Robb Reader: Motor sport magnate turned hotelier, David Richards

The Briton who’s been at the wheel of Prodrive, Aston Martin and the BAR Formula 1 team, now helms a luxury inn.

By Nick Scott 24/02/2019

When the sun shines in Cornwall, in south-west England – and it will start doing so sometimes in a couple of months – the waterfront inn former Formula 1 boss Richards runs with his wife Karen, at the tip of the Roseland Peninsula, is as gloriously glamourous a place to soak up the rays out as any ultra-hip Mediterranean hotspot. Hence, we recommend booking now.

So how did a former chairman of Aston Martin and team principal of the BAR and Benetton Formula 1 motor racing teams go about applying his Midas touch to hospitality?

What are the major challenges when turning a dilapidated building into a luxury hotspot?

The real challenge with The Idle Rocks was its location right on the water’s edge. The building work itself was relatively straightforward, with my wife Karen designing all the interiors, but winter storms can take their toll and we’ve had to take a number of precautions to protect the building.

How has the nature of luxury hospitality changed of late, and how do you foresee it changing over the coming years?

The challenge for luxury hotels is the increasing expectations of our guests, many of whom have experienced some of the most luxurious hotels in the world. We have to translate that expectation into the local Cornish environment. I personally believe this makes us rather unique and special, and the acclaim that the hotel has received recently suggests that our guests feel the same way.

Has modern luxury changed more broadly – in the automotive sector too, for example?

Technology in cars is such that it’s all too easy to lose the enjoyment of driving these days as so many cars offer a competent yet bland experience. That’s very much the same with hotels, and our aim at The Idle Rocks is to offer an authentic luxury experience that differentiates from our competitors. As with motor cars it’s the small details that make the difference.

How would you describe The Idle Rocks’ design philosophy?

Karen has been in charge of every detail of the design throughout the hotel, which is about contemporary seaside luxury with its roots in Cornwall. There’s extensive use of high quality fabrics, enormous attention to detail and Cornish art to be seen everywhere.

What measures have been taken to create ties with the local St Mawes community?

We have made great efforts to ensure that both our hotels contribute to village life by employing locals wherever possible. Our sister hotel, the St Mawes, hosts numerous events and you’re as likely to be stood at the bar alongside a local fisherman as you are a lawyer from London.

Isn’t that increasingly rare in the summer in Cornwall?

St Mawes is located on the Roseland Peninsular and can only be accessed by ferry or a 30-minute drive from the nearest major road. As a result it almost feels as if you’re on an island where the locals embrace visitors as part of the fabric of the village. For this reason St Mawes has been described as the St Tropez of Cornwall, where visitors have always been welcomed.

What philosophies did you learn from working for so long in Formula One?

My entire business life has been spent around motor racing, and ultimately Formula One. It’s taught me what great teamwork can achieve, and we apply this very same philosophy to our hotels – and guests regularly comment on our customer service.

In what circumstances do you get your best creative ideas?

Meeting new people, which I do every day of the week, is what develops my creative ideas. It never fails to amaze me how a chance meeting or a discussion with somebody from a completely different walk of life can result in a new idea. But that only happens if you’re prepared to listen!

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