Just arrived in London, dont know the city but want to know absolutely everything? Then call concierge Patrick Renouf, says Sophia Money-Coutts
Just arrived in London, don’t know the city but want to know absolutely everything? Then call concierge Patrick Renouf, says Sophia Money-Coutts
It’s lucky, I think to myself, that I decided to wear shorts today. Leaping in and out of a Rolls-Royce Phantom decorously is a challenge, and I clearly need to perfect that Lady Di art of sliding in and out of the spongy seats with dignity and elegance intact.
The car, complete with driver John, has pulled up outside the office to take me on a tour of London. Strange, one might think, for someone who has always lived in the city and slightly assumes that tours should be reserved for gawking sightseers on double-decker buses. ‘Nonsense,’ says my guide and ‘fixer’ Patrick Renouf, ‘I see something new and thrilling in London everyday’.
In fact, for many wealthy travellers, whether they know London or not, ‘Paddy’ is the first person they contact once they have been fast-tracked through passport control. As we sit in the morning traffic along Notting Hill Gate, he explains the concept behind his business.
‘For my HNW clients, they’ve got the private jet, they’ve got the suite, but what do they do when they get here?’ What they can do, is call the charming Paddy to their rescue for a tailor-made insider’s glimpse of the city and surrounding areas, be they free for a few hours or several days. He insists, though, that this service is not just a glorified concierge business: ‘Anyone worth their salt can get a jet with Google and a credit card, I’m actually a kind of host or factotum friend. I would love to meet me in another city.’
Things were not always so, however. Paddy left university and started out by flogging mobile phones, before moving into the manufacturing industry, where he ran a thermometer-making business. At the age of 35, a business trip to India provided the impetus for another change of career, as he arrived in Bombay and was told he had come down with a vicious bout of culture shock. ‘I was a bit embarrassed. I felt like I’d just been sent to prep school and wanted my mother, who died 28 years ago’.
The Indian agent consequently suggested that he take a short break to settle in. ‘He was absolutely right’, says Paddy, ‘it only took me 24 hours to see the beauty of the place.’ The same agent then confessed that he had suffered similarly on a flit to London, and had called his secretary as he sped into town from Heathrow saying he wanted the next flight back to Bombay.
‘That had a profound effect on me,’ Paddy explains, ‘and I wanted to make sure that none of my punters were going to sit miserably thinking about the meaning of life in their hotel from Friday evening to Monday morning.’
By this point, the Rolls-Royce is easing down Portobello Road, parting flower-ladies and stall-holders like Moses. Reaching the Electric Brasserie, I eject myself and we head upstairs to the club. Over coffee, Paddy explains that on his return from India, he started taking visiting clients around London at night, and to visit his family in the country on weekends: ‘I even took up golf, which I can’t stand, just in case they wanted to play.’
Shortly after this, he was given the chance to opt out of the thermometer business, but was unsure of what to do as a free agent. ‘Friends suggested that I charge for my tours, but I replied that I used to have 200 staff and was not driving people around,’ he says.
This aversion seems to have been swiftly overcome, however, and his first client soon arrived in his private plane with his daughter from America. ‘He was thrilled and has given me so much business,’ Paddy says. ‘What I’ve found is that it combines a huge amount of my skills and experience in a really efficacious, fun way. I don’t have any payroll issues; it’s just me, the bank and the driver.’
I ask how he has soaked up so much knowledge on London, for as we drive around Paddy is constantly enlightening me with little gems about the various houses, parks and shops that we pass. ‘I have always had a passion for London, but between jobs I walked around a lot, and painted too,’ he recalls. ‘I started to notice things more clearly.’
His previous career and general life proved helpful too. ‘I understand the way that these people think. I’ve been to their houses, stayed on their yachts, been out with their daughters! You have to be able to speak their language.’
Language has sometimes proved a little confusing for Paddy and his clients. He tells me a story about a recent group of 16 Kazakhstani visitors who wanted to see Windsor Castle. Paddy booked a bus for them, but shortly after leaving their hotel, he was momentarily baffled by shouts of ‘Chelsea, Chelsea’. ‘I had two interpreters, so we realised that they wanted to visit the Chelsea souvenir shop,’ he explains.
Having spent a hefty amount of money, the group proceeded on to Windsor. There, 16 Kazakstanis swathed in the Chelsea strip, complete with swinging keyrings and baseball caps, duly alighted from their bus and happily toured the castle. ‘Afterwards we all went to the pub,’ says Paddy, adding that ‘I think the people in Windsor were more amazed than the Kazakstanis were’.
By now, Paddy and I are back in the car and are nudging our way down Park Lane. He points to the Rolls-Royce office and embarks on another story about some Russian clients of his. ‘They called up last week and asked me to get them one. I had to get the keys and drive it between the desks [in the showroom] out to Oxford. Apparently it wasn’t much good off-road, so now they want a Porsche Cayenne, by this afternoon.’ A demand which, I later discover, Paddy naturally met.
So with such last-minute requests, I wonder if Paddy ever finds life too frenetic? ‘Well, as Walt Disney said “it’s kind of fun to do the impossible”,’ he explains. ‘You have to understand the pressure that these incredibly successful people are under. They could run countries.’
Paddy looks towards Green Park and embarks on another anecdote about two young entrepreneurs from LA who came over having just sold their software company for $190 million. They stayed at the Baglioni, he says, ‘and had obviously been doing a lot of something, because they were all over the place.’ So he marched them off to Hyde Park and made them lie out under the cherry blossom there to calm down, ‘and they absolutely loved that’.
All of these clients come to Paddy via word-of-mouth recommendations, and he tends to get booked up about two months in advance, often flying out to see his international clients for inspiration before they arrive in London. Many subsequently return after their first foray with him. Possibly because he seems to have an inexhaustible supply of amusements for adults and children alike.
One American family, interested in history, were rendered mute when the car pulled up to St Martin’s-in-the-Field and a dressed-up Samuel Pepys climbed in and started spouting Middle English. Half an hour later, at Aldgate East, Pepys got out and Jack the Ripper stepped in. ‘It just made it magical,’ says Paddy.
As I’m dropped off by Paddy for my lunchtime meeting, I ask whether he has any plans for another career diversion, and am answered with a definite no. ‘I have the most fantastic job,’ he says, ‘I’m paid to go round the best city in the world. I show people what money can’t buy – though the fact is I might just have to charge them a small fortune for it.’ And after spending my morning under bombardment by his intelligent witterings and gracious charm, I leave unsure of a better way to be spoiled.