Gary Neville and Tom Kerridge on the creation of the Stock Exchange Hotel in Manchester
PUBLISHED: 00:00 15 November 2019
Gary Neville, Manchester's football legend turned property emperor has joined forces with super chef, Tom Kerridge, to create a hotel and dining destination that will take the city's social standing to the next level.
'Er, I think we need a few extra plug sockets round 'ere!', shouts Gary Neville to someone in the distance, where there's a lot of drilling and even more banging - before turning to me with a wink. 'We could have one right there, one over here… what about over there?!' Property mogul, football superstar, groundbreaking entrepreneur, proud Northerner - and definite wind-up merchant. Welcome to Gary's world, where being the boss is serious business… just don't take him too seriously.
We're sitting on top of a dustsheet draped meticulously over a very fancy sofa in the middle of what's set to be the superstar suite of Gary's superstar new hotel, slap-bang in the middle of Manchester. He's dressed in various shades of navy made of the sorts of material money can buy. The salubrious surroundings of this latest multi-million pound project make those saucer eyes of his pop, and his mouth is never knowingly not on the verge of a grin. Everything's pretty much raring to go - Gary too, always hands-on if his rammed diary allows it - and the protective patina over every bit of furniture makes it look like a Mancunian Pompeii. Albeit with all the plug sockets you'll ever need.
'When I'm long gone,' he says, 'I want people to go, "They did that! They created this hotel and it's wonderful!"'
The hotel is Stock Exchange. Built in 1904 as a showy conduit for Manchester's cotton trade - you can almost smell the mercenary comings and goings as your neck strains to take in the turn-of-the-century grandeur of the main hall - it's little wonder Gary took a shine to it. It's a jewel-box of a building, by the same architects (Bradshaw, Gass and Hope) who gave us the Royal Exchange 200 yards down the road and Liverpool's Grand Central Hall. From a certain angle it sits defiantly against the dregs of the Arndale's off-yellow bricks, an oh-so Mancunian juxtaposition that is almost poetic.
Soon it will be welcoming the world to what is confidently being described as a gamechanger for Manchester's hospitality scene. Not that Gary refuses to be quite so effusive. 'Oh, I don't know about that!' he winces. 'I just try and do things I'm passionate about and that are different. We don't try and repeat what's been done before.'
By 'we', Gary means Ryan Giggs and Winston J. Zahra, the former being his erstwhile Manchester United team - and current best - mate, the latter a Dragon's Den-style business guru who jumped on board the boys' property empire, GG Hospitality, last year. Stock Exchange will be their first headline-busting launch together, and Gary can't wait. 'I don't feel pressure, just excitement!'
And excitement is a fine thing to feel at the prospect of Stock (people are already dropping the 'Exchange' bit and it feels right). Every effort has been made and every penny spent to nip, tuck and restore the building's Edwardian features, whilst its forty rooms are all big enough to swing all your cats in (not often the case with city centre boutiques), and include two signature suites as well as a 3,500 square foot penthouse. Then there's the food and beverage courtesy of Tom Kerridge, he of Saturday Kitchen fame with more Michelin stars than you can shake a ramekin at.
'I've been a fan of Tom for years,' explains Gary. 'Because of his restaurant at the Corinthia Hotel in London, so I met him there and just asked him!' And two weeks later, it was a done deal. 'He was like, "Well, I'm up in Manchester this Friday actually so let's meet." So I met him here and we just walked around and as soon as he walked into the main restaurant space - that amazing domed hall that you've seen - he was like, "Right, we're doing this!"'
The rest, as they say, is 5,200 covers booked in before The Bull & Bear has even opened.
And seeing the two of them together, it all makes sense. Everywhere Gary goes he greets everyone enthusiastically - handshake like he means it, full-on eye contact, that extra hand pulling you in even further like he's known you for years - and Tom, bashful in comparison, avuncular, drips with warmth. There's nothing starry about these two stars, in spite of the ingredients there to hone an ego or two.
That doesn't mean they've got the time to while away an afternoon with you. The photoshoot - planned and set up before they arrive - is on a strict schedule. 'I hate having my picture taken!' Gary protests through a laugh, and five minutes later we're done. Well, he's a busy man.
There's the property empire, which already includes Hotel Football in the shadow of Old Trafford which he 'loves, but it's a very different proposition to Stock Exchange' as well as the controversial St Michael's development behind the Town Hall that's still a bit all over the place. There's his gig as a footie pundit on Sky, and that football club - Salford FC - he went and bought with his Man United Class of '92 chums David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and brother Phil, to name the ones you've probably heard of. 'The money we've spent on Salford we could've bought an established club in League One!' Oh, and he only went and opened a university last week, Academy 92, another joint passion project with his United teammates and Lancaster University, which champions a bold new world of learning. All this, and he still gets up at '5am every morning to go to the gym… Sometimes 5.30.'
Does he ever wonder what on earth he's doing?
'Oh yeah!' he grins. 'I just keep thinking, "We've got to get through this!" I say it's like a tumble dryer. We're just spinning. And… what was that other thing I mentioned?'
Gary does this. Master of the segue, jumping from one unfinished thought to the next. Over the course of a normal human breath he's gone from hotel brass fittings to Ryan Giggs' fasting diet - 'He told me the other day he's got a six-pack for the first time in his life!' - to his plans for Stock's opening party… 'In The Vault, downstairs, no cameras allowed. They'll be throwing up all over the marble. It's so not Cheshire Life, is it!'. He tells me how he's trying to cut out sugar: 'I love Wine Gums. And Percy Pigs. And Colin The Caterpillar. And those little chocolate balls…' He likes his red wine: 'I drink a lot! But, not a drop in eight days. I knew I needed to cut down a bit. I'm not turning into a messiah or anything, but everything seems… clearer!' What about that opening party? 'Oh, I'm drinking. Don't worry!'
This might be the key to his success, an eager brain that just won't let go. My brother - die-hard United fan, contemporary of the Class of '92 - says he was the 'go-to gob', Sir Fergie's mouthpiece, the most charismatic of Old Trafford's star turns who always had something to say with a warm, bouncy eloquence that is, let's just say, often missing with sports stars. Which, amongst other things, explains his on-going pundit gig with Sky Sports.
'That's my meditation. Because I'm watching two amazing games in this amazing atmosphere' - his eyes light up at this point - 'and it's an escape. My phone's not on. I can't talk to anybody. It's like skiing. You can't be phoning anyone going down a mountain!' And don't get him started on emails. 'They're a disease! Emails are an aggressive form of communication. They're impersonal, and I think will be outdated in a few years' time.'
Gary waxes lyrical about Manchester's burgeoning culinary and hotel scene, buoyed in huge part by the clout of the Cheshire pound. The city's skyline is full of cranes and money, hopes, dreams and expectations.
'Cheshire was always seen as better for good food and drink, whereas Manchester has suffered for twenty years in terms of perception. It was just seen as an all-night party town. Get bladdered, go for a kebab. That's changed in these last three, four years. And I love the restaurants and hotels in this town, and I go to them all the time and will continue to after Stock Exchange has opened. Me and Ryan will still go to El Gato Negro, to Kala, to Hawksmoor, to Wings, to San Carlo and Peter Street Kitchen. We want to become part of the furniture and establish ourselves like they have.'
And is there a whiff of Michelin in the air for The Bull & Bear?
'Oh we're not chasing a star,' Gary insists. 'We're not. It's not been mentioned,' in spite of Tom already boasting a clutch for his Marlow pub duo; two for The Hand & Flowers (the first pub to achieve such an accolade) and another for his second, The Coach. 'It's an obsession for the city and I understand why'. When we talk, Mana has yet to bring a star to the city after 40 years of yearning. 'The most important thing is that the guests like it, then whatever comes after that, we'll take it.'
They may not be reaching for the Michelin stars - yet - but Stock Exchange has a palpable glamour to it, a forward-thinking slickness, that zing of international glitz that a city like Manchester deserves and now expects. All the right people will come here. 'We want it to be an important moment,' says Gary.
Christmas is round the bend and I ask him what his plans are. 'We're actually coming here,' he says, 'and I'm slightly disappointed. We usually go to Andrew Nutters' place in Lancashire and I love it there!' Bring him here, I tell him. 'Oh yeah!'
'Oh and I'm moving house next week,' he segues, again. He basically gives me the address and alarm code, but for security reasons let's just say it's a 'lovely Georgian terrace near Castlefield.' He admits moving house is a bit of an obsession.
'I move house every three years! From the age of 18 I've never lived anywhere longer than that. I didn't change my football club for 20 years, but you have to change something. Some familiarities can be your environment, your surroundings, you can't change your parents, but you have to change something. I like the idea of the chase, of doing it up. I like the adrenaline. I get bored quite easily.'
And it's here that Gary stands up, suddenly, almost like he's just remembered he's left the oven on back home. 'That's enough, right?'
His eyes are now darting round the room, looking for the next person to charm. 'A psychiatrist would have a field day with you!' I shout after him. 'They'd be the ones needing treatment after me!' he grins, as he slips off into the Manchester breeze - into the city. His city.