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The man who welcomed Prince William to Israel with tea and scones

  • JulieSheldonRitz
Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge, was welcomed to the King David Hotel in Jerusalem on Tuesday by a former South African, Sheldon Ritz, who is Director of Operations at the famous hotel, and a highly experienced manager of diplomatic entourages.
by NICOLA MILTZ AND JULIE LEIBOWITZ | Jun 28, 2018

On his three-day visit, the prince was housed in one of the three suites on the top floor, which all face the Old City. Security was tight, Ritz says, pointing out that the King David is “the most secure” hotel in Israel, with bullet, bomb and poisonous gas-proof suites.

Prince William’s delegation, which arrived in advance at the weekend, comprised aides and assistants plus security. It wasn’t a large delegation, more comparable to the visit of a European Prime Minister, Ritz says. It was on a much smaller scale than the visit of United States President Donald Trump in May, whose entourage took over the entire hotel. Trump’s visit caused chaos, because reserved guests – including prominent South Africans – had to be relocated to other hotels at very short notice.

Ritz says he hopes the prince enjoyed some Middle Eastern food like hummus, falafel, shawarma – typical Israeli stuff – because he heard he likes to try local delicacies. “We cater for people from all over the world. For example, for Chinese visitors, we do sticky rice for breakfast, so we brought him some very good tea from England, the best we could buy, and we didn’t forget the milk!” he says.

On the prince’s arrival, the hotel staff made make scones, with clotted cream and strawberry jam. They heard there was a debate in England about whether to put the cream or jam on first, so they left them both on the side, and let the Prince decide.

Ritz says he was invited to the British Embassy a few weeks prior to the visit for training in the correct protocol for dealing with royalty. He was told that the first time you meet the prince, you should say, “Welcome, Your Royal Highness”. Thereafter, you can call him “Sir”.

“We were told that you shouldn’t put your hand out to welcome him. You have to let him initiate the handshake,” he says. “I went up with him in the elevator to his suite and explained how everything works, because it’s pretty high-tech. I was with him for about ten minutes, and was told that I shouldn’t initiate conversation while doing so.

“It’s a little peculiar to ask Israelis not to initiate conversation, but I’m from South Africa, part of the Commonwealth, so I’m OK with holding my tongue and not speaking unless spoken to.

“It’s not often that we have royalty in Israel because we’re not a monarchy, and the visit is very historic, so it was very exciting.

“Prince William is so well-liked, it’s unbelievable,” Ritz says, pointing out that the hotel was honoured to have him as a guest for the entire time he was in the region.

“The media attention was huge, just like when President Trump came in May,” Ritz says, “but we didn’t have to bring in extra staff for the prince because it was a different operation. His delegation took only about 50 rooms, whereas Trump’s took 1 100 rooms, including all 230 rooms at the King David Hotel plus rooms in another 19 hotels. Journalists stayed at the King David’s sister hotel, the Dan Panorama, because they couldn’t be in the same hotel as the prince.

“We have had a lot of experience hosting important people, such as Presidents Bush, Barack Obama, Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel, Tony Blair, King Hussein of Jordan, and of course Prince Charles, who stayed twice, but this is definitely up there,” Ritz says. “It’s unique. I mean, who doesn’t know Prince William?”

Ritz, who has been at the King David for 17 years, has much experience in dealing with diplomats and celebrities. It’s never ever a dull moment for the Durbanite, who made aliya in 1992 at the age of 26.

Requests from leading dignitaries and international celebrities have ranged from the bizarre to the mundane.

“A few months ago, the Prime Minister of Russia requested a ton of pork for his meals. Being a kosher establishment, we could not meet this requirement. However, he took his meals at another premises off-site. It does get tricky when guests ask for eggs and bacon in the morning. We don’t like to say no.”

The hotel once had to make special little steps so that Barbra Streisand’s pooch could climb onto her king-size bed.

And, he remembers when Jean-Claude van Damme requested a special contraption that would allow him to bungee jump off the balcony for a scene in one of his movies.

One guest demanded a specially built mosquito net, afraid that he would contract malaria, while former French President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted on chocolate made with 90% cocoa, which had to be imported.

US diplomat Condoleezza Rice, who has visited the hotel on numerous occasions, prefers Diet Pepsi over the locally available Pepsi Max, so bottles have to be brought in specially for her visits, which Ritz stores for her in his office.

During his studies at the ML Sultan Hotel School in Durban, Ritz never thought that one day he would be shaking hands – literally – with the world’s most famous people and attending to their every possible whim and wish.

It is certainly not a job for the fainthearted.

“The Foreign Minister of Denmark arrived at 01:30, and I was there to meet him,” says Ritz, who often sleeps in his office on a mattress on the floor and showers at the hotel gym.

He remembers with discomfort having to assuage more than 100 guests whose check-in plans clashed with the departure arrangements of former US President Barack Obama as Jerusalem experienced heavy winds and a sand storm, creating havoc.

“That was erev Pesach. Our guests had to wait for at least two hours for Air Force One to be out of Israeli airspace before I could allow them to check in, and that was well past 21:00,” says Ritz.

But it’s all in a day’s work for the busy, yet highly competent Ritz, who says he loves his job although it can be “quite tiring”. Fortunately, his wife and two children understand the demands of his job.

·         Additional reporting from Times of Israel

 

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