By Sue Bradbury
James Pellow was into the third day of his new job at The Royal Duchy Hotel in Falmouth when director Peter Brend senior walked in. Thirty-four years later, it’s a moment James will never forget.
“I’d only just been employed and never expected Mr Brend to know who I was, let alone seek me out. But he made a point of finding me, introducing himself and saying that if I ever wanted to speak to him, I should just ring. That says everything about the family. They really care about their staff and guests. Nothing is too much trouble.”
James was 20 when he first started working at The Royal Duchy Hotel. Brought up in Falmouth where he still lives, he had completed a boat building course at college and gone on to be a trainee boat rigger when the hotel job came up.
“I started off doing a bit of everything, including bar work and housekeeping,” he says. “Twenty years ago, I was offered the chance of becoming doorman and concierge and have been in that role ever since.”
Anyone who has ever visited the four-star Royal Duchy on Falmouth’s seafront will almost certainly remember James. Dressed immaculately in top hat and tails, he’s often the first and last member of staff visitors encounter.
“My role is to make sure guests feel welcome from the time they arrive to the second they depart. I open car doors, help with luggage and when I meet people during their stay, I’ll generally have a quick chat and make sure everything’s alright. If there’s a problem, I’ll do my best to get it sorted. It’s all about doing things properly and earning respect. We’re a close-knit team here and it’s important to all of us that our guests are happy. That’s why so many of them come back year after year, often bringing their children and then their grandchildren here.”
James isn’t the only employee to be chalking up a remarkable number of decades at the Royal Duchy. Area Director John Allen has worked there for more than 40 years, manager Barry Taylor 35, senior assistant manager Mike Keegan, waitress and lounge supervisor Mandi Stevenson and waiter Steve Grimshaw for thirty-one years, breakfast chef Pete Hirst for 30 years and sous-chef Bob Hunt for 29 years.
It’s a pattern of long service and loyalty that’s replicated throughout the Brend Group which consists of nine hotels in Devon and two in Cornwall – The Carlyon Bay near St Austell and The Royal Duchy in Falmouth. Still family-run, the company was started by Percy and Florence Brend who met at school in Barnstaple, fell in love and got married in their teens. Percy got a job as a butcher’s boy but, with a keen eye for a good deal, ended up getting his own shop in the 1920s. He served in the Navy during the war, established a chain of butchers after the conflict endedand started investing in hotels in 1955. The Royal Duchy Hotel was the couple’s first Cornish acquisition in 1977 and, 41 years later, continues to go from strength to strength – thanks, in no small part, to a rolling programme of reinvestment and the hard work and dedication of everyone who works there.
“We’re all happy to help each other out and get things done,” says James. “My job includes carrying baggage, bringing beds and cots in, checking the swimming pool, dressing our wonderful sun terrace with tables, chairs and sun loungers and doing ongoing maintenance. My motto has always been never to give someone else a job I wouldn’t do myself and I love the fact that everyday is different. There’s never a chance to get bored.”
Like many of his colleagues, James’ deep connection with the hotel is shared by his family.
“My parents had their wedding reception here 62 years ago and my first day coincided with one of their wedding anniversaries. The Royal Duchy has been part and parcel of Falmouth life for many years and it’s always been regarded as one of the best local venues for functions.”
Christian Blundell, who is employed as a maintenance man and decorator in the hotel, chips in at this point. He has been working on a light fitting nearby and has heard our conversation.
“My wife and I had our reception here in January and were made to feel so special,” he says, smiling broadly. “The red carpet was rolled out and James greeting us in his finery really made our day. The whole experience was amazing and something we’ll never forget.”
Unsolicited praise like that is what keeps James and the rest of the Duchy team motivated.
“We all want people to enjoy their time with us and to feel we’ve made a difference. That’s what gets us up in the mornings and keeps us here. I love being a part of The Royal Duchy Hotel in Falmouth. It’s honestly a privilege.”
The Royal Duchy Hotel is currently offering a complimentary Cornish Experience package to anyone booking 3 nights or more direct. For more information, visit the website.