Christopher Heard's Suite Life

First aired on Fresh Air (19/2/12)

Doormen on duty at the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto (Adrien Veczan/Canadian Press)

Those fortunate enough to stay at luxury hotels have undoubtedly, at one point or another, flopped down on their comfy king-size bed with 800-thread count (or higher) Egyptian cotton sheets and declared they would be quite happy to never have to leave.

Of course, with the exception of rock stars, famous artists and nomadic business executives, most people lack the financial wherewithal to actually stay for an extended time in an upscale hotel. However, arts journalist and biographer Christopher Heard lived this indulgent dream when he became writer-in-residence at Toronto's historic Fairmont Royal York Hotel. He chronicled his experiences in a recently published book, The Suite Life: The Magic and Mystery of Hotel Living.

The Fairmont Royal York isn't just any hotel to Heard. It has a special place in his heart because it ignited his lifelong fascination with hotels.

"My grandparents both worked in the Royal York, in the late '40s, 50s, 60s," he told Fresh Air's Mary Ito during a recent interview. "I grew up hearing about this magical place called the Royal York, and I would be taken there a lot for lunch and for weekends. It was a palatial place with such grandeur in the lobby and everything, so as a kid, when you're taken in there, it makes quite an impression. But then when you're there with someone who's known there, everybody's friendly, everybody's approachable, everybody comes up and says hello. And I thought, 'What a wonderful place this is!'"

Heard's fascination with the hotel continued even as he grew older. "When I was 12, I was there with my father waiting to go on a train in Union Station, across the street, and I looked around and thought, well, 'One day, I would like to live here. Just come here one day and never leave.'"

That dream became reality in 2009, when Heard, a celebrity biographer who has penned books on Johnny Depp and Kiefer Sutherland, made a deal with the Fairmont Royal York to live there and write a book about his extended two-year stay. During that time, he swam laps in the pool beside French President Nicholas Sarkozy and encountered other famous folks including a Playboy playmate of the year, British comedian Ricky Gervais and the Dalai Lama (not at the same time, mind you).

In his book, Heard explores what makes hotel living so different from everyday life, and why many of us may fantasize about the prospect of having a permanent room-key card instead of house keys.

"You feel different in a hotel. You feel protected. You feel secure. Your inhibitions tend to lower themselves because there's no judgment in hotels. Anything you do is OK with them. You're paying good money to be there."


The Suite Life

by Christopher Heard

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From the publisher:

"Hotel living has always seemed exotic. Why did Claude Monet, Greta Garbo, Janis Joplin, Vladimir Nabokov, Howard Hughes, and many other mercurial individuals desire such a life? Besides answering that question, The Suite Life features interviews with high-profile celebrities who have also chosen hotel living, such as Johnny Depp, Warren Beatty, Keanu Reeves, Richard Harris, and Criss Angel.

Author Christopher Heard was conceived in the Fairmont Royal York Hotel in Toronto and now lives there as the writer-in-residence. The Suite Life is the culmination of a lifelong fascination with iconic hotels and those who have opted to reside in them. It tells of the enchantment of being exposed to many varied energies at the same time and describes the uniqueness of life lived in a place where people can let their inhibitions relax.

Living in a hotel is many things, but first and foremost it is magical."

Read more at Dundurn Press.