According to the archivist at Raffles Hotel in Singapore, the writer W Somerset Maugham found inspiration for his steamy stories of intrigue, lust and murder in the scandalous gossip he used to overhear in its Palm Court, where he would ask for a table discreetly set behind a frangipani tree, the better to earwig.
More than a myth, The Oxford Companion to English Literature corroborates it: 'The stories [he] heard appeared almost verbatim in Maugham's work.' But then for all its colonial-era splendour and decorum, Raffles is a hotel where exotic and extraordinary things happened. How many establishments can claim to have had a wild tiger — the last to be shot in Singapore — break into their bar and billiard room, as happened on 13 August 1902.
But it wasn't just the racy tales Maugham immortalised that lend themselves to fiction. The very history of the hotel, which celebrates its 125th anniversary this year, is the stuff of legend, growing as it did from a ten-bedroom bungalow called
Emmerson's Hotel to the great grande dame — perhaps the most celebrated hotel in Asia — it's been for the past century, the first Singapore hotel where every suite had not just a veranda or sitting room, but its own bathroom.
Its manifold comforts notwithstanding, its glamour and its legend are a legacy of those who've stayed there: writers such as Joseph Conrad, Rudyard Kipling, James Michener; film stars like Charlie Chaplin, Jean Harlow, Ava Gardner. Even if not all of them approved: 'I felt as though I was inside a hot cardboard box, which was growing rapidly smaller,' wrote Noël Coward, the first time he visited in 1931, though it didn't deter him from returning in 1968.
Swing by the Writers' Bar (less touristy than the celebrated Long Bar) and the glamorous spirit of those who've been here before is all pervading. Just be warned that unless you have a very sweet tooth, the hotel's signature Singapore Sling is perhaps the most cloying cocktail ever concocted.