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Hotelier, author and gin maker, Martin Miller is a man of many talents, as Sarah Ford discovers

PUBLISHED: 12:55 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:44 20 February 2013

Martin Miller at Glencot House

Martin Miller at Glencot House

Hotelier, author and gin maker, Martin Miller is a man of many talents, as Sarah Ford discovers. Portrait by Trevor Thompson

Hotelier, author and gin maker, Martin Miller is a man of many talents, as Sarah Ford discovers. Portrait by Trevor Thompson


As I travelled to meet Martin Miller, for the first time in my life I wished I lived somewhere far away from Somerset. I suddenly wanted to be one of those lucky visitors who had discovered this rather special rural retreat at the foot of the Mendip Hills, and was now settling in for the weekend.

Anticipation built as I drove towards this stunning Jacobean-style mansion. It stands in a garden extraordinarily decorated with large gilt-framed mirrors, unusual stone busts and chandeliers hanging from the trees. With the sound of the River Axe rushing along from nearby Wookey Hole, I ventured inside to meet the charismatic owner of Glencot House Hotel.

Martin Miller and his Transylvanian-born wife, Ioanna, bought the property two years ago and during that time have filled the country house from floor to ceiling with an eclectic collection of antiques. The result is both magical and bizarre and national press have described it variously as 'elegant yet homely' (Independent) and 'completely potty but lovely' (Tatler).

Guests love it - and they love the four-poster beds, the plunge pool, sauna, cinema and billiard room too. Every inch of space is chock-full of objects of interest from paintings and porcelain, to stuffed birds and stag heads. "It's the sort of place you might only want to live in for a short while. People are always asking us who does the dusting," smiles Martin as he pours me some tea. One might normally associate Martin with a tipple of another kind as this is the man behind Miller's Gin. Others may know his name from the famous Miller's Antique Price Guides.

Born in Worthing, Martin was once a freelance photographer whose bread and butter came from wedding and baby photos. Together with a dealer he published his first antiques price guides in the late 1960s.

Meanwhile, he says he personally has very mixed tastes when it comes to buying his own antiques. "I don't go out looking for anything specific, just whatever comes up and I find a place for it; I'm constantly moving things around the hotel which makes it interesting for people."

Martin also owns a similarly furnished 18th-century hotel in London called Miller's Residence, where each room is named after a Romantic poet. And a neighbouring building in Notting Hill is home to the Miller's Academy of Arts and Science. It was from here that top model Kate Moss was recently pictured in the press emerging from a party looking rather the worse for wear. The Spice Girls were in there the following night.

But the London academy is also the venue for rather more sedate occasions when speakers, artists and performers mingle with club members in the style of a literary salon. It's something that Martin would like to recreate here in Somerset. "I think it would go down well - a lecture and a nice evening done as a small regular social club where people feel comfortable coming on their own."

One of Martin's daughters - he has five girls and two ex-wives - runs his London hotel. Just recently one of his grandchildren was christened at the church in Wookey Hole, an event for which everyone turned out. "They were all here - ex-wives, partners, the whole shooting match. I get on well with them."

He and Ioanna, a ceramic artist whom he met in Barbados and married seven years ago, tend to spend a couple of evenings a week at Glencot. The house was originally built for the owner of Wookey Hole paper mills, William Sampson Hodgkinson, and in the past it has also been a school.

"Amazingly there are local people who have never heard of it before. A couple came out for lunch yesterday and said the food was wonderful, but that even if it had not been they would still come back as they like soaking up the atmosphere!

"Our weekend guests are very much London-based. We recently had a fashion stylist down for a photo shoot who took the whole place over. A month ago a Dutch walking club stayed here. They should have been called a Dutch drinking club because they were up until four in the morning hammering away at the booze. But they were awake at 9am and off walking with all the gear on!"

Only five minutes' drive from Wells, the hotel is an ideal base from which to explore. Other guests prefer to curl up with a good book in front of a roaring fire - perhaps perusing Martin's own novel, The Wookey Hole Affair. The hero of the story is a hotel owner called Tarmin Rimmell (I'll let you work out the anagram), a 'free spirit' with a love of antiques.

"I was in Caf Nero in London feeling bored and just started writing," recalls Martin. "I don't know why but once I'd started I simply wanted to finish it and did so within six weeks. The book, a thriller, promotes the academy and the two hotels, with a location you can identify with if you are staying here. It's complete fun and rubbish really and most of the books have been given away. An unsigned copy is a rarity!"

Glencot House 01749 677160, www.glencothouse.co.uk

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