It was all over the news in Singapore and everyone at school was talking about it; Hayley Mills and Trevor Howard were staying at the Raffles Hotel for the filming of “Pretty Polly”. Obviously this was nothing new for the already famous Raffles, which had hosted celebrities like Charlie Chaplin, John Wayne and Ava Gardner, as well as other personalities such as Somerset Maugham, Pablo Neruda and James Mitchener. The hotel had been the setting for innumerable film productions and was now to set the scene for Hayley’s latest film, so as a teenage fan of the then 21-year old actress, I simply had to find a way to get inside and meet her....
It was the same year that the Raffles Hotel was handed over to its new Italian manager, Roberto Pregarz in 1967, who due to lack of investment by the owner had to trust in his own creative abilities to make the hotel the success it became under his dedicated guidance the next two decades. Pregarz’s strategy was to invite journalists and writers to stay at Raffles as “authors in residence” and in that way he guaranteed that the message got around and that there was continually someone there to cover the presence of such famous guests, thus attracting even more attention to the hotel and consequently raising its recognition as “the place to stay” when in Singapore.
At the time, my father was an officer of the Royal Engineers based in Singapore during the late 60’s, preparing for the British Forces withdrawal from the island. I was already accustomed to elegant social gatherings when visiting the officer’s mess, but it was nothing like the exuberant atmosphere of the old colonial setting that was to meet me on arrival at Raffles that April morning. I had put on my best cloths for the occasion and felt quite comfortable in the elegant lobby after having used my acquired experience to persuade the pompous doorman that I was meeting with a friend who was staying at the Hotel. It certainly helped to be British as there were loads of them in the hotel.
The popular Tiffin Room, famous for its exquisite cuisine, was busy serving breakfast to the hotel’s many guests. So not to arouse suspicion, I quickly sneak sat at one of the available tables supposedly awaiting the arrival of my invisible friend, but at the same time taking the opportunity to squeeze some information from the waiter, who readily informed me that Miss Mills had been served breakfast in her room where her make-up team was preparing the actress for her morning film session. With a little further table chat I soon discovered the room number and then smoothly left the Tiffin Room and headed for the lush courtyard gardens to mingle with the guests and figure out how to approach Miss Mills’s room.
It wasn’t long before I was on the third floor, facing a smartly dressed guy who was obviously perched outside the door of her room to keep probing visitors like myself away. I innocently presented myself as a hotel guest from one of the neighboring rooms and that I had heard that Miss Mills was also staying here. As I was a great fan of hers, I asked if there was any chance of me getting to see her before I left. The guy wasn’t very cooperative, but somehow I managed to persuade him to at least go inside and ask if there would be a moment in her busy schedule for me to just say hello. Surprisingly he came back out of the room smiling and told me that if I would wait a while Miss Mills would soon be leaving her room and that I was welcome to follow her on her way out.
Suddenly the door flung open and before I knew it, I was walking side-by-side with both Hayley Mills and Trevor Howard along the hallway and down the staircase to the lobby, where I quickly took out my little autograph album and got them both to sign it before leaving the hotel in an awaiting car.