Eli Gray is not your usual landlady. She has realised her dream of designing, owning and running her own hotel at the age of 26. She has had so much fun with the funky décor causing quite a stir in the Victorian resort of sleepy Southsea. Eli has already attracted celebrity guests – and she has appeared on TV herself.
Is Southsea ready for this?
Walking through the main door of G! Boutique Hotel, a standard Victorian villa, was like walking into a black and white film set of Alice in Wonderland. Not at all what I expected.
Eli appeared, dressed in a very conventional black suit, greeting me in a professional manner making me realise this place was very different. Curiouser and curioser……
Ever since Eli Gray stayed in her first hotel, after abandoning a wet family camping holiday, running her own hotel was her dream.
Two years ago, she first came across the building, situated in Southsea on the South Coast of England; she claimed it was the worst hotel she had ever seen. However, she instantly saw the potential and loved it. She invested her own money along with backing from family and after a struggle – the bank.
She told me it proved more challenging than she ever imagined. The refurbishment revealed damp rotting floor boards and dry rot. Eli put her heart and soul into supervising the work over the next 6 months.
She was given free rein designing the ‘rock star’ glitzy quirky décor, often exasperating her builders and setting them challenges and problems to overcome.
Eli said: “I had to have courage in my ideas as my Dad was often against them; however, he gave in to me in the end. I was labelled the non creative one in the family – I want to prove that I am different. ”
The public rooms are all black, white and purple with chairs suspended from the ceiling. Each bedroom has an individual theme, with names all beginning with G – Giddy with delight, Glad you are here! To create the themes, she has used glitter, sparkle and brightly coloured feature walls along with eclectic French furniture.
Southsea is weekend destination and near the busy commercial centre of Portsmouth. According to a spokesperson at Portsmouth City Council many hotels in the faded Victorian resort are being turned into apartments.
It is certainly very different from the usual seaside guest house, not for beige lovers or the faint hearted.
Eli is bucking the trend with her innovative glamorous themes attracting visitors who want to stay somewhere fun, memorable and professionally run. The gamble seems to be paying off as she has already attracted celebrity, Brian May from Queen and his crew for the weekend.
Eli said: “He was so nice and wrote excellent comments on Twitter about his stay”
“Running a small business is not all glamour, it is hard work and very lonely at times. There is no safety net and you have to have the courage to follow your dream and learn by mistakes” confessed Eli.
Her guests’ comfort is everything: “When they arrive with a stiff upper lip, I enjoy the challenge of changing guest opinion and bringing them out of their shell.”
This boutique hotel is not for everyone. Rob a sailing photographer guest said: “Eli has achieved her goal of making the hotel different to anything else. A lot of thought has gone into the design – staff and breakfast were excellent.”
She learnt about the hospitality trade from working at the age of 16 and going on to study tourism management at University. She had hands-on experience as a wedding and event coordinator within the De Vere hotels group, grabbing her chance to have her own hotel.
She has won a TV reality programme, ‘4 in a bed’, where accommodation owners throw open their doors and take turns to stay with one another – and pay what they consider fair for their stay. .
Eli has a strong vision of what she wants. A perfectionist and entrepreneur, she is already planning the next refurbishment and in the future hopes to open another boutique hotel in the South of England.
The challenge is daring to be different and standing out from the crowd. Eli is certainly doing that with her young funky décor; however, at such a young age she knows the importance of keeping her feet on the ground of providing her guests with the very best service.