Two weeks ago we featured the outgoing general manager of Jesmond Dene House Hotel, today we profile his successor Scott Davidson who speaks to Peter Jackson.
SCOTT Davidson wanted to be an airline pilot when he was younger, but BA Training School turned down his application.
But this failed pilot has gone on to become a high flier in an industry into which he drifted.
He is the recently appointed general manager of the magnificent Jesmond Dene Hotel in Newcastle, a Grade II listed building, which was transformed from a 19th century John Dobson-designed house into a luxury five-star hotel seven years ago.
It’s a prestigious appointment for this 39-year-old but he wears that authority lightly, even diffidently.
He is a local lad, having been born and bred in neighbouring Gosforth, the youngest of three sons. His father was a bank manager while his mother worked in retail.
After sixth form, Davidson took a year out before university where he intended to read English before becoming a journalist, having been thwarted in his ambitions of becoming an airline pilot. During this time, he was bitten by the catering bug.
“I was working part-time at a small restaurant in the Metrocentre just to give me some money while I was studying A-levels,” he says. “I took a year out and in that time I started working full-time in the restaurant and started of thinking of going down the catering route as a vocation.”
With the support of his parents, he applied for a number of trainee positions and hit the jackpot.
He explains: “I applied to the Savoy Group in London by whom I was offered a trainee management scholarship, one of only 11 taken every year and I was the first one from the North of England ever.”
For a 19-year-old leaving home for the first time, going to live in a Savoy Group hostel in London’s Camden Town was an exciting culture shock.
“It absolutely changed me and made me grow up very quickly, it turned a boy into a man” he says.
He started in the Savoy, in front of house, then Claridges for back of house and finally the St Quintin Brasserie in Knightsbridge where he did 12 months in the kitchen. This was another eye-opener in the highly pressured, macho, even brutal world of an early 1990s kitchen.
“I was given a bit of a hard time because I was from the North of England and because I was a management trainee.” The stress and long hours affected his health, and things came to a head three years into his five-year scholarship.
“I came home one weekend and my mum and dad could see it was affecting my health. It was the pressure of the kitchen work and everything, I wasn’t happy, I was given crazy long hours. I went to the doctor and he said it was exhaustion, so I took the decision just to pack it in.”
So, at 21, he was back in Newcastle, but, with Savoy training on his CV, he quickly found another job as a management trainee at the County Thistle, where, after two years, he was made conference and banqueting manager.
From there he moved onto another city centre hotel, the Vermont, in 1994, again as conference banqueting manager. “That was a tight ship, they instilled very high standards and it was a position in which I learnt a great deal,” he says.
After a couple of years he did a short spell at the Holiday Inn Seaton Burn in the conference banqueting role, followed by a position as catering manager at the Northumberland Lawn Tennis Club in Jesmond.
In 2000, he went to Linden Hall near Morpeth where he spent seven years and reached the position of operations manager before moving back to the Vermont as deputy general manager.
A year later, he was presented with a significant career opportunity when he applied for and was offered the position of general manager at Wynyard Hall Hotel shortly after it opened. In February this year, he moved to Darlington’s Bannatyne Hotel as general manager, lured by the prospect of later becoming operations director with responsibility for all four of the group’s properties.
But then, in September, he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“Jesmond Dene House asked me to join them because the previous general manager Eric [Kortenbach] was leaving. When I heard they were interested in me, it was a bit of a: ‘Wow! Dear me!’
“I was thrilled and delighted and I couldn’t really turn the opportunity down, I really couldn’t, it’s the pinnacle of any hotelier’s career to have a venue like this, in their home city.”