Alex Polizzi is a British businesswoman and hotelier of Italian decent who is best known for her TV work as the Hotel Inspector. Alex comes from a long line of hoteliers, her grandfather was Lord Forte. Her mother, the hotel designer Hon. Olga Polizzi, CBE, is Lord Forte’s daughter and the sister of Sir Rocco Forte. Her father was Count Alessandro Polizzi, an Italian marquess, who died in a car accident in 1980. She read English at Oxford, trained at the Mandarin Oriental in Hong Kong, and worked for Marco Pierre White before working in the new family business, Rocco Forte Hotels in Cardiff, Rome and St Petersburg, and then for her mother opening Hotel Tresanton in 1998 and Hotel Endsleigh in 2005.
Alex and her husband Marcus Miller have two children, Olga and Rocco, and live in South London. Sophie Keay caught up with her in Clapham to find out what 2019 holds…
What plans do you have for this year? I am saddling up again to do another Hotel Inspector, amazingly still the highest-ranking show on Channel 5. I’m going to do 6 new visits and then 4 re-visits which is only 30 days filming - 3 days a week . This will be Hotel Inspector Series 15 – people really seem to love the show – they always say ‘I can’t believe the hoteliers don’t listen to you’ and I say ‘it wouldn’t be much of a show if they did’. I’m always amazed they can still find hotels that want to feature on the programme – we really do show it warts and all.
You are known for tough love on TV – is that the real you? I say to everybody that it’s not that I’m really tough, I’m just straight forward because there is no point me bitching behind someone’s back when they need me to talk to them face to face. I don’t have that long to affect any kind of change and if I don’t get on with it, the likelihood of achieving anything is minimal. One of the last ones I filmed before I took this break was in the Borders and it was owned by a couple in their early 20s who had been given it as a wedding present. They were so lacking in any kind of basic abilities – even getting out of bed in the morning was a struggle! They were discussing their plans with me to churn their own butter but I felt duty bound to suggest that initially they should throw themselves into some of the more mundane chores such as ‘wiping the odd table once in a while’! I actually said to them that ‘I can’t help you if you are not going to help yourselves’ and it’s one of the few times I had to walk away. I can’t drag people uphill kicking and screaming. It was really gutting actually, I hated not to be able to help.
Do you act as a Consultant after filming? No, I don’t although I do tend to keep in touch with most of the people who have been on the Show. One really lovely thing that happened last year was that I received a letter from the son of a family whose hotel I had helped a few years ago. His father had just died and he asked me to the funeral because they were so grateful to me for transforming the fortunes of the family. Then I also get the loons who call me all the time and I just have to block them!
Do you write your own programmes? I have a producer and a director, at least one cameraman, a sound recordist and a researcher but nothing scripted so it’s all down to me a bit. I know all the crew really well, having worked together for the last 10 years. We’ve seen each other’s kids born and we all take a keen interest in each other’s lives – it’s great.
How have you managed your successful busy career with having small children? I have always had a nanny and cut down to 3 days a week when I was trying to have my son, 5 years ago. I have never gone back to working full time. All in all that suits me really well, I love it. It’s great that it’s only midweek but it does put a strain on the family as I am gone from about 6am on a Tuesday morning and don’t get back until around 10pm on a Thursday night. I really rigidly stick to our timetable and even School knows there is no point trying to get hold of me from Tuesday to Thursday as my phone will be off as I am filming.
Marcus works so many weekends and is lucky to get a day off in the week sometimes which is hard on him but also for the family. My days at home are devoted to the children and then I have to get everything done before leaving at 6am on Tuesday morning. I think I have got very good at planning - if Marcus is around then that is great but we go ahead and make arrangements anyway. There are some friends of mine that ask if we are even still married as they never see us together. We are often ships in the night – especially when I am working hard. I’m going to miss this quality time I have had with him and the children during my time off.
Do you have anything else in the pipeline? Last year was the first year I didn’t have something new which is one of the reasons why I decided to take some additional time and I always take the Summer off. I also wanted to be around this term as my daughter, Olga, took her 11+ in January.
I also felt that I was getting a bit bored. I did some lovely travel shows, in Italy and Spain, and I have been angling for the last couple of years to do another one. We discussed doing the Scandinavian Countries but apparently there isn’t enough interest from the Brits to travel there. The Spanish show was very popular because I guess Spain is still more accessible to most. I’m now thinking about Portugal which is where I went on holiday for 20 years when growing up. There are some amazing beaches, I love the Portuguese food, the Fado, the rich culture and lovely churches. I’m trying to avoid doing France – it would be easier as I speak French quite well but I’m not that keen. If I must I will! I speak Spanish, French and a bit of Russian for some reason.
Earlier in the year Mum and I were briefly looking at buying another hotel. We own a few places, together with my sister, in Cornwall, Devon, St Mawes and just outside Tavistock. We were looking at doing another one in East Sussex – something near the Downs as we love walking. We planned to make it 3-star and something affordable for everyone. I then sat back and actually thought ‘why are we doing this?’ I am in the luxurious position at the moment of working not very much and really enjoying what I do and I can structure it all round the school holidays etc. There are always options coming my way but partly through laziness I think and partly through just realizing that I have got a good deal – in the sense that it really fits my life. I want an easy life and still have 2 young children. My husband, Marcus, always says I seem to have such fun with what I am currently doing and he’s right.
I’ve had a really interesting 9 months and have come to realize how much working the way I do, and being away so much, impacts on my family - everyone is just so much happier with me being around. I’m not completely lacking in self knowledge but I didn’t really understand that even when away for 3 days a week there is no room for relaxation as everything has to be timetabled into the little space we all have together. It’s especially significant now as the children are still so young and want me around and Marcus works such long hours.
What does your husband do? He owns a wholesale bakery which used to be mainly speciality bread but we have become the go-to bakery in London for speciality burger buns - selling to businesses such as Five Guys, Leon, GBK, and Lobster & Burger. We have 57,000sqft of production space and Marcus is building another factory now. I set it up with him and was involved on the sales side which worked really well but I am no longer involved with the day-to-day running of it. It’s actually quite hard to work for your husband. I know people who do it very successfully, but he’s called ‘Boss’ by everybody and I’m just used to being the boss of my world! It’s also nice to do your own thing and have something to talk to each other about at the end of the day.
What do you love about South London? When I first moved here I didn’t really like it. I’d spent the previous 5 years working at my mum’s hotel in Devon and I only moved up to London to have my first child. I didn’t know it round here, I didn’t have any frame of reference – my mother thought I had gone mad – moving to the other side of the river! My solicitor has always been on Bellevue Road and I had to have a map to get there, it was so foreign to me. I’m now a complete convert and took my Mum on a tour of the area – Moens, Clapham Books, Nardulli’s ice cream, North Street Pottery and she was surprised to find that it was really quite villagey. We love eating locally and we are frequent visitors to Trinity in Clapham. Boqueria is lovely on Queenstown Road and we are in there the whole time. I think we are really quite well served around Clapham Old Town although we do need a really good Italian restaurant! More and more, if I can, I try and stay in the area. Obviously for work I’m often in town but if left to my own devices I tend to potter locally. We often discuss that it’s become less safe but I think that’s the same with everywhere.
Do you see yourselves ever moving out to the country or to Italy? My husband is always trying to get me off to the countryside but I refuse to go – I am a Londoner. He says we could just go to Surrey but I can’t see the point as I would always be coming back to visit friends in London. I lived in Devon for 5 years and St Mawes for 2 years but that was for work so I always had something to do which was different. We have a tiny little place on the coast and when the sun is shining there’s no nicer place in the world but when the nights are so long and the days are so short I find it really depressing. I like to visit in the Summer but find Winter is best in London. I have no desire to move out anywhere. Most of my family are here – Mum still lives in London in the house that I grew up in and all my siblings are here - so bar anything dramatic happening, I’m here for the duration!
Have you managed to keep any of your New Years resolutions? I don’t really make any as I’m a constant self-improver. I try really hard and I’m a great one for thinking ‘I must do that better’. I have been working out a lot because of being at home and I love how it makes me feel. It’s one of the things that, when I’m short of time, gets pushed out of the schedule. I try to go 3 to 5 times a week so I’ve got to find the time to keep it up when I go back to work. I also definitely want to try and drink less, see more of my siblings and do some proper travelling as a family.
Do you find yourself judging everything when you go out and away? I do a bit, but I also understand you get what you pay for. It’s not like I go to a Travelodge and turn up my nose but I do think it’s quite hard for me not to judge, especially if I am spending a lot of money on a holiday and I then things aren’t right - I get quite cross about it. In fact, I recently did an article for the Sunday Times about my 10 favourite Italian hotels; the thing about each of them is that they are really extraordinary, completely unusual and the service is amazing in all of them. That’s what I really care about - I want nice people. People make everything - design is fine but actually, having been to Disney, for example, now I’m a complete convert. I was so impressed by how charming everyone is - I was amazed. The hotels are horrible and it’s extortionately expensive but everyone is so nice to you. That’s really where I judge and I don’t tend to get cross but I do make my views known. I never feel that awkward complaining because I think if you say it nicely they can’t really be offended and I’m not asking for them to take it off the bill - just letting them know my opinion. I try not to be too critical but Marcus says that his heart does sink when we walk into a hotel room and I’m saying ‘why have they got this here and who on earth planned this room’! That’s why I think we’ve ended up going back to the same places – tried and trusted.
Where do you holiday? We have an agent that we have used for ages and, as with everyone, some holidays are more successful than others. We like different things, I like to be adventurous and Marcus wants to be on the water and by the beach so we are a little bit at odds as to what we plan. Last year we went to Lapland for something completely different.
We are all quite keen to explore a little more of America and I’m dying to take the children to Cambodia and Vietnam but Rocco is a bit young at the moment. We’ve done lots of the Caribbean over the past few years which has been amazing but it’s so luxurious and I do worry about my children being spoilt. I backpacked it from 18 and I have seen a bit of the world and experienced poverty, although luckily not first hand. Marcus left school at 15 and has been incredibly successful but he has had to work for it. I have always had a good work ethic and I think it’s important to instill that into our children. Seeing how the other half lives is not a bad thing.
What I would really love to do is the Camino de Santiago walk – from St Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees to Galicia. You can do it in stages but it would be amazing to do the whole thing which takes about a month.– that’s on my bucket list. I’ve seen pilgrims when they arrive at the stunning cathedral of Santiago de Compostela and they always look so elated. Such an achievement and it would be so exciting. I’m not sure how long I have with the children young enough to be persuaded to do that type of holiday. I hope at least until 16!
When is the next Hotel Inspector actually out for people to see? I start filming it in the first week of February once my daughter’s last exam is over and it usually takes a few months as obviously we need a life span and time for change to take effect. The re-visits are the bit I really love. I’m looking forward to it and then also hope at some point in the near future we’ll get another travel show off the ground which would be great. I can then spend time learning things rather than telling people off all the time!
Series 15 of The Hotel Inspector will air on Channel 5 in the Summer.