The West

Peter Brooks-Benison is Brook the presidential suite butler.
Peter Brooks-Benison is Brook the presidential suite butler.

It was once the tallest building in Perth and opened in 1973 to great fanfare - but from Thursday the Sheraton Hotel will be no more.

Its name, like the infamous flame-orange shag pile carpet in the lobby which has long been replaced with marble, will disappear.

But the good news is, the city's first five-star establishment will continue to provide luxury accommodation for travellers under a new guise. It will be known as the Pan Pacific after its owners decided to rebrand the iconic building on the expiry of its management contract.

And it will be business as usual for the hotel staff, including butler Peter Brooks-Benison. "Brook", as he is known, has served guests in the Presidential Suite (now $2500 a night) since 1989. In fact, it is his butlership which prompted many of the world's most famous people to choose the Sheraton when they stayed in Perth.

Now 70 and with two "new" knees, he has fond memories of his arrival in a city still basking in the afterglow of an America's Cup contest off Fremantle.

"I normally don't sit down in here," he laughs, perched on a sofa in the presidential suite.

If the walls could speak, he says, they'd tell some tales.

Even on a sultry Perth day, bright light is filling the spacious, well-appointed room giving it a cheery glow and adding colour to Brook's ruddy hair. The butler's posture is immaculate, his speech clipped and precise, and he never interrupts. Instead, he listens attentively and responds to humour with just the right amount of laughter.

I'm shocked when he describes the building as "not pretty". It seems harsh from such a considered man but it also reflects Brook's honesty.

"I've seen more luxurious suites around the world," Brook says. "There's nothing exceptional about this one but the light. Whoever built it has it in exactly the right position and at three o'clock in the afternoon, when you come in here, you could be in heaven.

"And the most extraordinary things have happened in this room."

A man of discretion, Brook doesn't indulge in gossip.

But he does remember with affection the sight of Elton John's suitcases, packed with glittering clothing and jewellery, extending from the bedroom into the lounge.

"I'd only been here a few months when Elton arrived," he recalls. "There couldn't have been a bigger star in the world at the time and everything had to be glamorous.

"This room was end to end with flowers, and the very fact that I appeared in tails was a style of service that Elton just took to naturally. And so he invited me to do the rest of the tour with him.

"That was an exceptionally glamorous time for the Sheraton and it's those people that made it so. I've walked into this room and there's been a king or a princess or a huge pop star here and it makes me realise how very privileged I am."

It could be said Brook was born to serve.

The son of an English tea planter in then-Ceylon, he spent his early years in a house served by 14 staff.

He became Brook via a circuitous route that saw him operating a talent agency which did some of the casting for the Carry On films, and running a successful deli.

He first donned the black tailcoat and white gloves at Sydney's Wentworth Hotel before moving to Perth in 1990 at a time the city's hotels were starting to employ butlers. "I'd never been to Perth but I fell in love with it straight away," he says.

"Perth is an example of everything that's good about this country. It's fresh, airy and uncluttered and it has remained that way."

Brook has made a living from making guests feel at home in his adopted city but says it's important for a butler not to become overfamiliar.

"Some make the mistake of being over-friendly but it's important to keep that formality," he warns.

"A guest isn't interested in you flitting about. They'll call for you when they need you and a rapport will build that way.

"This is where Elle Macpherson was just the most wonderful person in the world.

"A natural beauty, so vivacious, and when they invited her here to do the WA tourism ads it was fantastic for me because she wanted to take me with her.

"It was an extraordinary experience and a wonderful way to see the State. That wouldn't have happened if she hadn't felt comfortable with me but to this day, I don't really know what it was I did."

For the ilk of Diana Ross and Dionne Warwick, Tom Jones and Sir Peter Ustinov, ("he was wonderful, like a great, big bear"), Brook has washed, ironed, unpacked and then packed, made tea and beds, posted letters and, when required, just listened.

"I have the best job in the world," he says. "I trained for the theatre and this is all theatre. The whole thing is a performance.

"I became a failed actor because the look was wrong and everything else but it held me in good stead for this role. It's a real escape.

"My back straightens every morning as I drive into the carpark and I become Brook who's almost a fictional character outside these walls, where I'm Peter to my friends.

"And I'll do this wonderfully involved job as long as they'll let me. I have no intention of retiring."

To paraphrase Sir Elton, he's the last of the Perth butlers still standing and, true to form, he's honest about the reasons for his longevity.

"One, the hotel has supported me in allowing me to fulfil my duties," he notes.

"They've been very practical in how the whole thing has to work.

"And two - and I'm sorry to say this - I'm very, very good at it."

The West Australian

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