Russel Storey finds joy in his loneliness

Radisson Blu Hotel Upperhill General Manager Russel Storey

Radisson Blu Hotel Upperhill General Manager Russel Storey.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

There are certain conversations we can’t have with Russel Storey. They are still too raw, the wound fresh, the memories burrowed deep you could raise an eyebrow and he would fill in the blanks on autocomplete.

Life, when you think about it, is just an accumulation of scars. So, we salve his heart by embalming his feelings and talking about everything else: his suitcases. Arsenal. His ballerina mother. His sporty father.

In that period, you can spot the whinge of pain, and smell the dry blood of a heart healing. He doesn’t show it, this footloose giant, climbing his personal Everest.

There are mountains of sorrow that cannot move; and one way or another, we’ll all kneel there. It’s a delicate dance we do, this pas de deux, skulking at the edges of emotion, getting close to feeling the heat but not too close to getting burned. Maybe, he was right after all. He did inherit his mother’s ballerina skills.

"I am happy with my lot," he says. And at the eighth floor of the Radisson Blu where he calls shot as General Manager, we touch the sky as he pours me a glass of sparkling water—and his heart.

What’s it like being you?

Exciting. I am an explorer, so it’s a life of exploring from a young age. I have been doing that throughout my career, working in different destinations. I am constantly on the move, always looking to improve.

What’s that like?

Most people think I am a lucky person. It’s not always because I am quite the introvert; I go into myself first before going out there. A lot of my travels have been while I was not with somebody.

Which destination has stayed with you?

I have lived in the Caribbean on a tropical metro island, 365 Rivers in Dominica. I have lived in Scotland, the West Coast of the UK, Jordan, and Egypt—but of all those, living on an island like that was different.

How does that affect your identity with place?

I am unfortunately footloose. I don’t have much that holds me back. When something comes up, relocate easily.

How does that play out in your relationships, for instance, with your children?

I don’t have any children of my own. I have a stepson who is in his mid-30s, so it hasn’t affected me at all. In a past relationship, I was married and that was quite hard for her and so we divorced. I met another woman but, unfortunately, she died, just under a year ago. It made it easy to move because I was not with somebody.

What do you remember about your childhood?

It was a very happy childhood. I stayed home and helped my parents do things around the house. I was very withdrawn at home and school, but I had a happy life.

Were your parents also footloose?

No, they were the opposite. They were homely and lived in the same town for most of my childhood. I was brought up in South Africa, in an affluent area and I did not see them travel much, albeit my mother was a ballerina from a very young age, and she spent three years of her schooling life at The London School of Ballet. My father was English and lived in South Africa. He was a sportsman and probably enjoyed it.

Radisson Blu Hotel Upperhill General Manager Russel Storey at his office on May 24, 2024.

Photo credit: Billy Ogada | Nation Media Group

What do you miss most about your childhood?

[Long pause] That close family feel. I have not had that since I left home 35 years ago—having two brothers and mom and dad at home. Especially the way I live now, I don’t have that.

Are you wistful or nostalgic?

It's nostalgia. I would not change the way I live for anything; I enjoy it and believe it is what God wanted for me.

What was your nickname growing up?

Haha! Growing up in South Africa I was nicknamed after one of the animals, the rhinoceros. So, my nickname was in Zulu. They saw it as a character and the traits I had, like a rhino: loner, quite upfront, and never scared of anything.

What remains unchanged about you since childhood?

A lot. In the Arab world, they called me a Tiger. A loner animal that you don’t mess with.

What would you change about the way you were raised?

Ooh! I was quite happy, but we were brought up in a very confined childhood and country. It was a restricted life, and we were not very open to much.

Was being footloose an act of rebellion?

Probably, haha! I have a lot of friends who still live in the same space and they look at me and say, 'look how lucky you are!' They don’t know that my first job in this industry was as a security officer working a door in Central London. They see me now and say they are jealous of that, but I didn’t go straight from South Africa to that.

How does your kind of footloose job affect your relationships?

I have very close relationships with very few people. Wherever I work, I maintain contact with some people by forming solid relationships.

How do you deal with your particular kind of loneliness?

Because I am an introvert, I get strength from being alone. I don’t need to sit in a club—just by sitting at home and relaxing, I get my energy. I can deal with meeting presidents and VIPs and then go home and it is just me, and I don’t have to see anybody and I quite like that.

What’s that special thing you do just for you?

I enjoy going to spas and getting feet, hands, and head massages.

Is there a moment that stood out for you during your journey when you realised your life was changing?

That's 25 years ago, working in Scotland I realised to make the next step, I had to put myself out there—through public speaking, and meeting people et al. I was the number 2 of the hotel, and my then-boss said, 'we needed to get you out of your comfort zone', and he did that for about six months and I continued being the face of the hotel.

What have you learned about yourself from this job?

Certain things you will never change but those you can, improve on them over time. You’ll never get your weaknesses perfect but you need to identify them, which can be quite difficult sometimes, and work on them.

What’s your insecurity now?

Being alone, haha! Especially at home. After being married to such a wonderful woman, it’s a bit daunting looking at life through another pair of eyes. When you didn’t have that you don’t miss that, when you’ve had that, you miss it. It’s like with children. People ask me, 'do you not miss having children?' But I’ve never had a child, so how can I miss something I’ve never had?

How do you deal with that?

I am dealing with it at the moment.

What’s getting you through this kind of moment?

Being a Christian and being close to Jesus.

What’s the most boring part about being you?

The repetitiveness of myself. People would look at that and wonder how I keep doing it. I eat the same food; I have a set routine. I eat Chana Masala and salad every day. I used to weigh 160kg but a doctor in Egypt told me I had diabetes and I had to lose weight, so I went on an eight-month journey and lost 60 kilos. Since 2017 I have maintained that.

Where would you go if you could return to a particular moment or memory?

[long pause]. Back a year and a half. But we can’t talk about it.

What are your hobbies now?

I enjoy travelling - business or leisure. Visiting new places that I find interesting. I enjoy sports, watching not playing—from football, rugby et al. I gained a lot of my leadership through somehow sporting managers and how they run lean teams.

You mentioned your dad was sporty. Were you close?

He was a cricketer and was 20 years my mother’s senior. He was a much older man when we were born. I only knew him for 20-odd years, which we didn’t spend so much time on—it was more of what we do in school, and after school, and then he died shortly after that. I don’t have many close relationship memories of my dad.

Did he influence your decision to not have children?

Not at all. It just happened because of my career. It’s a hard career, moving around to different destinations, and I wouldn’t be able to do that with a family. I didn’t have relationships until I was almost 40 years old, when I then was in a senior role and I knew I could probably move with someone. But it was difficult for that person to live in this life, and that is where that relationship ended.

Children are some sort of legacy too, and most men struggle with legacy and what they are leaving behind. Do you?

No, I don’t have an issue with that, haha! I have a nephew and a niece; I am not a person that worries about that at all.

What is something difficult you go through that not many people get to see?

I suppose the life I have had to choose is not always a bed of roses, dealing with that loneliness sometimes is not easy. People just see the bright lights and the life, but I also keep it closed anyway.

Who do you turn to in such times?

God. I believe in doing things the way the Almighty wants us to, treat people right but it doesn’t mean they get away with things because we need to have discipline. I believe discipline can only get you too far and it has gotten me where I am.

What will people mourn about you when you are gone?

That I am a disciplinarian. When you discipline someone, they don’t like it, but they appreciate it down the road. They'll say, 'He may not have done it the way I would have done it, but at least he didn’t do it with any bad intentions'.

What matters more than you thought it would?

Wow. A relationship, personal relationship with your wife or partner.

What is something you long believed to be true but with time realised it isn’t?

People make you believe it's all about making money, but I think to be happy you don’t need money. With my wife, we used to say we can go live in a tree house; we don’t need to have money—we have, but we don’t need to. What is enough to me is different from everyone else.

Knowing what you know now, can one have it all?

I have it all. I am satisfied.

What’s something you have finally come to terms with?

[Long pause] My relationship with God. It has been a little up and down. What I am going through has drawn me closer to him.

What are you apologising to yourself for?

[Long pause] I didn’t realise I was carrying as much weight as I was. I punished my body. I was going on holiday with say, 46 kilos of suitcases. Can you imagine walking your life with that? I look at life and say I was living a life carrying three suitcases of 23 kilos each—and I managed.

Have you forgiven yourself?

I have.

What’s one baggage in life you have let go of?

[Long pause] I suppose living up to other people’s expectations. I am quite happy with what I have.

What’s a misconception people have of you?

That I am spoilt and very privileged, but they don’t know that I stared just like everyone else with a suitcase and that was it. Whatever I have accomplished, is all through hard work. But I do spoil myself [chuckles].

What are you thanking yourself for?

Everything I have.

What do you have that money can’t buy?

Good health. The secret is eating well, living well and being close to God.

What is a weekend hack that can make my weekends better?

Hahah! Don’t drink too much! Try and relax. I don’t drink or smoke; I used to but I stopped when I was living in the Arab world for almost two years. It felt disrespectful to the people there when I would drink and they didn’t. I started doing it less and less and one day I just stopped.

What’s one question you wish more people could ask you?

I just think asking questions. Most people just presume they shouldn’t ask. Ask—it will break down barriers.

When was the moment you realised you were happy?

When I met Tracy.

Who do you know that I should know?

God. I don’t know if you do haha! He will enrich your life.

What do you think God says about you?

There is a good son of mine.

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