When we arrive at Raffles Hotel’s grand lobby for this interview with Mr Leslie Danker, the hotel’s 81-year-old resident historian is signing autographs for a guest. They’re chatting happily as he pens a message on a book she’s handed to him.
Autographing books, it seems, is a common occurrence in Leslie's daily life, now that he’s just launched a new memoir. A Life Intertwined, Reminiscences of an Accidental Raffles Historian is a collection of stories about the hotel’s 133-year history and his personal anecdotes from his 48-year career at the hotel. That makes him the hotel’s longest-serving employee, so of course he’s got his fair share of tales to tell, from sneaking Michael Jackson in through the hotel's staff entrance during his famous stay here in 1993 to meeting the Queen of England in 2006.
The book is available at the Raffles Boutique, online and is also included as part of a staycation package — ‘A Life Intertwined with Raffles Hotel’ staycation experience (prices from $880++ with 50 per cent off the second night). The staycay promo also includes a complimentary heritage evening experience for two at the Grand Lobby, and a trishaw tour around Raffles Hotel Singapore through historical precincts highlighted in the memoir.
But life as a resident historian isn’t just about meeting the stars, as we learn from our chat with the man who started work here in 1972 as a maintenance supervisor. His journey as the grand old dame’s resident historian has brought about a few interesting discoveries over the decades, to say the least.
“When I first joined Raffles Hotel, I didn’t know much about it. There was no textbook about its history or anything. There were no computers or anything, just a few notes. So I went to the library to pick up the knowledge, so I could talk about the history of the hotel to guests who asked about it," Leslie muses.
How he came to land the role of Raffles Hotel’s resident historian, as the title of his book suggests, is serendipitous. “The breakthrough came during the hotel's first restoration in 1989,” he recalls.
“I had to work with engineers and architects and learnt a lot of things. I recorded everything in a black notebook, from the technical aspects of the hotel to its history. I learnt so much more about the hotel during the restoration. I keep that black notebook and folders of information in a cupboard at home.”
Leslie is currently semi-retired and works half days, though staff have been known to call him when he’s home whenever they urgently need to clarify historical facts (“sometimes it’s faster than going through the archives because Mr Danker can remember all the dates” one of them tells us). Besides being a walking Google for the hotel facts, Leslie’s schedule also includes history tours for guests and schools, where he divulges little-known stories about the iconic monument.