Elly McDonald

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Lucrezia, Elizabeth and Sansa

Blood & Beauty / In the Name of the Family – Sarah Dunant
The White Princess – Philippa Gregory
Game of Thrones (TV series) – George R.R. Martin, David Benioff, D.B. Weiss

Lucrezia Borgia lived an extraordinary life, but really, who’d swap? Who’d be a Renaissance princess for real?

Born in 1480, the illegitimate daughter of a prince of the Roman Catholic Church, Pope Alexander VI, Lucrezia was twice engaged before age 12; married (to a third fiancé) at 13, divorced four years later, allegedly (but implausibly) still virginal; remarried at 18, widowed by age 20 when her brother had her husband garrotted; married once more at 22, to a duke’s syphilitic son; ten children (and multiple miscarriages) later, dead at 39. Libelled through the centuries as an adulteress, an incestuous wanton, a poisoner.

Lucrezia Borgia Elly McDonald Writer

There’s Elizabeth of York, born in 1466, eldest daughter of King Edward IV of England: first engaged at age 3; then engaged to the French Dauphin at age 9; rumoured to be her uncle King Richard III’s intended wife at 18; offered by her malformed uncle to the Portuguese king’s heir; offered by her mother to Henry Tudor, King Henry VII. Six live births, three surviving children (including the future Henry VIII) when she died in childbirth on her 37th birthday.

Elizabeth of York Elly McDonald WriterThen there’s Sansa Stark. Sansa Stark is a fictional character. Arguably, she’s a composite invention, with elements of Elizabeth of York’s life woven through her story, and a few tangential elements of Lucrezia Borgia’s: Lucrezia’s sister-in-law, from her second marriage, was named Sancia. Viewers of the TV series Game of Thrones will recall that Sansa was engaged to King Robert Baratheon’s heir Joffrey, then married to the dwarf Tyrion Lannister, abandoned still virginal to be bigamously married off to the sociopathic rapist Ramsay Bolton. (Readers of the George RR Martin novels A Song of Ice and Fire understand the narrative in the books unfolds somewhat differently.)

Sansa Stark Elly McDonald Writer

What’s interesting about these storylines is agency.

Were Lucrezia and Elizabeth merely marriage pawns? Were they merely bargaining chips in high stakes political alliances? Or did they have some say in their ‘choices’? Once married, what degree of ‘choice’ did they have in how those marriages – and those political alliances – worked out?

Any historical fiction is always a working through of issues that address contemporary readers. As is all science fiction. So fictionalised imaginings of the lives of Lucrezia Borgia and Elizabeth of York, and fictional creations such as Sansa Stark, are vehicles to explore issues affecting women today: self-determination, autonomy and dependence among them.

Sarah Dunant has written five novels now which explore aspects of women’s lives in Renaissance Italian states. The Birth of Venus (2003) tells the tale of a Florentine merchant’s daughter who aspires to be an artist. In the Company of the Courtesan (2006) follows the career of a courtesan who, after the 1527 Sack of Rome by French armies, rebuilds her career in Venice. Sacred Hearts (2008) concerns a young girl unwillingly interned in a convent as a novice nun. Blood & Beauty (2013) and In the Name of the Family (2017) recount the fortunes of Lucrezia Borgia, through to the death of her father and her brother Cesare’s political demise.

Sarah Dunant scrupulously follows historical fact as best it can be ascertained. Where there is no surviving primary evidence, she chooses plausible speculations, from a feminist perspective. Most of the calumnies against Lucrezia Borgia are not plausible. Consequently, the Lucrezia Borgia Dunant presents is much the Lucrezia Borgia presented by Sarah Bradford in her readable biography, Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy (2004) – an exemplary Renaissance princess, a convent-educated patron of the arts well-versed in diplomatic skills.

Lucrezia Borgia 2 Elly McDonald Writer

This Lucrezia Borgia has no say in her first marriage and divorce, no hand in the death of her second husband, no choice in leaving her first-born child, but is actively involved in negotiating her third marriage and committed to ensuring that marriage succeeds. She is not an adulteress, being instead a poet’s muse, in line with poet-patroness conventions of the day. Dunant doesn’t allude to Lucrezia’s alleged affair with her brother-in-law the Duke of Mantua, but the case is well-made for why a canny political operative such as Lucrezia proved to be would reject a sexual liaison. (Besides, Francesco Gonzaga was frequently incapacitated by syphilis, and there were few occasions when the two were in physical proximity; their relationship was mainly a written correspondence.)

Lucrezia Borgia 3 Elly McDonald Writer

Lucrezia couldn’t prevent a husband she apparently loved from being murdered on her brother’s orders and was obliged to collaborate in impregnation after impregnation by a husband with advanced syphilis whose temperament and affinities were poles apart from hers. But their interests coincided: preserving the duchy of Ferrara for d’Este rule in a time of turmoil. As a team, they were a success.

Similarly, Elizabeth of York and Henry VII appear to have made a success of their marital alliance, albeit on very different terms. Elizabeth’s claim to the throne of England, as the eldest surviving child of Edward IV, was better than Henry Tudor’s. (Being female did not disbar her, as the subsequent ascents of Mary I, Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I in the Tudor period proved.) It was important to Henry that it be clear he claimed the throne in his own right, by right of conquest, and not as male spouse to a queen regnant, the Yorkist heir. The timing of his coronation, prior to the marriage, reinforced this point. Elizabeth was relegated to queen consort, stripped of political power.

It wasn’t that late medieval English female royals had no formal political influence, as had been argued until relatively recently. Henry’s mother, Margaret Beaufort, was his foremost political adviser, with private rooms adjoining her son’s and prominence in public ceremonies. Her household papers attest to the degree of power and autonomy she enjoyed.

But Elizabeth, the White Rose of York, was acknowledged as little more than a breeder. Little contemporary testimony as to her character and activities survives, other than that she was a most amiable woman, with a russet gown and one blue, fond of past-times such as cards, music and dancing, who loved her siblings, her mother and her children, and also her greyhounds. She grew plump over time. Her son Henry, who was 11 when she died, remembered her as a very pretty woman. She lived away from the public gaze, mostly at Eltham Palace.

For Elizabeth, this was a good outcome. She had grown up as the marital prize for the would-be kings. Her destiny was to be queen of England, and she fulfilled that destiny. Even if she could not exercise power herself, her son would be king, and her descendants future rulers. She survived the downfall of her house, the House of York, the York Plantagenets, just as Lucrezia survived the fall of the house of Borgia to thrive as duchess of Ferrara, mother of future dukes.

Both were survivors – until they weren’t, until childbirth felled them. But they survived their brothers and fathers, and fared better than many might have wagered at the time.

Elizabeth of York 2 Elly McDonald Writer

The central mystery of Elizabeth’s life however remains what she made of the emergence of the man who claimed he was her brother Richard – a man who claimed he hadn’t been murdered in the Tower of London as believed, had survived his older brother Edward, had been brought up in Burgundy, and was in fact the rightful king of England, King Richard IV. This man was supported by European royalty and enjoyed prolonged hospitality at royal courts, marrying the daughter of one of Scotland’s most powerful nobles.

When this man proclaimed himself king in England, he hoped for a popular uprising. It didn’t happen. Instead he was captured. Henry VII’s agents denounced him as an imposter. They said he was really Perkin Warbeck, a Fleming. But Henry treated the imposter well initially, allowing him to live at court for 18 months, albeit under guard and without his wife, who lived under the protection of the queen, Elizabeth.

It is improbable, but possible, that Perkin was born Richard. Did Elizabeth believe Perkin Warbeck was a pretender? Was she unsure, confused? Or, privately, did she recognise him as her brother? Did she believe his wife Lady Katherine was her sister-in-law, or was Lady Katherine, for her, another young noblewoman married for political purposes? Did Elizabeth ever get to have close contact with Perkin? Did she get to see him, to speak to him, at all?

Perkin Warbeck was recaptured after allegedly trying to escape. He was severely beaten and dragged on a wooden hurdle to execution at Tyburn, alongside Elizabeth’s cousin, her aunt Isabelle’s son Edward, the young Earl of Warwick. How did this impact Elizabeth?

The truth is, Elizabeth the White Rose of York, queen consort of England, had zero agency to affect Perkin Warbeck’s fate. Even if Perkin Warbeck was Richard Plantagenet, rightful king of England, and even had his sister recognised him at first glance, there was not a thing she could have done to avert his end. Any hint of recognition, distress or mourning would have been anathema to her husband and to the dynastic interests of her children, and might have endangered Elizabeth herself. After all, her husband – and, after her death, her son Henry – spent years systematically destroying any kin of Elizabeth’s who could be acclaimed as Plantagenet heirs.

Elizabeth of York 3 Elly McDonald Writer

I’m not a huge fan of Philippa Gregory’s novels, despite their immense popularity. But Elizabeth’s powerlessness is poignant as depicted in The White Princess, just as Lucrezia’s powerlessness to prevent her second husband’s murder is poignant – is shocking – as depicted in Dunant’s Blood & Beauty.

Philippa Gregory represents Elizabeth of York almost as catatonic, as paralysed, in relation to Perkin Warbeck. Dunant shows Lucrezia and her sister-in-law Sancia desperately attempting to save Alfonso of Aragon by appealing to a higher authority, her father, the Pope – only to inadvertently leave him exposed and fatally vulnerable.

On Game of Thrones, as at the time of writing we don’t know where Sansa Stark’s story is headed. She’s developed from being a naïve ingénue through manifold manipulations to her current status as an avenging Amazon, intent on reclaiming what is hers. So far, all but one of her immediate family have been killed (with one resurrected, and one transformed into a three-eyed crow). I don’t know whether Sansa gets to call the shots in her future. But I’m betting she doesn’t die in childbirth.

Sansa, of course, is a fiction.

Sansa Stark 2 Elly McDonald Writer


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Avon and Servalan, Paul and Jacqueline – memoirs

Call me Jacks – Jacqueline Pearce in conversation [with Nicholas Briggs] Audio CD

You’re him, aren’t you? An autobiography by Paul Darrow

From 1978 till 1981 the British sci-fi series Blake’s 7 was broadcast on TV across four seasons, 52 episodes in all. Blake’s 7 was originated by Terry Nation, who also created the Daleks of Doctor Who fame. He intended Blake’s 7 to be a darker alternative to Doctor Who: Doctor Who for adults. Or a darker Star Wars. It ended badly. I mean that. As a 20 year old fan in 1981, I was so distressed by Blake’s 7’s final scenes that I wrote to the newspapers: Shocked of Kings Cross, Sydney (a neighbourhood where most of us were mostly unshockable).

There were two mainstay characters who did not appear in Episode 1, Series 1, and one of these characters was missing – and greatly missed – in that final episode. The other claims the final shot. These characters are the evil galactic Supreme Commander Servalan, played by Jacqueline Pearce, and Avon, first introduced as a cold, self-interested, sociopathic hacker, played by Paul Darrow.

Servalan

The absence of Servalan and Avon might explain why, when I watched a repeat of Episode 1, Series 1 when Blake’s 7 was rescreened in the ‘90s, I could not make out why I’d loved this show so much. Avon and Servalan. They were the drawcards. Tarrant was cute and Cally quite compelling, Vila was amusing and the first Travis had a kind of S&M appeal, but really, for me Blake’s 7 was Avon and Servalan. This I understand was true for many of the series’ 10 million or so (at its peak) viewers.

Servalan, especially, was a kind of perverted role model for me. After a miserable love affair, I cut my hair to a short fuzz, to look like hers. Men wanted to touch the possum fur fuzz on my head. I let them. But I knew I was an alter ego – a lost clone – of the Supreme Commander and that if I chose, those men would be laser blast fragments.

servalan blasts Avon

Having recently re-encountered Blake’s 7, I was curious to learn what happened to the actors in their subsequent lives. I found there is a pop cult industry around the series, a business called B7 and a business called Big Finish, with audio adventures voiced by original cast members and Comic Con appearances. There are autobiographical materials, such as Call Me Jacks – Jacqueline Pearce in conversation (audio CD) and Paul Darrow’s memoir You’re him, aren’t you? – An autobiography.

What did I learn?

I learned that it’s painful to be an actor, that the odds of achieving any kind of success are stacked against acting aspirants, that success once achieved is seldom enough, and seldom sustained, and that the pain of being a has-been and the pain of being a never-was and the pain of finding hollow “success” can be hard to live with.

I learned that Darrow and Pearce are both deeply ambivalent about Blake’s 7, that the 35 years since have seen both struggle with depression and despair, and struggle in other ways. Pearce talks openly, recklessly, about it. Darrow circles around pain and disappointment over and over, looping through themes of ambition and failure, and feelings of anger and envy, till the cumulative effect is of an old actor, deep in his cups, holding forth in a way he hopes is avuncular but in fact comes across as bitter. Not that I’m saying Paul Darrow drinks. I’m talking about how I read his memoir.

Paul Darrow Avon

There are positives. Jacqueline Pearce is painfully open, recounting a tale of talent blighted by mental illness, but her story testifies to resilience and the value of friendships, including a supportive friendship with the late great actor John Hurt. It’s easy to empathise with Pearce’s observations and experiences, and easy to admire her fortitude. Plus, her voice is beautiful, even if her frequent throaty laugh becomes unsettling.

Paul Darrow is an intelligent man and his account of his life attests resilience, too, and enterprise. He writes in short pieces, not necessarily linear chronology, and I wish there’d been a sympathetic editor to hand to help him focus on the interesting questions he raises, and to minimise some of the more indulgent sections, such as his synopses of each episode of every Blake’s 7 series, which could be summarised as “The narratives were crap, the production values trash; if you care about Blake’s 7, the more fool you.”

I don’t think he meant to imply Blake’s 7’s production team, or its viewers, are idiots, but he does imply that, at length. Then he contradicts himself and praises the writers, the directors, the stunt crew, thanks the actors for their friendship and thanks Terry Nation for transforming his life. Like I said, conflicted.

Paul Darrow is an intelligent man. He does raise good questions. Given the plots are ludicrous, the stunts unconvincing, special effects rudimentary and the production values shout low budget, what can account for Blake’s 7’s popularity? This was a show shot on video, not film, shot largely within semi-bare stationary sets (Scene: The interior of a space craft), with quarries and occasional sand drifts for location shoots, and characters who wield what look like hair-dryers standing in for laser guns.

And this: why did audiences relate so strongly to the overt sociopaths, to Avon and Servalan? Why did the sparks of an Avon/Servalan pairing cause salivations? Why, cosmos above, would young women like me imagine Servalan a role model and fantasise about Avon?

Servalan Avon.jpg

Paul Darrow is an intelligent man and in his autobiography he acknowledges these questions. Then, after a half-hearted stab in response (Avon as “a bit of rough”?), he gloomily gives up, as if it’s all too much. Which it would seem it was.

It must be hard, for Paul Darrow, to start out sharing a house with fellow RADA students John Hurt and Ian McShane, and at the height of one’s fame to be touted as a future James Bond (Timothy Dalton got the Bond gig), then to be relegated to pantomime, touring rep (again), and the continuing audio adventures of a character you played several decades back. A character who logic suggests died.

Darrow writes interestingly about typecasting, and he writes about an actor’s need for an audience, for affirmation. He is savagely funny about how he’ll be remembered. As ever, he’s torn, not sure whether anyone will care at all, or whether there’ll be mangled memories and pop culture fan-hysteric tears, or whether some people might consider his career had value. I’m here to reassure him. Paul, you are loved. How could a reader not love an actor who quotes the review that said “Paul Darrow plays Macbeth like Freddie Mercury giving a farewell concert”, and the review that read “Paul Darrow is an actor worth watching, but not in this play”?

It must be hard, for Jacqueline Pearce, to start out as the RADA ‘girl most likely’, directed by Trevor Nunn, hanging out with John Hurt, Anthony Hopkins and Ian McShane (no mention of Paul Darrow), then be ‘demoted’ in the final series of Blake’s 7, omitted altogether from the final episode, then spend most of the next decades with little or no acting work, instead dependent on Housing Benefits and the kindness of friends, with stints as an artists’ life-drawing nude model in Cornwall, and volunteering in a monkey sanctuary in Africa. Plus stints in psychiatric care. And two bouts with cancer.

Servalan Jacqueline Pearce

Live well, Jacqueline.

My own best answer for why Blake’s 7 was loved is this:

In the late ‘70s, the Western world began to understand its supremacy could not last. Throughout the ‘70s there were petrol politics, revolutions, the Irish Troubles, labour unrest, increasing disparity between North and South, and rich and poor. During Blake’s 7’s run, the USA voted out Jimmy Carter and voted in Ronald Reagan. Margaret Thatcher was elected prime minister of Britain.

We weren’t too sure about our heroes – was Thatcher a Servalan? – and we weren’t sure who were the villains (the IRA? Revolutionaries in Iran?).

Paul Darrow points out it isn’t clear whether the crew of the space ship Liberator, the crew who were “Blake’s seven”, were in fact heroes or simply terrorists. He asks, if Blake was trying to lead a popular revolution, why was nobody else rising up? Could it be, possibly, that the Evil Empire was not perceived by its citizens as evil? Could it be that Blake, and his crew, with their talents for destruction, remained criminals even on the Liberator, as they had started out criminals?

In times of change and extreme moral ambivalence the foremost task, possibly, becomes survival. Avon and Blake and the Blake’s 7 crew hurtled through a hostile universe, hunted by omnipresent authorities, unsure of their mission, not knowing who to trust. So you trust the strong man. You trust the sociopath, Avon, because Avon has his eyes on the prize: survival. Or you follow the Supreme Commander, Servalan, because Servalan is also a survivor, and her will to power is second to none.

Pearce and Darrow were good at playing survivors.

Don’t be fooled by that soft velvet fuzz. Servalan will kill rather than be killed, and Avon will, always, be the last man standing.

avon and guards

 


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TripAdvisor review – JW Cafe at JW Marriott Hotel, Hong Kong (April/May 2017)

jw-cafe-jw-marriott-hotel-hong-kong-cafe

“Gold-star friendly service with a world of fine foods”

Staff at the JW Cafe at JW Marriott Hong Kong MADE my Hong Kong stay, along with my mother’s.

On the first morning one of the chefs assisted me in putting together a “local Cantonese breakfast” from the buffet. Every day after that, waiters Noble and Ricky helped me choose different takes on congee (rice porridge) with different condiments, including Chinese pickles, boiled egg, jelled mushrooms, sesame seeds, fried spring onion, peanuts, black seaweed and a kind of Cantonese fried doughnut. I had mini spring rolls or similar deep-fried savoury pastry with my congee, then two dim sum – different types each day – and fresh fruit to follow. I was never hungry!

jw-cafe-buffet-jw-marriott-hotel-hong-kong

Noble and Ricky pointed out the Cantonese favourites for me: pork and shrimp dim sum, banana-leaf parcels, fresh dragonfruit. They were friendly and cheerful and excellent company. I appreciated that their supervisors, Alex and John, permitted the wait staff to engage in conversation with us visitors and even to sneak us occasional ‘added value’ treats. The Cantonese cakes (mmm the little cake with black seeds!) were wonderful mid-morning! I loved the sweet buns and the light wafer tubes, too.

dragonfruit-at-jw-cafe-jw-marriott-hotel-hong-kong

JW Cafe offers a magnificent buffet – not just Cantonese, not just Chinese, but a wide range of cosmopolitan cuisines to every taste, and a delightful baked goods section. The lunch menu is good too, with – again – a fabulous Cantonese buffet, and also dishes tailored to Western tastes. The Peking Duck wrapped in soft taco with a choice of hoisin or ketchup sauces was a first for me 🙂

Staff at JW Cafe can’t have known my mother and I were newly bereaved, with me travelling in place of my father’s booked trip. We could not have been better cared for.


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TripAdvisor review – Splendid Tours in Hong Kong: Lantau Island, New Territories, Hong Kong Island

Hong Kong“Making it possible to Boldly Go – thank you, Splendid!”

My father died immediately prior to a holiday in Hong Kong he’d planned with my mother. The travel operators, Luxury Escapes and JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong, very kindly permitted my mother to transfer the travel dates and to take me as her companion in place of my father, but she was not keen: in fact, at 82, newly bereaved and with a heart condition, she was adamant she was not going. But at late notice she announced she was game, because she knew my father wanted us to go as his proxies. We could not possibly have enjoyed Hong Kong, or explored Hong Kong, without the wonderful tours and team at Splendid Tours, booked on our behalf by JW Marriott Hong Kong concierges. Splendid Tours’ half-day and full-day tours were the backbone of our itinerary.

We experienced the day trip to Lantau Island, including the Big Buddha at Po Lin Monastery, Tai O fishing village with a short boat trip, and a beach stop, with Ben as our guide…

… a half-day trip to the New Territories Wetlands, including visits to Kam-Tin heritage village, two Buddhist monasteries on the Buddha’s birthday, a visit to Lam-Tsuen wishing-tree, and time shopping at Stanley St Market, with Terry as our guide…

… a half-day introduction to Hong Kong Island, including Victoria Peak and a sampan ride on Aberdeen Harbour, with Timothy as guide…

… and an evening dining on Jumbo Floating Restaurant at Aberdeen Harbour, following night shopping at Temple Street market, with Terry and Shirley as guides…

I cannot thank Terry, Shirley, Ben, Timothy and Johnny enough for their knowledgeable and entertaining commentaries, their kindness, their patience and their experience. My mother and I both had the BEST time.

We both recommend Splendid Tours unreservedly.

https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowUserReviews-g294217-d9882782-r481758650-Splendid_Tours-Hong_Kong.html#


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TripAdvisor review – Man Ho Chinese Restaurant at JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong

“Gourmet Cantonese cuisine with outstanding service in beautiful surrounds”

I am 56 years old and the banquet for 2 I shared with my 82 y.o. mother the Man Ho Chinese Restaurant might just be the best meal I’ve enjoyed in my life! We are neither of us strangers to fine dining or grand hotels, and this trip – just after my father’s death, with me travelling in place of my father – might not have been predictably a time of wall-to-wall joy, but Sam, who served us our banquet, made every moment memorable for us, and the meal was sublime.

We had several banquets during our stay, a repeat visit, in Hong Kong. The menus were similar, featuring Cantonese classics such as shrimp and corn soup, and mango pudding, but the Man Ho Restaurant was way superior to the very disappointing banquet we had the following night at Tien Ye Restaurant in Pacific Place mall downstairs (where the service was insulting) or on Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Aberdeen Harbour (fun and friendly, but a tourist experience rather than a culinary adventure).

I am particularly impressed by the Man Ho Restaurant’s Cantonese dish Deep Fried Kagoshima Pork Roll with Foie Gras, Red Onion and Ginger, and with the extraordinary, subtle flavours of the light Poached Seasonal Vegetable with Wolfberry in Superior Soup. The mango pudding was light and fresh and the mini egg tart had perfect pastry.

Bravo, and thank you!


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TripAdvisor review – Flint Grill & Bar at JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong (April/May 2017)

Flint Grill & Bar JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong restaurant“Exceptional service in elegant surrounds with Western-style sophistication”

My mother and I cannot thank Donna and the staff at the Flint Grill & Bar enough for making our last evening in Hong Kong so special. I ate tender Wagyu beef steak with Dijon and white asparagus with a fantastic light mayonnaise. My mother ate white fish with vegetables. For dessert we were surprised with a wonderfully light tartlet of chocolate and chestnut with (I think) hazelnut glace. I’m reliably assured the apple pie is magnificent too. We were primed before our meal, as we were on previous nights, by cocktails prepared with good grace by the Flint Grill & Bar bar staff. I can highly recommend the Snowy Rose lychee cocktail while my mother enjoyed the Distinguished patron (orange and rosemary). I’ll need to return to try the blackberry-ouzo cocktail now!

We loved the ambience, the decor, the earth-striped textured wall paper and especially the tubular light fittings. Thank you.

Flint Grill & Bar JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong light fittings

https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowUserReviews-g294217-d2364438-r481752171-Flint_Grill_Bar-Hong_Kong.html#


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TripAdvisor review – JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong (April/May 2017)

JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong night exterior.jpg“Friendly, welcoming, cheerful service in top location”

My 82 y.o mother and 85 y.o father were booked to spend 5 nights at the JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong when my father was diagnosed with aggressive untreatable pancreatic cancer and given only weeks to live. JW Marriott Hotel Hong Kong and the tour operator, Luxury Escapes, very kindly agreed to allow my mother to re-book the dates and to take me in my father’s place after his death. I cannot thank the hotel and its staff enough. We were welcomed and treated with such kindness and friendliness by every staff member we met. The levels of service were well beyond what I might ordinarily have expected and I don’t think staff had been primed that we were bereaved.

I particularly would like to single out for thanks the staff at the JW Cafe, where we were guided in “eating like locals” by Noble and Ricky, under the smiling eyes of their supervisors Alex and John (the buffet and menu are cosmopolitan – I asked to be directed to local dishes).

Sam at the JW Marriott’s Man Ho Chinese Restaurant assisted us through a banquet for 2 that might be the best meal I’ve had in my life.

Jenny who did our room cleaning was like an aunty to us.

Gary at the Concierge Desk booked us four half-day and full-day tours through Splendid Tours, which took the anxiety out of exploring not only Hong Kong Island and Kowloon but also other islands and the New Territories. Gary also directed me to Lord’s Tailors so I could fulfil my promise to my sister to have dresses made. Lord’s Tailors are Saville Row quality and not cheap, but my sister now has a silk wardrobe for the races.

Phoebe and Ren at the Concierge Desk took care of our limo, airline and wheelchair arrangements while Frankie advised me on tipping.

In all, it was a dream trip for us at a time when being surprised and delighted was magic. Thank you, JW Marriott Hong Kong.

https://www.tripadvisor.com.au/ShowUserReviews-g294217-d300697-r481753651-JW_Marriott_Hotel_Hong_Kong-Hong_Kong.html#