The celebrity staff of Hotel GB, which airs on Channel 4 this evening, hope that the show will set a precedent for hospitality businesses to help tackle youth unemployment by taking on more apprentices of their own.
Hotel GB teams up two groups of famous names to run the Bermondsey Square Hotel in London with paying guests in an attempt to help a group of unemployed trainees find real jobs and raise money for Springboard, which finds young disadvantaged and unemployed find work in the hospitality industry, and The Princes Trust.
Ahead of its opening, BigHospitality was invited along to a tour of the hotel and we asked some of the celebrity staff why they got involved with the project and what they hope the show will do for the industry.
“I’ve never stopped trying to help young people break into hospitality,” said Gordon Ramsay, who is running Hotel GB’s restaurant and heading up the boys team.
“We’re here to set an example, we’ve got a chance to turn the youth unemployment around and show them the benefits of working in the industry - although it’s not glamorous, it gives you an opportunity to be ambitious, climb the ladder, and do something pretty unique for yourself.”
Mary Portas, who is in charge of the rooms and leading the girls team, added: “It’s so important. The amount of people that are unemployed, especially the 16-24 age group, is really shocking.
"The truth is, if you inspire people and show them that they can do something, they blossom. So things like this, and apprenticeships in general within the hospitality industry, are so important."
Hotel GB’s bar manager Gok Wan, who is an ambassador for The Princes Trust, believes the show will motivate other businesses to help tackle unemployment.
“Having done quite a lot of stuff with teenagers myself, it’s had quite an effect on the way I run my fashion business now,” said Wan. “Not only do I take on my own trainees, but working on something like this will hopefully inspire other businesses to do the same.”
Kim Woodburn, best known for presenting the TV programme How Clean Is Your House?, will be taking on the role of head of housekeeping at Hotel GB. Woodburn believes the show will serve a dual purpose; helping the trainees find work and raising money for charity.
“We’ve all got two people to train and I honestly hope we’ll get them all work,” she said. “If we give guests good service and the people that stay tip us, the money will all go into The Princes Trust and Springboard, so not only are we getting these people work, but the money and the tips that we get, for good service, will go into those charities, so we’re really killing two birds with one stone.”
Heading up the hotel spa is Katie Piper, the former model and television presenter who survived an acid attack in 2008 and has since gone on to set up The Katie Piper Foundation.
Explaining her decision to get on-board with the project, Piper said: “When I was 19 I worked in a hotel spa similar to this and when Channel told me about this project, I thought it was a great idea. In my own charity work I meet lots of people that find it hard to get back into work, so I thought it had a really feel-good element.
“To help people progress and understand the world of work, you do need to be disciplined. I want this department to run properly so I’ll be giving my trainees a bit of tough love.”
Meanwhile, Dragon’s Den star Hilary Devey is running the Hotel GB shop, with all money raised going directly to the two charities. The businesswoman explained that it should be the task of the businesses themselves to take on more apprentices.
“If somebody doesn’t start helping youngsters get into work, then who’s going to? There’s mass unemployment out there, if we can help create a few jobs and raise awareness of the two charities with Hotel GB, then that’s a great step.
“But businesses should be taking on more apprentices themselves. My own businesses take on apprentices and always have. I’ve taken on ex-offenders on, ex-drug addicts on. It doesn’t work 100 per cent of the time, but 65 per cent of the time it does.”
Other famous staff members in Hotel GB include Dr Christian Jessen, manager of health and wellbeing and the gym; Kirstie Allsop, running the concierge; and Phil Spencer, Maitre d’.
- Hotel GB opens its doors tonight (1 October) at 9pm, running all week on Channel 4.