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Picking Up Top Tips

Wilkin&GrdesicProving that opportunities arise when you least expect them, 
Ambassador of Croatia Dr Ivan Grdešić takes a trip down memory lane, 
recounting his first visit to the UK

Soon after my arrival in London as the new Croatian Ambassador, I received an invitation from the well-known restaurateur and chef Albert Roux to have lunch at his restaurant Roux at Parliament Square.  For a new Ambassador in town it was a perfect opportunity to meet the grand chef and to be introduced to some important people, contacts potentially useful for future opportunities for cooperation. With the fantastic courses from the Roux kitchen, it was not easy to concentrate on the conversation and names shared around the table. One person who was sitting across the table was a softly-spoken, polite English gentleman with a rather familiar name, which at that moment I was not able to properly identify on my diplomatic contact list. His name was Peter Wilkin.The next morning during breakfast, the name Wilkin appeared on my jar of strawberry preserves.  It dawned on me that this was the name of my neighbour at lunch the day before, the present chairman of Wilkin & Sons Ltd., and the great-grandson of the founder of the famous Tiptree farm company.  I saw these names for the first time in my life in 1969 when I was a high school teenager planning my first trip abroad. At the time, I was a Beatles fan club member, fascinated with the culture and music that was making its way from the UK to what was at the time Yugoslavia. There was no question that my first trip abroad had to be to the UK. As it was for many kids from the former Communist countries, as well as for those from Western Europe, visiting London, Carnaby Street, etc. would have been a dream come true. The way to turn the dream into reality was to get a job as a short-term guest worker in the UK picking fruit (strawberries) and earning some money beforehand to pay for the trip. Picking strawberries would make it possible for me to visit the UK – providing an entry visa and financing my four weeks of freedom. I spent the summer of 1969 on the strawberry fields of the Tiptree farm working for Mr Peter Wilkin – the same man with whom I would have lunch four decades later. At that time, he had just taken over the management of the company. It was a perfect summer: my first experience with capitalism, curry, the imperial system, and other teenagers from ‘the West.’

Having returned to London more than 40 years later, I thought it would be wonderful to revisit the Tiptree farm. It was much easier to arrange the second visit to Wilkin & Sons. On our visit, my wife Elena and I received a warm welcome from Peter Wilkin and his team. For both Peter and I it was a pleasant journey down memory lane. The factory is now producing an ever-widening range of high quality products, and the farm still employs pickers from around the world. Today, the employees do not live in tin huts as we did in the late 1960s, but rather in comfortable camping homes. Things have changed for the better. For me it was an opportunity to contemplate my life journey from the first trip abroad in 1969 to serving as Croatian Ambassador in London, to share memories about my teenage experience with my wife, and to learn how traditions can be preserved and improved through dedication to quality and hard work. Thank you, Mr Peter Wilkin.

Although not necessary in our case, private lift access ensures guests seeking complete privacy can reach the suite without being seen. The vast lobby area is complete with spectacular fresh flower displays, which continue in every room. Supremely comfortable, the luxurious drawing room lies at the heart of the suite, complete with large desk area, piano, open fireplace and butler’s bar. Sliding doors connect to a dining area, which would also work for board meetings, comfortably seating eight. In the home theatre lounge, there is a vast screen ideal for catching up on the latest world news. The master bedroom has its own salon living area and expansive dressing room, with space for guests to stay for months on end (which, indeed, I’m told they do). Fit for a king, the marble bathroom is the finest I’ve ever seen, with television screens above the sink and at the foot of the standalone bath, Apsrey toiletries, antique mirrors and the ultimate decadence: an electronic Japanese ‘Toto’ toilet.

With bespoke furnishings from Britain’s finest craftsmen, the Sterling Suite really has to be seen to be believed. Hand-blown Murano glass light fixtures hang from the ceilings and walls, and furniture is custom made with gold and silver leaf hand-painted finishes. Opened by the touch of a button, heavy silk curtains are exquisitely embroidered, and technology is accessed via i-Pads in each room or the mirror in the drawing room that transforms into a technology hub at the touch of a button.

Two additional master bedrooms provide an expansive proposition for VIP and family stays, and three further rooms adjoin the main hall. From the suite’s kitchen, a personal 24-hour butler discreetly anticipates every aspect of the guests’ stay. Furthermore, Sterling Suite guests enjoy unlimited access to the new Langham Club Lounge, including private check-in/out, or a quick drink or bite to eat for breakfast or tea.

A space that will certainly indulge even the most elite traveller, the sheer size and beauty of the Sterling Suite is staggering. But the space is amazingly comfortable and practical too, providing the perfect ‘home from home’ for VIPs in London.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]


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