Clapham local Alex Polizzi, the straight-talking presenter of Channel 5’s The Hotel Inspector, on career success, the rise of Airbnb and family life in south west London…
Words: January Carmault
It is said women wear many hats. One glance at Alex Polizzi’s impressive CV begs the question whether she staffs a small millinery alongside her roles as wife, mother, hotelier, presenter, writer and business consultant. The granddaughter of Lord Forte, daughter of hotel designer Olga Polizzi and niece of Sir Rocco Forte, she possesses the fortitude of a woman confounded by the concept of failure.
In a rare respite from filming on the eve of airing her latest series of The Hotel Inspector, we meet in No. 32 Old Town in Clapham and chat over tea and poached eggs. Cheery and fresh faced from a soggy school run, Polizzi exudes the same effortless charm and outspoken candour she espouses on the television screen.
‘I dread the school runs. The tedium of getting the kids (Olga, eight, and Rocco, three) up, dressed, fed and out the door is a minor military operation,’ she admits. With Polizzi, what you see is what you get – which is what makes her so watchable.
After eight years gracing our screens, her diverse portfolio runs the gambit from hospitality guru in The Hotel Inspector, small-business consultant in The Fixer, veteran crusader in Hire our Heroesto upmarket holiday rep in Secret Italy, to name a few. Broadcasting in over 27 countries, so prolific is her work any casual flick through the programme guide can catch Polizzi dispensing her signature brand of straight-talk.
I wonder if she ever tires being so, well, capable? ‘One of the best parts of my job is when I’ve made a tangible difference to the future success of a business. Sadly it’s not always the case. In the hotel industry especially, failures often outweigh the fairytale endings.’
She despairs at the level of blinkered delusion typical of some of her projects. ‘Belligerent, inflexible and rudderless management can be hard to remedy. For many it’s very personal, and that can be difficult to change.’
In the hotel industry especially, failures often outweigh the fairytale endings
Cutting her teeth at Hong Kong’s Mandarin Oriental in her 20s, Polizzi earned her stripes in restaurant management at Marco Pierre White’s Criterion Brasserie. Whilst three months pregnant with her daughter Olga and managing the family’s Hotel Endsleigh, and having already successfully launched Hotel Tresanton at St Mawes in Cornwall, TV producers approached her as a natural candidate to fill Ruth Watson’s shoes as the next Inspector.
Her charisma in front of the camera combined with industry know-how made her ideal for the role. Now in its 12th season, the latest instalment of The Hotel Inspector is bigger and better, throwing up more surprises for both hotel and viewer.
‘We’re taking owners out of their comfort zone and getting far more involved in turning things on their head,’ she tells me. As the industry evolves, it has had to compete with new platforms, including Airbnb. ‘I think it’s great to offer more choice. But legislation is playing catch-up with the market as many registered B&Bs remain at a distinct disadvantage, being taxed on rental income – which some of these platforms avoid.’
Despite a career that pulls her away from home for days at a time, Polizzi refuses to indulge in the guilt that too often plagues successful working mothers. She insists she is not cut out to be a full-time mum and makes no apology for loving her work.
Nobody can do it all, so why pretend otherwise? I’m a firm believer in the power of a good nanny
‘Nobody can do it all, so why pretend otherwise?’ she asks. With a mother who did and continues to work full-time, nannies were a must-have for Polizzi growing up, which does not seem to have done her any harm. ‘I’m a firm believer in the power of a good nanny. I couldn’t do what I do without the people around me.’
Today, Polizzi is a familiar fixture on the streets of south west London, but it was not always so. A dedicated disciple of London’s ‘Zone 1’ most of her life, it took a bit of coaxing from her husband, baker Marcus Miller, to lure her south of the Thames. After so many years she is happy to call Clapham home.
‘I’m a city girl and I love London. Clapham is such a lovely enclave with the green space of the Common and great restaurants. The kids love the gelateria on the Northcote Road and it’s still close enough to Selfridges that I don’t suffer withdrawal symptoms. What more could you want?’
The Hotel Inspector airs on Channel Five