“No photos please, keep a wide aisle and oh, don’t ask for racing tips, this isn’t the time or the place”

EP’s Unusual Hospitality Stories

Those were the words Peter Hancock spoke just before the hospitality sector met with Her Majesty The Queen. It is just one of the many times Peter’s sense of humour has shone through. From growing up with a father who made his fortune publishing titillating magazines to becoming a General Manager at 21 to running Pride of Britain for the past 19 years.  

A recognised raconteur for the industry, Peter looks back at a journey which could have been all so different, had he not told the truth.

Peter was working at Johansens and looked upon Pride of Britain as a collection of hotels which he believed had the potential to grow into something stronger. He’d been Group Publishing Director at Johansens after 12 years with the company and was among a large number of applicants who were invited to interview for the role of Chief Executive at Pride of Britain.

He describes how he got the job. “This was all unbeknown to me at the time, but I learnt later the full story of what happened over two days of interviews at The Goring hotel. On the first day however, they had already chosen the person for the job and the following day would be just a formality. I came along on the second day and appeared to impress them enough for them to change their minds. I later learnt I was “a breath of fresh air” because when a question was asked that I didn’t know the answer to, I simply said ‘I’m sorry, I don’t know anything about that’. It got me the job and I later learnt they didn’t even have my CV because it was lost in the post.”

For many they will recognise Peter as the raconteur of many hospitality conferences and shows, he is very proud of his time at Pride of Britain. “It’s always evolving and whilst we’re limited to only 50 British hotels, we have made great progress. I believe our main breakthrough during the last 19 years was the decision to focus exclusively on the UK, thus allowing members of international consortia such as Relais & Chateaux to enjoy our services without compromise.

Peter recalls a memorable experience with one of the sponsors. “We were meeting for lunch at a hotel in London and on arrival I realised too late that I hadn’t booked a table. The restaurant was full, but they offered the bar area. When my guest arrived, I began apologising. However, the maître d’ came over and said, ‘I have some very bad but also some good news Mr Hancock – Baroness Thatcher has been rushed to hospital… but you can have her table, follow me.’ I’ll never forget it.”

Keen to always support the hospitality industry, Peter has been involved as an MC for dinners, conferences and award ceremonies including the Gold Service Scholarship which recognise front of house talent.

“It was only a few years ago the Queen attended the event in her role as Patron. At one point in the evening it was just the Her Majesty and myself on stage so later on in the receiving line I managed to speak with her about it. I was told beforehand that you’re not allowed to speak unless spoken too, but I thought I’d never get another chance, so said “I felt that went rather well, your majesty” and she agreed. When keeping the room entertained before she arrived Peter informed the guests, “Please switch off your phone, no photos please, keep a wide aisle and oh, don’t ask for racing tips, this isn’t the time or the place” which made a lasting impression on the guests.

In Peter’s eyes the hospitality industry has developed immensely in terms of quality of food and level of accommodation since he first became a General Manager at 21. He jokes about his teenage years in the industry where he lived-in and frittered away his modest wages in the local casino.

“I’m not saying I was that good, but I did go from a waiter up the ranks very quickly to a GM. That may have also been because I was a sober and competent pair of hands, especially given the previous GM was easily distracted by alcohol. I remember opening the big diary to see what events I had inherited and discovered two weddings booked on the same day which we couldn’t do. I didn’t want to go to the owners so ask for help, so smoked and drank a bit more than usual and luckily for me one of the weddings cancelled, one of many problems that would disappear during my life thanks to nothing more than benign neglect.”

“…called ‘Spick and Span’ which provided innocent entertainment for the younger gentleman.”

It could have all been different for Peter. He recalls as a child growing up with a Rolls Royce parked outside the family home. “My father successfully ran a publication which was called ‘Spick and Span’ which provided innocent entertainment for the younger gentleman.  It cost a shilling and had a colour front cover with black & white photographs and stories inside. It gave us a good life, but the three-day week during the 1970s changed things and my father sadly passed away at a young age. I had failed my exams because I believed I would just go into the family business. However, I soon became a waiter and believe that with hard work and passion you can have an immensely fun and rewarding career in this industry.”

This story is a fine example of the real Peter, someone who makes it appear like he’s effortlessly achieving whilst really, he’s very hard working. However, his ability to laugh remains his trademark strength.