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She has stood for 140 years majestically overlooking Birmingham’s St. Philip’s Cathedral. It has been dormant for 20 years but The Grand Hotel is coming to life again after a £45 million refurbishment. Chamberlink columnist Jon Griffin went to meet general manager Peter Kienast, the man charged with awakening a Sleeping Beauty.

t’s been called La Grande Dame of Birmingham, a Sleeping Beauty for nearly two decades,

a city institution where the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplin once stalked the corridors… “If only these walls could talk,”

The Griffin Report I

says general manager Peter Kienast, just days before Birmingham’s much loved Grand Hotel finally re-opens after the best part of 20 years dormant, a sad, almost forgotten slice of Victorian architecture quietly slumbering in the heart of the city’s foremost business district, Colmore Row.

‘No architect can build you that history, no money can buy you that history’

“The Grand is part of Birmingham, the hotel has always been a key part of the history of the city, a symbol of Birmingham’s hospitality nationwide. With that history and name, it deserves the right to put the city back on the map,” says Peter. “No architect can build you that

history, no money can buy you that history. There is no question about the excitement of this – this is the most loved hotel in Birmingham.” Peter, an affable German with

around 35 years’ experience worldwide in the hotel industry spanning a variety of roles in Munich, Dallas, Madeira, London, the Swiss Alps, Manchester and elsewhere, is the man charged with overseeing the long-awaited renaissance of the Grand, 140 years or more after it first opened its doors in the latter stages of Queen Victoria’s long reign. And what an extraordinary story

lies behind the facade of this Grade Two listed building overlooking St Philip’s Cathedral and its churchyard, opening on 1 February, 1879, just a week or so after the infamous Battle of Rorke’s Drift during the Zulu Wars subsequently immortalised for later generations by Michael Caine, Stanley Baker et al in the epic film ‘Zulu’.

20 CHAMBERLINK June 2021 Peter Kienast: “This is not a stuffy hotel. It is exclusive for everyone…” Nearly a century and a half later,

the Grand echoes not to the sound of Zulu warriors but to the final touches of renovation work which have at last brought this grand old lady of Birmingham hospitality back to the top table, where she surely belongs. But it’s been a long, hard road for the Grand from those distant early years of the British Empire through to today’s post- Brexit digital era. Victorian property group Hortons

– still today the owners of this unique piece of Birmingham real estate dating all the way back to developer Isaac Horton –

transformed the original building into a luxury venue whose reputation and cachet were to resound far beyond the boundaries of industrial Birmingham for many decades. By the early 20th Century the

Grand was regularly playing host to Royalty, politicians and film stars with a VIP guest list which included the likes of King George V1, Winston Churchill, Neville Chamberlain, Charlie Chaplin, James Cagney, Laurel and Hardy and Joe Louis. The stardust continued to sprinkle throughout the hotel well into the 1960s and in

February this year a visitors’ book signed in 1965 by the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Shirley Bassey, Andy Williams, Lonnie Donegan – and subsequent Prime Minister Ted Heath – sold at auction for £6,700. But it hasn’t always been rock-star

glamour and silver screen glitz for the Grand, with financial difficulties and closures in the late 1960s and mid-70s before the hotel finally closed under the banner of Queens Moat Houses, in August 2002, seemingly for good. Demolition was only staved off after protests by the Victorian Society and the Grand was designated with a Grade Two listing.

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