Meet the owner of ‘the best hotel west of the Ritz’
PUBLISHED: 09:48 07 July 2020
Photo: Steve Haywood
Burgh Island Hotel inspired Agatha Christie and has hosted everyone from The Beatles to Winston Churchill
Giles Fuchs admits the first glimpse gets him every time.
“You know when you come into Bigbury-on-Sea, just over the brow of the hill and you see the island? That just does it for me – a huge smile comes over my face. We are so lucky.”
Entrepreneur Giles bought Burgh Island Hotel in 2018, after seeing a picture of it and falling in love with one of Devon’s most remarkable buildings.
Built in the Art Deco style in 1927 by filmmaker Archibald Nettlefold, the opulent hotel quickly became known as ‘the best hotel west of the Ritz’, and has a reputation for decades of decadence.
It famously became Queen of Crime Agatha Christie’s bolthole and inspired the settings for two of her novels, And Then There Were None and Evil Under the Sun.
The Beatles, Winston Churchill and Noel Coward are just a few of the other famous names who have made the journey across the water to stay on Burgh Island.
Giles, who owns and runs a serviced office business in London, says he was immediately hooked by the appearance, location and history of the building – which he’d never heard of before.
“It’s bizarre but it’s true,” he says, describing the moment he was shown an image of Burgh Island over coffee with businessman Duncan Gray, who was planning to buy hotels.
“He said he was buying this island in Devon and I just went: wow! Can I get involved? He said no; he was fully funded. A week later, Duncan rang me and asked if I was still interested and I said: yes, I’ll buy it. It was a no brainer. I’d just fallen in love with it.”
As a teenager, Giles failed his A-Levels before turning up on the doorstep of an estate agency and asking for a job.
Years later he went on to co-found Office Space in Town (OSiT) with his sister Nikki and is now a self-made multi-millionaire.
Giles says he wanted this latest Devon-based venture to provide a safe investment but also a place where he and his family could enjoy spending time together.
“It was about love, good investment and somewhere we could go on holiday,” says Giles. “It’s an island off the south coast of Devon for god’s sake. It’s beautiful!”
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Giles admits he has had his work cut out. The hotel was in need of modernisation but its beautiful Art Deco heritage needed to be preserved.
The businessman immediately invested more than £1 million to renovate some of the rooms and suites. The kitchen has been replaced, floors stripped and furniture updated.
Giles has also doubled the number of staff on site, drafting in Mark Mosimann, son of legendary Swiss chef Anton Mosimann, to help with training. Giles has also created a staff area in the hotel and bought a cottage in Bigbury for some of the hotel’s workers to live in.
There are plans to improve staff accommodation further, plus spend another £500,00 on renovations to the main Grade II-listed building, one of the foremost examples of the Art Deco style in Europe.
“It’s all looking pretty spectacular,” says Giles, adding that occupancy is up and turnover has almost doubled in the past two years. “We’re not there yet. We know we can still improve.”
One of the major tasks ahead is to spread the word about Burgh Island and what a fantastic place it is.
Lockdown saw the building close, with just a handful of staff on site. “We moved them into the best suites in the hotel!” says Giles. “It’s a pretty good place to isolate.”
Now the plan is to reopen with great fanfare, telling the whole country about this very unique retreat and ensuring this important building can be enjoyed by even more guests in the years to come – famous or not.
“My vision is to get it full throughout the year,” says Giles. “My mother said to me when we bought it: it will be interesting to see if you take the super rich’s money or you stay at the prices you’re at with the clientele you’ve got. My view is that we stick with the people who already go there. It’s like a house party because everyone is so similar.”
Island life certainly has its perks.
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Tractor trips: Burgh Island is connected to the mainland by a sandy beach, which is covered daily at high tide. The famous ‘beach tractor’ takes visitors to and from the island at high tide.
Out of sight: The Pilchard Inn, at the foot of Burgh Island, was originally a 14th century hideout smugglers. The most notorious was an Elizabethan called Tom Crocker, who was allegedly shot outside the inn by a revenue officer.
re-fab to fabulous: In the 1890s, the music hall star George H Chirgwin built a prefabricated wooden house on Burgh Island, used by guests for weekend parties. The island was sold in 1927 to the filmmaker Archibald Nettlefold, who built a more substantial hotel in an Art Deco style.
Noteable hotel guests: Winston Churchill, The Beatles, Noel Coward, Josephine Baker and Agatha Christie have all stayed at the Burgh Island Hotel. Agatha Christie is said to have made Burgh her second home, writing two books on the Island.
Surfers paradise: Nearby Bantham Beach has a reputation for being one of the best surfing beaches in Devon because of its topography and reliable big waves. The estuary and surrounding area are a natural haven for wildlife.
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