Hosting the President is no easy feat, what with the intense security detail, special requests, and busy schedule to maintain. But Philip Wood has played host to dozens of heads of state at hotels around the world, from the Four Seasons to Rosewood and Orient Express Hotels, and Forte's Exclusive Hotels of the World. Today, he serves as managing director of The Jefferson Hotel in Washington, D.C., President Obama's No. 1 fund-raising spot in the city. Wood has agreed to sit down with us and dish the dirt on what it's like to care for the most important person in the world.
What's the strangest part about hosting the President, or other political bigwigs?
It's all about security. But when it's really high-profile, it's taken out of our hands. They close an entire wing of the hotel, plus the rooms directly above and below. They've got security on the roof, in the lobby, everywhere. Everything is swept by dogs, and about two dozen staffers get cleared by security, though only a handful actually have direct contact. We give those cleared staffers lapel pins to identify themselves to security. But every country has their own method.
What do you mean?
For example, when I was working in Jamaica in the 1970s, there was a time when, over the course of three days, we had lunches or dinners for had 36 heads of state, and eight stayed at the hotel. [Former Tanzanian President] Dr. [Julius] Nyerere was so security conscious that his staff would watch our room attendants make the beds and cut open pieces of soap to ensure nothing was inside. He would never leave even his room without having at least six bodyguards with him. But then, Pierre Trudeau from Canada would wander around the property on his own.
How much notice do you typically receive from these types of high-security guests?
If they're staying at the hotel, they generally come to us about two or three months in advance. But if it's for dinner, it's usually just a day or two. Spontaneity acts as a security measure; if nobody knows you're coming, nobody can plan an attack.
What's it like working with so many security details?
These guys would stop a bullet for their man, but nobody ever even asks them if they've had lunch. George H.W. Bush was one of the few I've seen who actually gave his secret service a meal. So, I always make sure they're fed.
I know you hosted President Obama more than 20 times at the Jefferson for fund-raisers. What was that like?
He always come in the back entrance; we decided we need to rename it the "BaRack entrance" he came so often.
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