend at the end of the day. I'd come down there at two in the morning, and everybody was so jolly and so happy!"
Does Blakes have a certain type of guest? "Of course, and that itself has attracted other sorts of guests. We had The Rolling Stones staying with Bianca Jagger, and Bianca is a friend of someone else from Panama and Nicaragua and so on. The hotel became a kind of a wonderful meeting place for every kind of talented person you could possibly think of, on every kind of level..."
"You've done so much, haven't you?", I reflect. A force of nature the like of which I have never quite before encountered, the absolutely fabulous Anouska Hempel snaps back, "and I have only just started, so watch out!"