Camelot Castle Hotel: the dream

This article appeared in the Western Morning News in 2000. John Mappin sets out his plans to turn Camelot Castle Hotel into an arts, hospitality and hi-tech center that would transform the North Cornwall economy…

“Castle’s new king and his vision of Camelot

For centuries, the wild and windswept landscape at Tintagel has been haunted by the legend of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.

Tales of courtly love and the quest for The Holy Grail, Excalibur, Queen Guinevere and Sir Lancelot has captured the imagination of romantics and historians down the ages.

But now, in the 21st Century the power of the Internet and e-commerce has finally come to Tintagel. For there is a new young king at the Castle Hotel which for 100 years has overlooked the magical kingdom of “Camelot”.

And he has plans, huge plans, for the spectacular 65-bedroom King Arthur’s Castle Hotel, built in 1899 and designed by Silvanus Trevail, which he has – of course – renamed Camelot Castle. Did Cornwall say it wanted a new five star luxury grand hotel? This could be it.

John Mappin, 35, wealthy, divorced and public school educated, has dabbled in everything from selling silver balloons outside Harrods, to stockbroking, to producing films in Hollywood.

But it is his love of romance, myths and legends which has drawn this young man – whose own ancestor founded Mappin and Webb, the famous Regent Street jewellers in the late 18th Century – to Tintagel.

Backed by a financial consortium, Mr. Mappin intends to spend £5 million – possibly more – transforming the faded splendour of King Arthur’s Castle Hotel with its huge stone and marble fireplaces, echoing oak panelled halls and grand, sweeping staircases into a sumptuous, majestic mansion where a modern day Sir Thomas Malory might well find inspiration to pen a contemporary D’Arthur.

“The bottom line is that I simply love a good story, “ says Mr. Mappin, pouring tea into fine china cups from a silver teapot, which, it has to be said, would not look out of place in the display window of the former family store.

“I think that the ancient mythology of Britain – and Tintagel in particular – is an untapped, unrealised national asset and I am amazed that it has not been brought more sharply into focus before.”

By “bringing into focus” Mappin means, of course, being promoted, exploited, capitalised upon – call it what you will. But if his plans to profit from his purchase of his new Camelot benefit not just Tintagel and its neighbouring villages, but the whole of Cornwall, who can argue?

“English Heritage have told me that my plan could increase tourism in the region by 33%,” he says proudly. “The whole idea of the Arthurian legend and the story of Excalibur is a hugely inspirational and exciting one, and I cannot believe that such fascinating ancient mythology has be so virtually ignored.”

However, Mr Mappin is at pains to point out that while he hopes to attract international tourists to Camelot Castle – and Americans in particular – he has no plans to turn Tintagel into a another Disney World.

“It is already a place of fantasy – why tamper with the real thing?” he muses. “There will be no theme park here. I do, however, want to attract artists and poets – the rooms will vary in price to reflect that – and I see this as a centre for art exhibitions, poetry recitals, and literary conferences, as well as a venue for weddings and as a meeting place for local groups.

“We also intend to have an open air theatre in the gardens, and host a story telling evening once a week for local schoolchildren. Stories open up a childs’ imagination. That is so important.”
But Mr Mappin does admit that he plans to add a touch of Hollywood to a new Internet website which is creating – aptly called

“I’ve already got animators at two film studios in Los Angeles creating a fantastic website, which will feature Merlin himself greeting you at the door of Camelot Castle and showing you around the hotel, the grounds, the views and the bedrooms – that’s real magic!” He says with enthusiasm. “Alongside the hotel itself we also hope to attract advertisers promoting all manner of things associated with mythology and legend, be it travel, jewellery, potter, gifts, books – particularly books on Arthurian legend, of course – as well as shops and services

“It will be carefully created to appeal to potential visitors from both home and abroad – particularly the Americans, who will love the whole idea of Merlin, King Arthur and the tales of romance, chivalry and the Knights of the Round Table. They’ll simply love it.”

The most magical aspect of the website, however, is the amount of money it is predicted to generate. “I’ve had estimates from friends in the City that when we float next year it could be worth between £200 and £600 million,” says Mappin happily, his teacup rattling slightly with excitement. “That really would be fantastic.”

Which is all a far cry from the days when he used to sell silver balloons outside Harrods – just a few yards along the street from the Knightsbridge store founded by his great, great, great etc grandfather.
“It’s absolutely true I swear to you,” he insists. “A friend asked me to do it after I left Winchester, and I had no other plans so I said all right. It was a very positive way to meet people. Everyone had a smile on their face when they bought a balloon from me.”

A career in the City beckoned however and Mappin tried his hand at stock-broking. “I enjoyed that, but wanted something more.”

What else is a frustrated and imaginative young man to do but to go to Hollywood? “It’s the storytelling I’m interested in – good stories and good writers are simply so important,” he says. “I was so lucky – I found myself working alongside a senior Hollywood executive and my job entailed making decisions to do with film distribution which meant sitting in a private cinema watching films all day long. Bliss.”

It also encouraged him to set up a company which sold story rights to movie and documentary film makers.

With his matinee-idol good looks, Mr Mappin will undoubtedly be a magnet for the girls when he is in residence at Camelot – that is when he’s not at his other homes in Knightsbridge, Switzerland or Los Angeles. “Not interested,” he says. “All my passion is tied up here.”

His co-partner in this huge financial project is his business colleague, Ted Stourton. It was with Mr. Stourton that he came to King Arthur’s Hotel last year while on a research mission. The pair loved what they saw, negotiated a deal with the then-owner Partick Rundle (whose family had run the hotel for 47 years) and bought the dream.

“I loved what I saw and soaked up the atmosphere of all the centuries of legend and mythology which permeates this place,” says Mr. Mappin. “But I also saw it from a marketing point of view – an un-promoted asset.”

In fact, it is Ted (full name Edward Corbally Stourton) who – presumably in the absence of any other staff at the moment – greets me at the door and leads me into the grand entrance hall, and over to the roaring log fire blazing away in the vast stone and marble hearth to warm yourself after coping with the blustering, galing winds outside.

He proudly gives me the grand tour along corridors once paced by Noel Coward and Ava Gardner, and downstairs to a rabbit warren of a basement where he intends to install a recording studio. “Wouldn’t this be a fantastic place for musicians and songwriters to be inspired? Wouldn’t they just love to stay here while working at the same time?” says Mr. Mappin, who just happens to have recently recorded a single with a view to cutting an album.

He certainly has his finger in many pies. Mr. Mappin also owns a London Newspaper Group which publishes a small chain of local freesheets to up-market homes in areas such as Kensington and Knightsbridge. Wealthy media man makes films and buys enormous house on a hill? Shades of William Randolph Hearst? The image is not lost on him.

But whether his project turns out to be the greatest success story ever to hit Cornwall, or the hotel simply becomes a white (or grey) elephant sitting high on a hill overlooking Tintagel, who can deny this dreamer his vision – and hope that, like in all good fairy tales, it is a fantasy which will come true.”

Janet King – Western Morning News 2000

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