|By Jen Haberkorn, The Washington
TimesMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Dec. 7, 2007 - Nothing, not even law school, could have prepared Clarence McLeod for this.
Find 21 bottles of peroxide and an Armani tuxedo button.
Officiate at the wedding of two determined guests, provide personal counseling, gently enforce discretion.
McLeod, manager of the Fairmont Washington's ritzy Gold floor, has an obliging manner that soothes and welcomes guests, with a sternness that warns not to test boundaries.
The 51-room Gold floor of the Fairmont in Northwest serves as temporary home of celebrities, heads of state and people with money to spare. It's one of a handful of hotels in the city that offer exclusive floors.
Guests on this floor get elaborate spreads in the lobby for breakfast, afternoon tea and dessert.
But they also get McLeod and his staff, who do all types of concierge services, from booking appointments or tracking things down at the last minute to adding a touch of family hospitality that keeps guests returning.
"It's a very fulfilling job, but you have to have heart to get through it," says McLeod, who quit law school to join the company. "At the end of the day, it's always about relationships."
McLeod, 39, has hugged mothers of the bride after their only child has gotten married, comforted people who have lost loved ones and given relationship advice, when asked.
"We bawl a lot. We're all criers," he says, recounting the weddings, cancer diagnoses or family reunions between guests on the floor. "They get into your heart and never leave," he says of some of the guests.
Other guests, he sees on the big screen or the British throne.
McLeod recounts being tasked with finding -- and choosing -- a bathing suit for Robert De Niro's wife in a couple hours. Or finding 21 bottles of peroxide for Cyndi Lauper. Or arranging for a visit from the queen of England.
Of course, that doesn't happen every day. On a recent quiet weekday, he runs to CVS down the street to get a certain brand of shortbread cookies that a guest has requested. He presses a tuxedo jacket for another guest and sets up guest rooms with the CDs they've requested.
One of those guests is Andrew B. Breslow, an oil company lawyer who frequently stays at the hotel and has been dubbed "Prince Andrew" by the staff.
"He listens to my social problems," Breslow says of McLeod. "He gives me brotherly guidance. He says I don't listen to it enough."
Breslow says he returns to the Fairmont's Gold floor because he feels like it's home.
"They address me by name," he says. "When I'm out of town, I guess I feel lonely because I don't know anyone. It's like staying with relatives here."
McLeod says he loves the personal relationships he's been able to cultivate through his job -- something he's not sure he would have had done had he become a lawyer.
After college, he had started law school, only to be disenchanted by what he saw in his future as a lawyer: that every day would be predictable.
He quit law school and went to work in the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto in 1989. He's worked for Fairmont since, moving around North America to set up Gold floors in Fairmont's hotels. He has stayed in Washington for four years.
A night on the Fairmont Gold floor typically costs from $419 to $749.
The key to doing his job well is reading the audience and anticipating needs, McLeod says as he thumbs through a large brown binder.
It contains the day's guests and any requests, as well as guests' phone numbers, favorite dishes or things they request every time they stay. It also has the code names that celebrities or heads of state use while they're there.
And, he jokes, the makings of a great tell-all book.
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Copyright (c) 2007, The Washington Times
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