December 2023 - Issue 26 (First published Cover Story Winter 2016/17)
Born into a family of hoteliers, Alex Polizzi is a leading influencer in business and television. She’s worked with Marco Pierre White; owns a thriving wholesale bakery, and has helped resurrect countless small businesses. In an interview with Janet Kirlew, our editor-in-chief, we get to know the woman behind the accolades - and find her to be pleasingly authentic.
by Janet Kirlew
Alex Polizzi is as warm and truthful as she is professional, and I was struck by her real humanitarian spirit; her desire to help people and see their businesses work. She spoke to me about what it’s like for women working in hospitality, highlighting the value of honesty in the workplace.
Since taking over from Ruth Watson on Channel 5’s The Hotel Inspector in 2008, Alex’s confident character and eloquent presentation have made her a famous face on prime time TV, hosting her own shows including Alex Polizzi - The Fixer, Alex Polizzi’s Secret Italy, Alex Polizzi: Chefs on Trial and Alex Polizzi: Hire Our Heroes. I asked her what she is working on at the moment. “I’m currently filming a Spanish version of my Secret Italy show – I have been doing that for 6 weeks on-and-off,” she replied. “Honestly, it’s the best job I have ever had. I wish I could do it all the time.”
Perhaps you’ve enjoyed Alex’s Italian discoveries on Channel 5, or you may have seen her reviving tired hotels in The Hotel Inspector. But you may not know that she also owns Millers Bespoke Bakery with her husband, Marcus Miller, and manages her mother’s hotel in Devon – as well as being a mum herself.
Coming from a family of prestigious hoteliers (her maternal grandfather, Lord Forte, founded the Forte Group), Alex is not the first in her family to choose a career in hospitality management. But rather than lean on this legacy, she has been intent on building a career that is very much her own, choosing to train at a hotel that did not belong to her grandfather. It hasn’t always been easy. She talks about her frustration in the years when she worked exclusively in restaurants, saying that it wasn’t a helpful environment to work in as a young woman. It’s clear to see that she is not the type to give up, and certainly has not let her frustrations hinder her success.
Today, Alex is flying high in hospitality and television presenting – two areas that can be tough on women. So, how does she find balance? “I don’t think I do,” she says. “I think I tend to do whatever demands my attention at any given time.”
Alex’s honesty is rather refreshing. Despite her high-profile career, she’s eager to keep things real, describing her home life as, “trying to keep all the balls rolling and the bills paid; getting the laundry done, keeping the place looking tidy and putting name tags on the children’s clothes.” She jokes, “Most of the time, I am just so focussed on work that my husband gets the short straw because he is so low down on my list of priorities. He comes after the house!”
She goes on to discuss the difficulties of upholding a career and a family, saying, “the maintenance of both is very hard.” She’s read a lot about the “Danish Model”, which, in her opinion, “works very well because they pay a proportionally higher percentage of their income in tax, and the government ring-fences that to make sure childcare provision is good.”
Has Alex ever thought about giving up her business interests since becoming a mum? “I think there was a point where I was going to transform into a maternal earth mother type and was quite tempted. My husband said I married him under false pretences because I promised him that once I had a child, I would give up work and stay at home. I can’t imagine that now!”
I was keen to hear Alex’s thoughts on the support businesswomen receive in the UK, particularly in her own field. “What support?” she replies. “I feel very conflicted about it. This might be an anti-feminist thing to say, but between the obligations to provide paternal and maternal leave you are so stretched when you run a small business. It’s a nightmare.”
Alex believes that the secret to business success lies in mastering the details: “You really do need to interrogate every aspect of your business constantly. Don’t be scared of accounts. You’ve got to engage with them and you have to understand what the books are telling you. HR is really boring, but you must recognise that it is as much about administration as it is about people and their lives, their hopes, expectations and fears.”
With a lifestyle as busy as Alex’s, it’s no surprise that she finds it difficult to switch off. I asked her what does she do to relax. “I hate yoga with a capital ‘H’", she says, “it is just not for me, I need high impact to stop me thinking.”
She loves running and cardio, and claims, “if I do that three times a week, I just find myself a much calmer person.” Any other tips for relaxation? “Alcohol,” she says, and laughs a lot. “That’s the quickest and shortest buzz I have ever found.”
One thing’s for sure, Alex has not let her rise to fame affect her integrity. “I am always working on trying to be a better wife; always striving to be better, but at the same time not losing myself. And trying to be kind – that’s the main thing.” Known for championing local businesses, Alex is a proud supporter of “a hospice at the end of my road in Clapham.” It’s clear that she has a genuine passion for seeing communities thrive. “I used to volunteer at shelters for the homeless when I was at Oxford and since then I have supported them financially. I would like to do more for Veterans charities, too.”
Alex is not afraid to tell it how it is – we’ve seen this on the TV shows she presents. In an industry where women are often credited for their appearance rather than their coherence, her honesty is a rare gem. “I am always surprised at how much my honesty is appreciated. It’s not easy, but you just get to the heart of everything so much quicker,” she says. “On a personal level, it can be slightly disastrous, but in business, it can be an invaluable tool, partly because you have to be honest with yourself. I think that’s the bit that’s quite often missed from the honesty debate.”
Great to chat to you back then Alex, wishing you all the best!
You can catch up with Alex on TV as The Hotel Inspector.