The first time I ever stayed in a hotel, apart from holidays in Majorca with my mum as a little kid, was in 1990 when I was 21. I had one of my first gigs as a stand-up, supporting the superb Jerry Sadowitz in Preston, for £85. I can’t remember the hotel but there were two individually wrapped miniature bars of soap and two tiny bottles of shampoo in the bathroom.
I couldn’t believe it. I had never seen the like, and had never realised there was a whole strata of hotel-dwelling society where people were given tiny toiletries, free. To me it symbolised impossible luxury, decadence even, and an indication of how significantly my simple life might change if I became an entertainer. Free shampoo! The toiletries I took served, in some way, to harden my resolve to succeed.
Since that fateful day, I have spent about a third of my adult life in hotel rooms and I never check out without snaffling the toiletries. I now own more conditioner than I can use in my lifetime, especially as, at current rates of recession, I will be bald in eight years. Then, if I continue to accumulate hotel toiletries with the same dedication, I will be a hairless man, like a speaking lizard or a shaven ape, with the world’s largest collection of hair maintenance products.
My dedicated snaffling has become compulsive. I have a system. On arriving in a room I conceal all the toiletries, so that staff will be obliged to replenish them. I lived for two months at the Medina Grand Apartment Hotel in Melbourne, accruing more than 300 bathroom items and the staff never got wise. On long trips, such as the four months I toured Australia and New Zealand in 2005, I box up all my hotel toiletries every three weeks and mail them home to London via sea mail, the cheapest freight method.
Success is an abstract quality, difficult to gauge. How do we measure it? By our bank balances? By the amount of power we have over those weaker than us? By the amount of love that we spread around this wicked world? Or by vague, mutable notions of personal happiness? I have my own method, mine and mine alone. At 43, I have accumulated more soap, shampoo, body lotion, bath foam, conditioner, shower gel, shaving gel, mouthwash and mending kits than I will ever need. How many of us are lucky enough to boast even this?
Stewart Lee is officially the 41st Best Stand Up Ever. Find out more at www.stewartlee.co.uk