Almost 40 years since departing his post as general manager at the Sheraton Grand Mirage, hotel industry veteran Erhard Hotter still gets nervous about ‘naming names’.
As the former gatekeeper at one of Australia’s most infamous and hedonistic hotels during the 80s and 90, it’s no surprise.
Hotter, a quietly spoken German now all but retired at 82, once presided over all aspects of the iconic Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort on the Gold Coast – a hotel which hit headlines this week after it went on the market for $200million.
Built by fugitive developer Christopher Skase in 1985 – 16 years before he would die of stomach cancer in Spain – the hotel became the ultimate beacon of 80s excess, where guests from all over Australia and the world would come to cut loose.
Christopher Skase (with wife Pixie) built the Sheraton Mirage as the ultimate beacon of 80s excess
Guests from all over Australia and the world would come to holiday and cut loose at the Sheraton Mirage, located at the Southport Spit
‘And some of them are still alive today so I don’t like to be too specific,’ Hotter – who served as GM from 1988 to 1995 – told Daily Mail Australia.
‘But of course we attracted some very high-profile people. A lot of Hollywood actors and famous people from Europe as well.
‘And the very wealthy from Sydney and Melbourne. The Mirage was the kind of place that built a reputation of social theatre and it was our job to make sure guests got everything they wanted.’
On one occasion, the touring New York Knicks basketball team alighted in the hotels’ gleaming marble foyer, with one player in particular standing seven foot five.
‘So we ordered a custom bed for him to be made,’ Hotter says.
‘He was so happy that he could sleep comfortably, he couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe we did that.’
There was the visiting celebrity Brit, who wore only Versace pyjamas and robes at all times and would make his own sangria at the pool bar late into the evenings.
Or the long-term guest and acclaimed boozer who would order a Shepherd’s Pie and bottle of Jack Daniels Red Label before bed.
Mirage guest Joan Collins photographed at the hotel in the early 1990s, with locals Heather Haynes and Donrecka Issakidis
Former Mirage GM Erhard Hotter reveals some of the secrets of the famed hotel, which is now up for sale
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall checked into the Mirage during a state visit back in 2018
Or the famed Australian writer, who called in advance to advise of a ‘specific need’ that required ‘specialist’ catering.
‘He said: ‘I can only wear socks because I have gout’,’ Hotter said, adding that the affliction once dubbed ‘the rich man’s disease’ was not uncommon amongst their wealthy clientele.
‘You get quite good at spotting it. It’s in the way they walk,’ he says.
There were also favoured guests, the sentimental favourites welcomed back year after year who became part of the ‘Mirage family’.
“Michael Caine was one. Peter Allen was another,’ says Hotter, who accommodated the Australian cabaret legend annually for Christmas along with his extended family.
‘Peter would come for a month every year with his mother and his nieces and nephews and he would perform some shows at (Tweed RSL Club) Twin Towns so he had a lot of demands because he was working late into the night.
‘But we would do whatever we could for him because he was such a lovely guest.
‘The staff loved him and on his last visit it was tough because he was getting sick.
‘So we would have the kitchen make him special soups and we would bring him fresh fruit.
Favoured guest Peter Allen often spent Christmas at Mirage with his mother Marion and extended family
Former GM Erhard Hotter (C) with regular guest Michael Caine and wife Shakira in 1995
‘At the end of that visit he came up to me and said goodbye and we both had tears in our eyes. Because we knew it would be the last time. And, of course, he died six months later.’
Then there were the famed ‘Majordomos’ (Spanish for ‘chief steward’); the young, male, personal butlers dispensed to the VIP villas whose duties regularly included escorting some of the wealthy female clientele on shopping jaunts through the ritzy boutiques in Marina Mirage.
‘They would go shopping with the customers and might carry some bags for them and travel with them in the limousines,’ Hotter said.
‘I think for some of the women they enjoyed it. A young, good looking, polite guy to go shopping with.’
And what of the folklore that some of the ‘majordomos’ might have even extended their services to the guest rooms on a more ‘intimate’ basis?
‘That was not actually officially allowed but..if they carry the bags into the rooms who knows.
‘Let’s just say we never had any complains from the guests.’
But if the Mirage Resort was a symbol of decadence, then its nucleus was Rolls nightclub – a maelstrom of mirrors and velvet blanketed in a fog of cigarette smoke (when smoking indoors was legal if not encouraged).
Rolls, located on the basement level, was Skase’s personal playground. He was known to climb atop a podium and shimmy to tunes from his favourite singer John Farnham as bottles of Veuve Cliquot and Moet & Chandon were poured out by waiters in black tie.
The ultimate hosts; Skase and wife Pixie earned a reputation for holding wild parties that attracted VIPs from Australia and overseas
A view of the hotel’s famed boardwalk which spans the resort
The nightclub’s centrepiece was a vintage 1934 Rolls Royce – the real thing, not a replica – which could be booked by guests who would clamber inside, close the doors and ‘do whatever’.
‘I mean, it was not that comfortable really but what they chose to do inside was up to them.’
However Rolls, with its vast overheads and distance disparity from Surfers Paradise’s party strip, eventually shuttered after a brief but wild ride.
Around the same time, talk at Mirage had already become rife in back-of-house that the Skase and his embattled empire Qintex was hitting the skids.
Skase and wife Pixie, who often shuttled via helicopter from the Gold Coast to the Mirage at Port Douglas, had begun to spend less and less time at Southport where they owned a stand-alone villa overlooking Main Beach.
Hotter departed Mirage for a post at the Sheraton Nusa Dua in Indonesia and would go on to manage international hotels for another 30 years.
Skase offloaded the remainder of his shares in Mirage and disappeared to Majorca as his $1.5billion Qintex group collapsed – leaving behind a string of devastated shareholders out of pocket hundreds of millions of dollars.
Meanwhile other resorts were quickly usurping Mirage as the epitome of Gold Coast largesse.
Though he would die bankrupt in 1994, Mike Gore’s visionary Sanctuary Cove had evolved into the new mecca for millionaires looking to moor their mega-yachts and play golf.
Then in 2001 Palazzo Versace became the new Broadwater hotspot attracting the Hollywood glitterati and European uber rich.
Opening night: George Hamilton and Catherine Oxenberg were among the international rich and famous who attended the Mirage’s opening in 1985
Sheraton Grand Mirage would exchange hands a number of times before The Star Entertainment Group took over in 2017 only for the embattled casino operator to list it for sale this week.
Its future, now, seems uncertain. As one developer put it this week to Daily Mail Australia; ‘It was a marvel in its day but she’s old and looking like she needs quite a bit of work.’
For Hotter, who decided to return to Mirage to celebrate his 80th birthday in 2021, it still holds a place in his heart.
‘It is such a pity that it’s no longer the same because it was just so stylish and so fabulous and now of course the Gold Coast has changed so much,’ he says.
‘But I was lucky to have been there during that time, before all of the social media when it was all bout having fun in the moment.’
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