On one of the many wet days of this past English summer, I suggested to my two small children that we waste an afternoon in front of the television. On the basis that I usually force them outside to “do something more constructive”, the offer came as a bolt from the blue and was greeted with unbounded enthusiasm – so much so that they didn’t bother to ask what it was we were going to watch.
And so it was that Cliff Richard had barely got through the first four bars of “Summer Holiday” and Una Stubbs hadn’t even made an appearance before the signs of ennui were setting in. But once the true brilliance of that all-time classic about the exploits of an exuberant group of youngsters heading to the south of France in a Routemaster bus revealed itself, the requests to replicate such an adventure came in thick and fast.
Oddly enough, I have a friend who owns a Routemaster and who might have even lent it to us – but the thought of bedding down on the top deck and trying to cook meals for four on a Primus stove didn’t really appeal. I had also vowed to give up travelling in conventional camper vans 25 years ago when a dilapidated VW Microbus, in which I’d embarked on a round-Britain tour, ground to a halt in the baboon enclosure at Longleat Safari Park.
Now, however, shipping tycoon and entrepreneur Andrew Morris has come up with an offer that even the most vehement anti-camper might find hard to resist – the chance to enjoy what he’s calling “seven-star luxury” in a magnificently appointed motorhome, complete with driver, butler, high-end chef and concierge service.
And it’s not just any old motorhome. This is a giant of a machine built by US firm Newell, renowned for making the world’s best “recreational vehicles”. In other words, if Rolls-Royce built campers, this is what they’d be like.
An added attraction of Morris’s Newell, however, is its exceptional provenance: it was originally commissioned in 1998 by Canada’s famously fiery Formula One world champion Jacques Villeneuve, whose exacting requirements led to it becoming the world’s first $1m RV. In 2003, it entered the ownership of F1 driver Mika Salo before changing hands again, this time becoming the “race base” for none other than Jenson Button, who owned it until last year.
Morris, who regularly attends classic-car events such as the Goodwood Festival of Speed and the Pageant of Power at Cholmondeley Castle to demonstrate his historic F1 Lotus Lamborghini Grand Prix car, initially bought the Newell for purely practical reasons.
“It is famously difficult to get in and out of these events because of the traffic, so the people taking part often prefer to set up camp in the grounds,” he explains.
“The opportunity to buy the Newell arose, and after I’d stayed in it a couple of times it suddenly dawned on me that it had business potential as a luxurious, mobile destination for people who want to enjoy a high-end break without staying in a conventional hotel.”
For a starting fee of £11,500 for two nights, the Icon, as it is now known, can be delivered to any location in central England, fully stocked with luxury linens, a hamper of locally sourced organic produce, fresh-cut flowers and suitably chic toiletries.
The experience can, however, be enhanced with virtually anything that the client’s heart desires, including helicopter transfers, a limousine service, butlers and waitresses, even an on-board Michelin-starred chef.
Morris has also negotiated a deal to site the Icon at a “quiet and remote location” in West Wycombe Estate in the Chiltern Hills, Buckinghamshire, which was used as a setting in Downton Abbey. It can also be delivered to a secluded spot at Goodwood or to a private beach on the south coast. Meanwhile, at additional cost, it can be taken anywhere in Europe, and Morris already has bookings from a group of motor‑racing enthusiasts planning to use it at the Le Mans 24 Hours, as well as a music fan who wants to “glamp it up” at the Glastonbury festival.
Having had a good look around the Icon, I can safely say that it offers all the comforts of home, and then some. Built on the same chassis as the legendary Greyhound bus, it offers 500 square feet of living space, thanks to its hydraulically extendable side, which is kitted out with a 42in flat-screen TV, Bose surround-sound hi-fi and an American-style fridge (complete with ice maker, of course).
The motorhome’s other attractions include a spacious power shower in the granite-trimmed bathroom, a dressing room, drying room and walk-in wardrobes. The bed, meanwhile, is fully electrically adjustable and an on-board 20kw generator ensures you need never be caught, so to speak, in the wrong position.
The only slight downside that I can see to spending a weekend in the Icon is the “period” nature of its trim – unless, of course, you revel in the charms of faux tigerskin bedspreads, gold-plated taps, magnolia leather upholstery, beige carpets and ceiling mirrors.
“Might it be due for a refit?” I tentatively suggest.
“I can’t help thinking you might be right,” Morris candidly responds. “But I’m rather worried that if we change the interior we might be accused of wiping out history – this is the only motorhome in the world that has belonged to two Formula One world champions. It has also been stayed in by celebrities such as Tiger Woods and the Minogue sisters.”
But not, one would hope, simultaneously…