Durban's Edward Hotel stirs up memories

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Jun 27, 2020

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Durban - Memories of Durban’s grand old Edward Hotel were stirred after its closure was announced last week.

But there was much relief when Tsogo Sun stepped into the breach this week to save the Golden Mile’s grand old lady.

Many remembered the hotel’s famous smorgasbord groaning with the freshest seafood, or Peter Chen’s Mandarin Room, the best Chinese restaurant in Durban. One even submitted a menu from the 1960s where a sumptuous multi-course dinner was offered at R4 a head.

Others remembered Dorian’s Disco, reputed to be the first disco in Durban, or the Ladies Bar where the drinks were expensive. Or The Grapevine where singer Sheila Taylor, pictured, and cabaret entertainer Peter Maxwell were institutions.

The Independent on Saturday this week caught up with Taylor who now lives in Honolulu, Hawaii, US, who said the Grapevine was a special place.

Taylor’s stint at The Edward spanned 16 years from 1980 to 1997, apart from a short contract at the Kings Hotel in East London. She started playing in the Causerie during the week and on Sundays at the Grapevine. “The latter became so popular they put me in there full time,” she said.

“I remember though, when I first started, the hotel chauffeur, with his white gloves on, used to come and fetch me, carry my guitar and take me to the hotel and the same at the end of the evening,” she said.

Taylor says the Durban July was always a huge event. “I would inevitably end up entertaining until 2, 3 and even 4am, despite there being no overtime. But the patrons refused to let me go. This happened on numerous occasions, so they sure got their money’s worth.”

She played during the Rugby World Cup in 1995. “People from all over the world were staying at The Edward. The days leading up to the event were electrifying. Because I sing songs in 17 different languages, I would ask the diners what nationality they were and then sing a song for them in their language. This ended up in nights of people coming up to sing, groups from different nationalities and the atmosphere was fantastic,” she said.

Taylor said many celebrities visited. “I sang with artists from around the globe. Many musicians would come and visit and we would have a jam session.

“We also had the South African cricket team stay at The Edward and the boys sure gave me a hard time, but we had many, many parties, with me entertaining till the early hours.”

Taylor tells how her daughter was almost born at The Edward. “In 1984, when we discovered I was pregnant with our second child, 12 years after my son was born, I was still working six months into my pregnancy. One night, just after a set, I got up from the piano and passed out. Next thing I was upstairs in bed in one of the hotel bedrooms. Twenty-four hours later I was in hospital. My little girl was born three months early and weighing 2lbs (0.907kg),” she said.

Three months later Taylor was back at The Grapevine. “When she was out of ICU and weighing 5lbs, she was with me in a tiny little shopping basket - a carry cot was too big for her - by the foot pedals of the piano. I fed her in between sets.

“It’s not surprising she turned out to be extremely musical and blessed with a beautiful voice. Seven years later she was singing duets with me in The Grapevine.”

She tells the story of how her guitar was stolen at The Edward in 1983 in what “was obviously an inside job”. But an article in the Daily News led to a phone call a couple of days later. “The police had found it. A pawnbroker recognised it. Unfortunately, I lost some very special contacts which were on cards inside the compartment of the guitar case,” she said.

In 1996 the hotel’s owners decided to close for a year to renovate the hotel, with Taylor closing the old and opening the new.

“I believe that the close of the old Edward, with all its colonial charm, was the end of an era then - because the reopening of the ‘new’ Edward, all copper, brass and glass, just didn’t do it. The charm was gone. I finished that contract with no wish to renew.”

Taylor went on to join the cruise line industry, entertaining on ships for a number of years. One of the hotel’s adverts just before she left said she was going to retire. “That was wishful thinking, it didn’t happen,” she said.

She has some advice for Tsogo as they take over The Edward

“I have the most amazing memories from those 16 years. Whoever takes over our dear Edward Hotel, I do hope they try to bring back its olde worlde charm.”


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