What the Royal High School hotel could look like

Inside a premier suite at the ''Rosewood Hotel London. Picture: Contributed
Inside a premier suite at the ''Rosewood Hotel London. Picture: Contributed
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IT’S one of the country’s most exclusive hotels, offering the rich and famous an indulgent experience tailored to meet their every need.

Located in the heart of London, the five-star Rosewood Hotel – housed in a grand, Grade II-listed Edwardian building that drips with the trappings of wealth and opulence – is where luxury goes to treat itself.

Artist's impressions of the proposed hotel development at the Royal High School site. Picture: Contributed

Artist's impressions of the proposed hotel development at the Royal High School site. Picture: Contributed

And it could be coming to Edinburgh.

The globally renowned brand behind the London hotel has its eye on the old Royal High School on Calton Hill which has lain largely unused for almost 50 years after space constraints forced the former boys’ school to move to Barnton.

Since then, the A-listed neoclassical structure – often hailed as one of the Capital’s most important pieces of architecture – has been left to 
crumble.

As part of a council drive to bring it back into use, developer Duddingston House Properties has spent the last five years drawing up plans for a luxury hotel, with Rosewood announced as the operator in September.

Scarfes Bar  at the Rosewood Hotel London. Picture: Contributed

Scarfes Bar at the Rosewood Hotel London. Picture: Contributed

Detailed proposals could see the school opened to the public for the first time in its 186-year history, with huge “Inca-style” terraces constructed on either side to house 147 rooms.

But heritage groups have criticised the £75 million scheme, while an alternative proposal to transform the site into a new home for St Mary’s Music School is gathering 
traction.

Next month, councillors will decide whether to give the hotel the go-ahead.

Taco van Heusden, managing director of Urbanist Hotels – which is driving the project – said its vision was to create something “truly special” for Edinburgh.

And if London is anything to go by, guests can expect a level of lavishness rarely seen this side of the Border.

Set in the original headquarters of the former Pearl Assurance Company, Rosewood’s High Holborn offering, currently its only UK operation, boasts an imposing frontage and grand Pavonazzo marble staircase rising up seven storeys – topped off by a 166ft cupola.

Entered through a cobbled courtyard, the central lobby is sleek and elegant, with art and carefully selected nick-nacks deliberately chosen to evoke a stately home.

Tweed-jacketed doormen greet guests on arrival, and the atmosphere of relaxed, country-house indulgence is completed by the presence of the in-house pooch, Pearl – a lolloping Golden Retriever that exudes the distinct impression of having hit the doggy jackpot. Needless to say, the friendly staff know exactly what you want long before you do. It’s all undeniably impressive, reaching heights of glamour far surpassing anything currently on offer in Edinburgh. But it also comes with a hefty price tag.

The hotel’s most expensive suite – the Grand Manor House Wing – costs a staggering £25,000 per night and is the only one in the world to possess its own postcode. A night at the Balmoral’s top suite towards the end of next summer comes in at a paltry £2000.

This is luxury not just on a different level, but on another planet. It’s not difficult to guess where George Clooney might have stayed had he chosen a stopover during his recent trip to the Capital.

Bosses insist rooms in Edinburgh would start at around £300 per night, but won’t reveal the projected cost of their top-price suites.

Mindful of accusations of elitism, they argue their proposals will open the building up to the public for the first time ever, and even hint at plans for a year-round music venue at its heart.

“The success of the hotel for us will be determined by how many non-guests will actually visit it,” Mr Heusden said. This is something Rosewood London already focuses on with its popular bar, restaurants and spa, with the courtyard outside the main entrance playing host to a busy Sunday market.

Likewise, plans for Edinburgh also include upmarket eateries, bars, lounges and reception areas, each embracing local culture in a “sophisticated and refined way” and utilising the creative input of local artists and musicians.

Mr Heusden also talks of his desire to create “the mother of all whisky bars” – but admits this will be difficult to pull off in a city as dram-drenched as Auld Reekie.

He said designers were having a “field day” dreaming up concepts for the building’s interior, with early ideas including the Enlightenment and towering historical figures such as Alexander Graham Bell – who attended the Royal High School in the 19th century – and philosopher, Adam Smith.

But heritage bodies aren’t convinced. Meanwhile, a host of high-profile figures and Edinburgh luminaries have thrown their backing behind the rival music school scheme, which made a formal offer of £1.5 million to snap up the site in September.

Mr Heusden argues the St Mary’s plans are a red herring. The law, he insists, dictates any rejection of the hotel scheme would mean putting the plot back out to public tender – a process that could take years. And he says more is at stake than simply visual impact.

“It’s about showcasing that building to the rest of the world,” he said.

“Do we score ten out of ten on visual impact? We think we score nine out of ten. But we think that, given all of the other boxes we can tick, we’re still doing a pretty good job.” Key to his idea of the hotel is the effect it will have on the surrounding area, injecting life back into a quarter of the city that has long been neglected.

And while arguing it would be “arrogant and foolish” to dismiss the project’s critics out of hand, he also insists the hotel proposal has the weight of public opinion behind it – a statement that many in the heritage lobby will find hard to take.

“We’ve run public surveys across all 18 postcodes, just random people from the street, and those results are pretty clear – 83 per cent of people are in favour of the proposals,” he said.“It’s ridiculous. Such a fantastic building, such a fantastic hill, and it’s all out there on a limb right now, lying there for the last 50 years. It’s wrong.”