Man in a Suit: Maggie Fergusson meets Peter Frankopan, who as well as writing about the Crusades doubles as a hotelier...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, July/August 2012
It is tempting to describe 40-year-old Peter Frankopan—historian, hotelier, Croatian prince and father of four—as a Renaissance man, but it’s not his period. Ever since a lecture at Cambridge left him “transfixed, as if I’d been given a triple espresso”, it’s the Byzantine empire that has sent his pulse racing. Now senior research fellow at Worcester College, Oxford, and director of the Centre for Byzantine Research, he has published a book—“The First Crusade: The Call from the East”—challenging a millennium of historical assumption about why western knights set off on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 1096. “Embarking on academic research is like going down a mine,” says Frankopan. “I struck gold.”
At almost 300 pages, and written with rapid-fire enthusiasm, “The First Crusade” also challenges assumptions that books by academics should be as big as breeze-blocks and bristling with footnotes. It matters to Frankopan that discoveries made during “dusty days in the Bodleian” should be accessible to the general reader, just as it matters that he is rooted in the 21st century as well as the 11th. Ten years ago, lounging on the sofa, he and his wife Jessica dreamed up their perfect hotel—the kind of place they might go for a romantic weekend; relaxed, but with a good eye for contemporary art and design. Within six months, they had bought Cowley Manor in the Cotswolds; they have since added L’Hotel, Oscar Wilde’s former home in Paris, and Canal House in Amsterdam.
Before setting off on the school-run with his children, Frankopan scrutinises the hotel trading figures. If one moment he’s considering how starving Crusaders were driven to “eat the flesh from the buttocks of dead Muslims”, the next he’s likely to be organising the repair of an extractor fan in Amsterdam. The hotels, he insists, enhance the history: “Hiring and firing staff has taught me a lot about the subtleties of human nature, and that’s informed my thinking about the motivations of medieval knights.” It’s not surprising that Frankopan feels permanently short of sleep. But asked which parts of his life he might choose to edit out, the answer is none. “I’m like one of those circus turns spinning plates on sticks. The maths tells me that eventually a plate must crash, but I get better and better at the spinning.”
For a day of study, Frankopan likes a slim-cut, Italian suit—“to feel a little edgy as I pace the Bodleian”. But outside the library he is “Mediterranean enough” to enjoy a little more flamboyance. We dressed him in a mid-blue suit by Paul Smith, who cuts particularly well for tall, slim men, adding a touch of swagger with a linen paisley-printed scarf from Etro, a double-cuffed checked shirt and a rose-pink spotted tie. The overall effect delighted him: “You don’t want to be a peacock displaying all your plumage, but you want to show a bit.”
Slim-fit wool suit, £520, and silk tie, £69, both by Paul Smith; cotton shirt, £39.50, Sartorial range at M&S; scarf, £160, Etro; brown leather brogues, £110, Savile Row Inspired range at M&S; Rolex watch, model’s own
Maggie Fergusson is Intelligent Life's literary editor
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