Alex Polizzi became a household name thanks to The Hotel Inspector – so how different is it when it comes to running her own establishment? We head to Alfriston to find out more
Why did The Star Inn originally catch your eye?
We knew The Star historically because we walked so much in the area and we saw it gradually becoming more and more dilapidated, and less and less effective as a watering hole and a place to rest your head. The thought of making a silk purse out of a pig’s ear was quite attractive, as there was a lot that we could do to make it better, and as my mother always says it is a lot more fun to turn a disaster into a miracle than merely gilding the lily.
What do you make of Alfriston?
I love Alfriston. It is my absolute happy place. Every time I come here I feel really cheerful. I have great friends in the village, Beverley and Rob in the Village shop, Will Emmett and Nick White who have a vintage clothing store and an antique shop, Diana Kelly who has a design shop, Amanda and Alfonso in their perfectly curated curiosity shop, Objet Trouve and obviously Cate and Nash who have the wonderful bookshop Much Ado Books, who have been endlessly supportive and kind to me. I feel like here I have a place to work, but also a place to have fun.
Once you had taken over The Star, where did you start with renovating it?
We started by doing what my mother always does on bigger projects, which is to create a sample room. We did two sample rooms in two different colourways while we were applying for planning permission. Obviously, we had to get planning permission for everything because the building is Grade II Listed so we didn’t go hammer and tongs at it, we took it all quite gently.
How did you want to incorporate its history into the renovation?
Its history is pretty evident at the front of the building, but the truth is that like any old building that has been endlessly extended, added to and altered, it is really interesting to see the different stages of its genesis. So, we have tried to stay true to the various elements of the building and make a harmonious whole, but it is fairly obvious that there is one very early historic part at the front dating from the 15th century, the middle bit that includes the dining room that dates from the 20s and 30s, and then a modern building from the 60s and 70s at the back. I think you feel that each stage of those buildings has a different character.
There is a Sanctuary Post in the bar, which history tells us was a place that people who were on the run from customs and excise would try to reach before the authorities got to them, as if they got there first, they escaped arrest. Lots of people ask about that.
We had to do a lot of renovations on the roof that we were not really expecting to do, but we decided to continue the rather lovely tradition of putting a bottle in the roof, with a note in it, with the date that the roof was laid so that future generations can remember it.
What was the biggest undertaking?
The biggest undertaking was the creation of the internal courtyard. To create this area, we got rid of a lot of offices and what were the public loos and two bedrooms, but without it we had no outside space. It was my genius brother Conrad’s idea and it has really made the enormous difference to the hotel.
The project was tracked in My Hotel Nightmare. Looking back, would you still describe the process as that?
It continues on occasion to be a nightmare. There are moments of complete joy in this industry, and there are moments of complete pain! You do need incredible focus and concentration. I am very proud of the end result.
What is your favourite part of the new look?
I love how much lighter and airier the whole hotel appears. With the internal courtyard that opens onto three sides of the building, the outside has come in, my mother’s brilliant planting scheme has made it all much greener and it feels now like a hotel for all seasons.
It’s the latest hotel in The Polizzi Collection – what are you looking to offer with your hotels?
We are trying to offer relaxation. This is a hotel for guests. We offer a home from home, with what is hopefully friendly not too officious, accurate service with a sense of humour, really good food, very comfortable rooms and an incredibly warm welcome.
What is it like to be in partnership with your mother?
Hell and heaven simultaneously! I love working with my mother, and she teaches me so much every day. I suppose I am glad I came to this project at this point of my life, aged 50, rather than younger, because I think I hold my own better than I would have done before, but I keep thinking of other projects that would be fun to do with her. There is no-one I like working with more.
Given your public profile, does that add a degree of pressure to opening your own hotel?
Of course. I acknowledge that I set myself up as a rather large target, so I can’t complain if people take aim!
How do you look back on the TV side of your career?
I am incredibly grateful for the TV side of my career because it has allowed me to spend more time with my children than a full-time job would, and yet at the same time still do something that I find enormously satisfying.
I asked about Alfriston, but we also like to ask about your top 3 places to visit in Sussex. Where would you choose?
I would go to Rathfinny vineyard which I love. It is so beautiful and the owners have deep pockets and immaculate taste and the combination is a winning one.
I love Glyndebourne, I don’t go often enough but it is always magical when I do go.
I would also recommend any walk on the South Downs, something that I encourage each guest to do at least once during their stay.
What’s next for you Alex?
Who knows? One thing that life has shown us in the last few years is not to plan too far ahead!