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How to tell the story of a hotel – a photo-walk in Notting Hill

August 13, 2018

tea and scones on a striped chair

Emerging from the Underground, my eye caught the front of the Gate Picturehouse, unchanged since the early nineties when I lived, for a short time, in a tiny flat in Notting Hill. We saw Tous les Matins du Monde there, a subtitled French film about a group of viol players, where the audience remained seated at the end to read the credits. I loved it but KP was out of the door like Linford Christie off the starting blocks.

Most people know Notting Hill from the film with Hugh Grant and Julia Roberts, where an ordinary bloke who owns a bookshop meets a mega-star on the street and they eventually fall in love.  In a way it sums up much about the area, home to the wealthy and property with stratospheric price tags, but also a place where anyone can hang out including Portobello Road market and the annual carnival. I pottered down the High Street, popping into Boots and a cup of tea in Polpo then, taking a deep breath, went to meet up with a group of total strangers.

Blogtacular was my reason for being in London – a conference to inspire creative business owners and content creators – and I’d put my hand up for a photo walk at a secret rendezvous led by Supal of Chevrons and Eclairs (who I’d heard on the Blogtacular podcast). We followed her to our destination in a crocodile, like a group of chattering nursery school children, and rounded the corner onto a street of elegant town houses, white on one side and pastel colours on the other.

Other photo-walk groups went to Peckham and North London to photograph colourful scenes, but our bunch were heading for the Portobello Hotel, which immediately caught our attention by the window boxes of vermilion geraniums.

My heart sank a tiny bit. How do you tell the story of a hotel? I’ve struggled myself when I’ve been the guest on a travel trip. I’ve seen endless pics of bland rooms and gleaming bathrooms on blogs – while it’s informative for anyone thinking of staying there it’s as dull as ditchwater to write about and to read. You can find this stuff on a hotel website or brochure. There seems to be an expectation that it’s what the hotel expects in return for an invite, rather than what will appeal to and engage the readers.

The purpose of our photo-walk was to challenge and stretch our approach to photography (particularly for online channels) and to get to know fellow Blogtacular delegates a bit better.  I’d read Xanthe Berkeley’s 10 Tips for an Awesome Photowalk but I was juggling eagerness with a few butterflies.

Supal is an expert at placing herself at the centre of her images and encouraged us to do so. I know that bringing a bit more of yourself into your online content is a good thing but I’m still breaking down a huge internal reticence. Many of our group, dressed in gorgeous outfits for the occasion and flung themselves into it with abandon (and I loved seeing the end results).

The Portobello Road is a small boutique hotel which feels a lot like walking into a rich but eccentric aunt’s house. It’s the antithesis of a streamlined five-star chain but offers, unobtrusively, a luxurious and comfortable stay – hence its popularity with famous guests (alluded to on our tour but, discreetly, not named).  Legend has it that Johnny Depp and Kate Moss bathed in Champagne here, Alice Cooper let one of his boa constrictors loose, Damon Albarn served behind the bar and Robbie Williams tried to buy one of its circular beds – the staff raised eye-brows but remained tight-lipped.

Our sizeable group inside the small spaces of the hotel made wider scenes impossible to capture without an equally enthusiastic photographer wielding camera or posing in my view-finder.

I strolled through the corridors lined with historic prints and ran my hand over the smooth wooden handrail up the winding staircase, imagining the lives lived between the walls of these two neo-classical mansions during its Victorian hayday.  Negotiating the slight jostling for the perfect aspect turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Focussing on the details told more of the story not less. It’s what makes this a very special bolt hole: the lack of a hotel sign, the hand-painted wallpaper, the freshly baked scones, the views of lush gardens, the heritage paint colours, a hidden courtyard, the eclectic Regency furniture.

Supal and Elliot from Portobello Hotel addressed us while we sipped tea and munched scones (from a beautiful afternoon tea spread arranged by Krystyna the hotel manager).

Supal explained how she approaches collaborations which, unsurprisingly for a management consultant with a blue chip company, is highly organised and professional. She stressed that you need to add value for your reader with your unique perspective. Elliot explained that finding the perfect fit with an audience is most important in deciding who they collaborate with, not necessarily people with large followings. If you can tell a story that truly resonates with the people who follow you (and provide some proof) they are interested.

Given its illustrious visitors, the Portobello Hotel has rooms which definitely cater to a medium-sized budgets (some AirBnB s are more expensive). I can imagine hunkering down for a couple of days with the odd foray out into the neighbourhood, returning to cosy up in an armchair and a book, with endless tea supplied by their friendly staff. It is part of the Curious Hotel group who also own Cowley Manor in Gloucestershire. This has a special place in my heart as I collected firewood on their land when at Guide camp in my early teens.

I strolled back to the tube in the June sunshine, with Sarah from Taming Twins (who I’d ‘known’ online for years) and Vanessa of Simpson Sister who I’d just met (whose Instagram is gorgeous and owns a beautiful barn for hire). My alter ego was a guest popping out to browse the shelves of the Notting Hill bookshop and nipping to Lisboa Delicatessen for a custard tart before returning to the crisp white sheets of my circular bed with its verdant view.

It’s easy to get over-awed by the babble of voices all shouting the same out there in the internet ether.  When looking at the copy-cat content that exists in volume, covering the same topics it’s easy to think ‘why bother?’.  Believing that the story you alone can tell, from your own unique perspective will resonate or be valuable to someone, is so worth clinging onto.

As I signed up for this photo-walk, I had the vague aim of having fun with my camera, looking at things from a slightly different perspective and rubbing shoulders with some new, like-minded people. I came away with was all those things, plus a reminder of something that’s obvious but easy to overlook.

Group of bloggers in front of hotel

Our photowalk gang

If you are researching hotels, have you found any really helpful and interesting reviews? If you’re a blogger or content creator, have you felt duty-bound to cover something in a certain way because it seems the norm? What information do you find really helpful or inspiring?

  1. August 13, 2018 7:56 am

    Love your thoughtful candid view Sally – as always you make pertinent points, and at the same time bring to life, whatever your topic, in the most beautiful way. Portobello Hotel is now on my bucket list too! Thank you.

  2. August 13, 2018 11:34 am

    Thank you Tara. This is such a generous comment and has made my day. You would absolutely love the Portobello Hotel.

  3. August 13, 2018 2:34 pm

    How gorgeous and so thought out. You provided you personal perspective in both narrative and photography, you established the setting and location, you used words to bring your photos to life. This is, indeed, how travel blogging should be done!

    • August 13, 2018 6:52 pm

      Massive thanks Supal. Day made with your seal of approval. I really enjoyed the whole afternoon and it was the perfect start to the whole Blogtacular experience. Such a pleasure to meet you and to learn from your experience and perspective in this field.

  4. August 14, 2018 4:03 pm

    Your quote from Supal: “you need to add value for your reader with your unique perspective” is so key to travel blogs – and to any blog that purports to inform, rather than merely entertain, a readership. It is heartening to also read that the hotel rep, Elliot, followed this with “…finding the perfect fit with an audience is most important in deciding who they collaborate with, not necessarily people with large followings.” I’m not finding that much with food of late, but live in hope that what I do and how I do it will click with not only my lovely readers but with brands whose products, service and ethos I admire. As always, your blog is a joy to read, gently informing while always entertaining and/or provoking self-reflection.

    • September 2, 2018 9:08 am

      Kellie, you are the prime example of connecting meaninfgully with your readers and helping them. Every blog post for a recipe you write takes me on a journey that leads to a delicious, healthy meal and enriches my life.

  5. Dave Reeder permalink
    August 21, 2018 4:33 am

    Only just aught up with this – was saving it for a special day, as Notting Hill was my stomping ground when I first moved back to London after Uni. Actually, I lived just in Baywater but everything drew me to the Gate, from the cinema, the shops,the markets and the wild people. Back then, in the early 1970s, it was a dirt cheap place to live, partly because the grand old houses were split into multiple flats for rent and partly for many people it was too black an area, being one of the key areas bought up by landlords for the boatloads of immigrant workers and students arriving from the Caribbean post-war. It’s easy to have an over-sanitised view of the place – in those years, it was a microcosm of how old school British attitudes met freewheeling colonial ones and how thw two didn’t always get along. For every Carnival and BBC TV reporters raving about the new multi-cultural Britain, there were racial attacks, street riots and worse. The typical British solution instead of tackling the problems head on? Price the perceived troublemakers out of the market…

    • Dave Reeder permalink
      August 21, 2018 4:35 am

      Er that third word should have been ‘caught’, of course…

    • September 2, 2018 9:09 am

      How interesting to live there before it became the desirable place it is today. Easy to forget as you wander through the pristine streets too.

  6. September 2, 2018 2:01 am

    Portobello Hotel begs to be stayed in once seen through your photos and words. I’ll be in London in two weeks for a short stay before a cruise…wish I was staying here.

    • September 2, 2018 9:09 am

      I hope you get the chance to stay there sometime Karen. Have a wonderful time in London.

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