I first met Kaspar years back at The Savoy when we had dinner together. I was young then, just arrived in London … he was already elderly. We lost touch over the years but this January, we resumed our acquaintance. Still looking stylish and impeccably turned out, he joined us as our guest as we were a group size of thirteen. You see this is what he does – the perfect dinner companion for unlucky groups of thirteen people, he joins the party to make up the numbers.
No he’s not Dorian Gray and he doesn’t have a portrait in the attic – he just always looks youthful – it’s in his genes. He is, after all, a three foot tall, beautifully carved, exquisitely drawn sculpture of a cat, commissioned from Basil Ionides in 1926 from a single piece of plane tree. His haunts are the private function rooms of The Savoy and whenever a group of thirteen sits down to dine, Kaspar will be that lucky extra companion, sitting quietly in the background with a napkin tied around his neck, served each course as a bona fide guest.
Why, you might ask, is there a need for this cure-all for a superstition? Well in 1898, the diamond magnate Woolf Joel gave a dinner party at The Savoy before he departed to South Africa. One guest cancelled at the last minute and thirteen sat down to table. The host laughed off the superstition that the earliest to leave the table would be destined to die first. A few weeks later, however, Woolf was shot dead in his office in Johannesburg.
From that moment on, a group size of thirteen has always had a hotel staff member join them to make up the numbers – firstly in human form but from 1926, this quiet feline took their place – the perfect guest to ensure complete privacy.
I did have a couple of questions for Kaspar but after a lifetime of discretion, it’s quite hard to get him to talk – his lips are sealed.
So instead I asked his PR handler for his feedback. “Kaspar was once kidnapped – is that true?” I’m told confidentially that Kaspar doesn’t like to talk about it much – this traumatic episode is a bit of a state secret as far as The Savoy is concerned. From what I can glean, Kaspar was indeed kidnapped by some RAF pilots from 609 (West Riding) Squadron not once but twice and taken back to their mess in the war. It took an intervention by no less a person than the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, to return him back to his home. Indeed, such was their rapport forged over these dastardly deeds, that whenever Sir Winston dined with a group at the hotel, he insisted that Kaspar attended too as his guest. Now doppelgangers are used by The Savoy (including one in the hotel’s Front Hall) so no-one today really knows if they are meeting the real McCoy or not.
“Who chooses what he eats?” I also asked. The response – well as a frequent diner at the hotel, Kaspar has a good relationship with the chef who knows his likes and dislikes and is served accordingly. Hmm – a very good relationship I’d say judging by that secret side dish of succulent prawns I spied being served for him at our dinner ….
“Which chef is his favourite for there must have been quite a few since he started living at The Savoy?” His PR handler responded sternly that all have been gracious to him and he is too much of a gentleman to choose one over the other. There the interview, such that it was, ended, as Kaspar needed to retire for the night.
Some people tell me that Kaspar’s conversation can be a bit wooden at times but I personally have always preferred the strong silent type. As far as I’m concerned, Kaspar can join my dinner parties anytime, anywhere and I would be very proud to introduce him as my guest of honour.
As he no longer leaves the hotel (as you get older, I suppose you dislike change), it’s safe to say that sadly he is unlikely ever to join me at home so our third meeting will have to wait until another smart dinner party invite lands on my doormat from The Savoy.
In the meantime, I will simply have to be content with taking home a sculptured, chocolate tribute to him, made by The Savoy’s patissiers and sold in their Tea Boutique – a fitting memento to one of the hotel world’s most endearing and fascinating characters.
Contributor: Sue Lowry
For more information: www.fairmont.com/savoy