Idris Elba, the startlingly beautiful English actor, DJ, musician, writer and entrepreneur, leans seductively against the seemingly never ending glass (this writer has her biases #SorryNotSorry). St Paul’s Cathedral swims into view. He glances back earnestly over his shoulder, down the lens of a camera.
He is on the 39th floor for a photoshoot for Esquire magazine, regaling stories of life in Hollywood and growing up as an East End boy in London. However, as much as Idris is a sight to behold, so too is the view from the windows of the penthouse suite.
The Shangri-La Hotel has more than 11,000 glass panels, mostly windows, equivalent in area to eight football pitches or two and a half Trafalgar Squares. Cleaning the windows takes months, and I dare say a privacy clause, but they are so crystal clear, it feels as though you could reach out and touch London, or take flight like Peter Pan and Wendy.
The nominal namesake, the Shangri La is a fictional settlement high in the mountains of Tibet, it was described in the novel Lost Horizon, by British author James Hilton, as mystical, earthly paradise, a utopia, where people almost immortal, living hundreds of years past their normal lifespan, purely by experiencing this existence.
In 1971 the first deluxe hotel was founded in Singapore and there they selected the Shangri la name, setting their stall out from the outset.
The only one in the UK is situated in Borough Market. It occupies floors 34-52 of Renzo Piano’s iconic building, The Shard. Taking twelve years to build, his vision was finally realised when the vertical city was completed. A city that operates 24 hours a day; hotel, tourist attraction, retail, residential, restaurants and offices.
Taking inspiration from the spires of London churches and masts of tall ships by the 18th century Venetian painter Canaletto, the architect Renzo Piano designed it to be a spire-like sculpture emerging from the River Thames. Piano’s vision of light and transparency stream throughout.
Getting here is simple. It is beside London Bridge Station, which is being transformed into a vast transport hub used by 75 million people a year. If you prefer, you can schedule a limousine pick up from the airport, staff are happy to help.
Unsure which way to turn when you leave the station? You can’t miss it. Standing at 309 metres high, it is Western Europe’s tallest building.
Entering the lobby, you are graced by the sumptuous oriental excellence of Shangri- la décor, blacks and golds. The scent captivates you, a mystical mix of musks. Take the lift to check in, it won’t take long, they travel at 6 metres a second.
Arriving at level 35, indulge yourself on a cup of Chinese tea at Ting. If you prefer a glass of chilled Crystal, why not? bottles upon bottles of champagne create a champagne wall, lining the outside of the elevator, Louis Roederer also, no less. It is the biggest selection in the UK. If you can tear yourself away, move swiftly to your room for more spectacular 360˚ views.
Each of the rooms and suites are unique, thanks to the design of The Shard, all have floor to ceiling windows, that add to your voyeuristic tendencies. Sleep with the shutters open for a view of the twinkling sleeping city below. There is also a set of binoculars, visual intrusion is accepted from this height.
When you arrive, hot fresh scones are brought to the room, a lovely nod to the English tradition of Afternoon Tea. There is clotted cream and jam, just how it should be. A range of teas and coffee are available, as in fresh milk in the fridge. There are Shangri-La tubs of all butter shortbread, jelly beans and salted crisps. Fresh water is in Shangri-La embossed bottles and wonderful gift of chocolates in flavours such as spiced biscuit, Tonka and feuille.
The rooms are large and airy. Light wood, marble and silk are in keeping with the Shangri La. The bed is body contouring, making you even less inclined to leave it.
The bathroom has Aqua di Parma amenities, heated toilet seats and a spa for your bottom, it too has views over the city. The natural instinct is to cover up, though I’m not sure who, apart from the cleaners, would see you up here. Or maybe the geese who nest, they are said to bring luck, coming back to safety in the clouds.
Have sundowners at GONG bar on level 52, where the shifting night hues of the city will mesmerise you. The cocktail menu is famous, A Miscellany of Inventions, has drinks inspired by the greatest world inventions such as the hot air balloon and barcodes.
The name stems from ‘dougong’ interlocking brackets used in Chinese architecture, which are a feature in the bar. There are intimate enclaves, leather seats, deep purple flower arrangements and coffee table books on living in China.
Before relaxing at GONG, take a dip in the westerly facing infinity Skypool, breast stroking towards the London Eye and Westminster, also on level 52.
Dining in TING, Chinese for ‘living room’ really is a homely experience. There is a 360-degree view of the city, you will naughtily spend your time trying to spot landmarks rather than converse with your dinner guest. Sample the crab and scallop starter, followed by Cornish lobster or venison loin. All matched to wines expertly selected by the sommelier.
Afternoon tea is served here, show casing a variety of teas such as the Welcome Tea, a blend of white and jasmine tea with apricot pieces. Breakfast is also served here, east meets west.
The hotel offers a variety of packages including a Champagne boat ride and Theatre in the Clouds, an intimate play in the luxury of a signature Shangri- La Suite, performed by London’s hottest private theatre company, Revel in Hand. Champagne and canapés during intermission.
Shangri-La evokes the orient, serenity and harmony, almost lifelike in essence, having touched, tasted and smelt Shangri La, it seems like an emotion rather than a place. Or perhaps it can be both.
Invite Shangri La into your life, live it, love it, experience it, just as Idris has. He once filmed an advert for The Shard, he recommended bringing your mother. Either way, make sure you stay at the Shangri La, mother or not.