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Festival News
Are you being served?
Hotel concierges are unfazed by film-fest requests, finds REBECCA CALDWELL

By REBECCA CALDWELL, The Globe and Mail
September 9, 2002

It is a not such a far-fetched film festival scene: It's 4 a.m. and your arm is tired after a day spent slipping more martinis than you can remember down your gullet. You didn't sell your film, but the schmoozing has paid off: You're about to get lucky. Trouble is you didn't take any precautionary measures. Who do you call in the wee hours to find a condom?

If you're a guest staying at one of Toronto's posher hotels, you can try your concierge.

Procuring everything from prophylactics to restaurant reservations, concierges will be working longer hours than usual during the next few days as they try to tend to the tricky and sometimes delicate needs of their pampered guests here for the film festival.

Although whispers of outrageous cases, such as one guest who requested a bathtub filled with strawberry Jell-O ready for his arrival at Toronto's Windsor Arms, most concierges say their weirdest requests deal with sartorial emergencies. A star's career, after all, can go code red if they don't look good.

"I had a celebrity going to a gala, and her person asked me if I could find them a dress made out of paper," says Christopher Holm, the concierge of the Hotel Intercontinental. "I tried desperately, called around everywhere . . . Nobody had one. Then I called an independent designer friend of mine and he said, 'Even if I made it for you, it's going to rip.' So that one didn't work out."

In a real clothing crisis, concierges have been known to give guests the clothes off their own bodies. Liloo Alim, the chef concierge at the Four Seasons, the Toronto International Film Festival's 2002 headquarters, recalls one male guest panicking because he needed a belt for his red-carpet gala.

"Normally, we'd just run to the store and buy a belt but this was after hours, and it was so insanely busy," Alim explains. "Literally minutes after the call, he turned up at the desk. Fortunately there was a man on duty who just asked him what his belt size was, whipped his own belt off the uniform and handed it to him.

"The next thing we knew, it turned out to be Jonathan Glazer, the director of Sexy Beast, and when he went to the gala at Roy Thomson Hall, he went to the microphone and thanked 'the concierge at the Four Seasons who helped me keep my trousers up.' "

The most frequent request is for late-night nosh. "I remember once trying to find Peking Duck at 4 a.m.," Holm says. "Thank god for 24-hour Chinese. But I guess if you've been out partying all night you might need greasy food."

Often celebrities ask for help with their shopping lists. It's not unusual for a concierge to send an assistant out for the latest blouse or shirt. Sometimes it's just a matter of finding the perfect souvenir that captures the Canadian ethos. "I once had to get someone a two-four [case of beer], because they really liked it and it was a brand they couldn't get in America."

Coping with being on all the time, and a high turnover of intense and short-term relationships, can be demanding at times.

"The biggest part of it is having a good sense of humour. But it can be a rewarding job because you really develop a feeling of really getting to know someone," Holm says.

And the concierges do get to know them. Sometimes too well.

"People will ask for personal hygiene products," Holm says. "It can be just picking up deodorant, but once I had someone ask me to get a specific brand of prophylactic. Without hesitating."

But nothing surprises either Holm or Alim any more.

"What don't we see at the film festival?" Alim muses. "Unusual is usual now. You take everything in your stride, and nothing even makes you bat an eyelash.

Really? Just how unusual is the norm -- does the Four Seasons have a direct line to an escort service?

"We don't ever get requests that might be considered illicit," Alim reassures in soothing tones. "Maybe they might have asked some of my other colleagues in the city."

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