WHEN I told people that my wife was expecting our first child, a lot of the men who already have kids did this laugh, a sort of bark that seemed to be at once ironic, sardonic and to suggest “you poor, poor fool, you don’t know what you are letting yourself into. No, really, you have no idea. Not a whisper of a rumour of an inkling. No conception. Zero.” Then they shook my hand, nodded sadly and lapsed into a thousand-yard stare.
When they regained the power of coherent speech, they then started telling me that my wife and I should go out, to pubs, restaurants, cinemas – anywhere, really – right now and all the way until the contractions start. “Because after the baby is born…” they would begin, then trail off and get all wistful.
We vowed to go out. Lots. But of course it’s impossible. The weeks are taken up with work and ante-natal classes, and the weekends with trips to Ikea, followed by long sessions with Allen keys and detachable screwdrivers, followed by even longer ones with Gina Ford. With a few weeks to go, and feeling a little frazzled, we decided that we had to take one last trip before the momentous arrival of Hazlehurst 2.0. Apparently the Americans call this a “babymoon”.
But, of course, you are a bit limited in terms of destination when one of you has a big old bun in the oven. Many airlines won’t take women who are more than 28 weeks pregnant, and even if they will I am (sternly) told that the prospect of sitting in an airport is even less attractive than normal when you have a squirming, poking, wriggling human inside you, your back hurts and all you want to do is lie in a darkened room with a flannel over your face, gently groaning.
The prospect of then being jammed into an airline seat for hours on end was unthinkable. And anyway, there’s not much point going to a wonderful beach resort or a stunning medieval citadel if all you want to do is snooze and peruse your belly for incipient stretch marks. Luckily, we live in what we are always being told is “the best city in the world”, so after a few picoseconds of consideration, we opted for a holiday on our own doorstep.
Darling, it just had to be Mayfair. And once it was Mayfair, then it had to be Brown’s. Located in Albermarle Street, it was the first hotel in London, set up in 1837 by Lady Byron’s maid and her husband. Alexander Graham Bell made the first phone call from here, and Agatha Christie wrote a book here. Haile Salassi, King Zog of Albania, Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians, Count de Paris – the Great Pretender – and Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie all stayed. And as I always say, if it’s good enough for Napoleon III and the Empress Eugenie, it’s good enough for me and my missus. Brown’s is now owned by the Rocco Forte group, who renovated it in 2005, with a lot of love and 24 million quid. There are doormen in top-hats and staff who actually look pleased to see you. In short, it puts the class in classic.
The rooms are just beautiful, spacious and modern, with a walk-in wardrobe, Everyman books on the shelves (think PG Wodehouse and Thomas Hardy), beautiful bathrooms and massive, comfy beds. There’s a choice of 16 pillows – they supplied a special pregnancy pillow for my wife, which helped her, and therefore me, get the best night’s sleep for months. They also gave us a cuddly bear for the baby-to-be, which was a lovely, thoughtful touch.
If you really wanted, you could stay in the hotel for the whole weekend and be perfectly happy. The modern British food in the restaurant comes from the brilliant Mark Hix, afternoon tea has a choice of 17 brews in the gorgeous lounge and if I had been in a boozing mood I could have happily whiled away a few hours in the Donovan bar, where I imagine that the ghosts of some very distinguished roués tipple with you.
There’s also a spa, of course, and my wife booked herself into the Mellow Mama treatment, designed especially for expectant women, which consisted of a “lovely and very relaxing” all-over massage (avoiding the bump). “I actually forgot I was pregnant, which is quite a feat,” she says. “Anything that stops you feeling that you are a huge hulk is just amazing.” Weeks later, she still smiles at the memory. I can attest that it did her the world of good – she came out looking like she had been given a premature toot on the Entonox.
While she did that, I went for a little workout in Green Park, which is just at the end of the street (actually, I spent most of it helping a Danish family try to get a plastic boomerang out of a tree, but don’t tell anybody). If the deckchairs had been out, I’d have taken a rest on one of those. The location is of course one of the great things about Brown’s. You are a short stroll from Buckingham Palace, and Mayfair is on your doorstep. We went and wasted an hour over a cup of tea in the Wolseley, mooched about the private art galleries pretending we could afford things, and then took in the Royal Academy. If you are feeling particularly rich, you can also take a stroll down Bond Street. On the evening we walked over to Shaftsbury Avenue and went to the theatre, and afterwards had a drink in Soho. It’s just a 10-minute stroll back.
As we sat in the bar supping a cappuccino (decaf for her, of course) we leafed through the brochure and I foolishly let my other half see that Brown’s also caters for families, and they do a package that includes a copy of The Jungle Book for young children – it was written in one of the hotel’s suites, Rudyard Kipling being a regular guest – plastic ducks and bubble bath for bath-time, then cookies and milk for nap-time. “Hmm,” she mused, “I could get used to this.” And I think for the first time I did that thousand-yard stare.
Jeremy had the Bespoke Brown’s Experience, which includes overnight accommodation, welcome gift, full English breakfast daily and two one-hour spa treatments (of which the Mama Mio can be selected). Rooms start at £400 plus VAT per night for a minimum of two nights. There’s a range of Mama Mio treatments for pregnant women which can be booked by non-guests. Mellow Mama costs £95 for 75 minutes. Brown’s Hotel, Albermarle Street, Mayfair, W1S 4BP, tel: 020 7493 6020, www.brownshotel.com.
OTHER PREGNANCY PACKAGES
With some of the biggest hotel rooms in London and a beautiful atrium, complete with palm trees and glass roof, this is another hotel that’s perfect for those who don’t much want to go out. The new chlorine-free pool will reassure those who are afraid that chlorine can harm unborn babies. There is a Prenatal Treatment involving “calendula infused oil, various mud and creams combined with a specially designed advanced back and shoulder massage to safe areas of women throughout pregnancy.” £110 for 90 minutes. Room rates start at £250. 222 Marylebone Road, NW1 6JQ, tel : 020 7631 8000. www.landmarklondon.co.uk
The Grove in Hertfordshire is country house heaven. The best rooms are the magnificent suites in the Mansion House, once the family home of the Earls of Clarendon, and the gardens are ideal for gentle dozing. If the lady fancies some time to herself, then her other half might be tempted by the golf course. There’s an 80-minute pregnancy body massage (£120) and a Mum-To-Be package including a treatment, lunch in the spa, a one-hour facial and a pedicure or manicure costs £255. Overnight spa packages from £385. Chandler's Cross, Hertfordshire, WD3 4TG, tel: 01923 807807. www.thegrove.co.uk
A neoclassical wonder designed by Robert Adam and with gardens by Capability Brown, a few years ago they spent £60m jazzing up Luton Hoo, £5m of which went on the spa. The Mansion House is the place to be, with views over the grounds and lake. The interiors are beyond grand and the gardens are beautiful. For those of a sporting bent, there’s a grass tennis court and gold course. An 80-minute pregnancy treatment costs £115. Weekend packages cost £448 including dinner, B&B, one 55-minute treatment, and a manicure or pedicure. Luton Hoo, Luton, LU1 3TQ, tel: 01582 698 841. www.lutonhoo.co.uk
A perfect location overlooking Hyde Park and a short walk from Knightsbridge, the Regency-style rooms at the Lanesborough should lift the spirits of the most jaded lady. And after a nap she might enjoy the afternoon tea, which was voted the best in London by the UK Tea Council, no less. Down in the spa, there’s a New Life Pregnancy treatment that promises to relieve joint tension and swelling, and relax the muscles in sore backs. £110 for 90 minutes. Rooms start at £495 a night plus VAT, suites from £715 a night plus VAT. Hyde Park Corner, SW1X 7TA, tel: 020 7259 5599. www.lanesborough.com