Nearly 40 years after leaving his position as general manager of the Sheraton Grand Mirage, hotel veteran Erhard Hotter still gets nervous about “naming names.”
As a former gatekeeper of one of Australia’s most notorious and hedonistic hotels in the 1980s and 1990s, it’s no surprise.
Hotter, a soft-spoken German now nearing retirement at age 82, was once in charge of all aspects of the Gold Coast’s iconic Sheraton Grand Mirage Resort — a hotel that made headlines this week after it sold for $ 200 million on the market.
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 the 1980s, where guests from all over Australia and the world would flock to let loose.
Christopher Skase (with wife Pixie) built the Sheraton Mirage as the ultimate beacon of 1980s excess
Guests from all over Australia and the world would come to holiday and disconnect at the Sheraton Mirage, located on the Southport Spit
“And some of them are still alive, 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’ve attracted some very high-profile people. Many Hollywood actors and also famous people from Europe.
‘And the very wealthy from Sydney and Melbourne. The Mirage was the kind of place that built a reputation for social theater and it was our job to make sure guests got everything they wanted.”
On one occasion, the New York Knicks touring basketball team descended upon the hotel’s gleaming marble foyer, with one player in particular standing six feet eight.
“So we ordered a custom bed for him,” says Hotter.
“He was so happy to be able to sleep well, he couldn’t believe it. He couldn’t believe we did that.’
There was the visiting celebrity Brit, who always wore only Versace pajamas and robes and made his own sangria late into the evening at the pool bar.
Or the regular guest and acclaimed drunk who orders a Shepherd’s Pie and a bottle of Jack Daniels Red Label before going to sleep.
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 famous hotel, which is now up for sale
Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall checked into the Mirage during a state visit in 2018
Or the famous Australian writer, who called in advance to advise of a ‘specific need’ that required ‘specialised’ catering.
“He said, ‘I can only wear socks because I have gout,'” Hotter said, adding that the condition once dubbed “the rich man’s disease” was not uncommon among their wealthy clientele.
“You get really good at recognizing it. It’s in the way they walk,” he says.
There were also favorite guests, the sentimental favorites who were welcomed year after year and became part of the ‘Mirage family’.
“Michael Caine was one. Peter Allen was another,” says Hotter, who annually hosts the Australian cabaret legend along with his extended family for Christmas.
“Peter would come every year for a month with his mother and his cousins and he would do some shows in (Tweed RSL Club) Twin Towns, so he had a lot of demands because he worked late into the night.
“But we would do anything for him, because he was such a nice guy.
“The staff loved him and on his last visit it was difficult because he got sick.
“So we’d have the kitchen make special soups for him and we’d bring him fresh fruit.
Favorite 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 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 famous ‘Majordomos’ (Spanish for ‘chief steward’); the young male personal butlers of the VIP villas who regularly accompanied some of the wealthy female clientele on shopping trips through the chic boutiques in Marina Mirage.
“They went shopping with the customers and maybe carried some bags for them and traveled with them in the limousines,” Hotter said.
“I think some women enjoyed it. A young, handsome, polite man to go shopping with.’
And what about the folklore that some of the ‘majordomos’ may have even extended their services to the guest rooms on a more ‘intimate’ basis?
‘Officially that wasn’t allowed, but… if they carry the bags into the rooms, who knows.
“Let’s just say we’ve never had any complaints from guests.”
But if the Mirage Resort was a symbol of decadence, its core was the Rolls nightclub – a maelstrom of mirrors and velvet covered in a haze of cigarette smoke (when indoor smoking was legal, if not encouraged).
Located in the basement, Rolls was Skase’s personal playground. He was known to climb onto a stage and wiggle to tunes by his favorite singer John Farnham as bottles of Veuve Cliquot and Moet & Chandon were poured out by black-tie waiters.
The ultimate hosts; Skase and his wife Pixie gained a reputation for throwing wild parties that attracted VIPs from Australia and beyond
View of the hotel’s famous boardwalk that spans the resort
The centerpiece of the nightclub was a vintage 1934 Rolls Royce—the real thing, not a replica—that could be booked by guests who scrambled in, shut the doors, and “do whatever.”
“I mean, it wasn’t really that comfortable, but what they wanted to do inside was up to them.”
But Rolls, with its huge overheads and distance difference from the Surfers Paradise party strip, eventually closed after a short but wild ride.
Around the same time, talk was already rife at Mirage in the back-of-house that the Skase and its embattled empire of Qintex were in trouble.
Skase and his wife Pixie, who often commuted by helicopter from the Gold Coast to the Mirage in Port Douglas, spent less and less time in Southport, where they owned a detached villa overlooking Main Beach.
Hotter left Mirage for a position at the Sheraton Nusa Dua in Indonesia and would manage international hotels for another 30 years.
Skase redeemed the rest of his shares in Mirage and disappeared to Majorca when his $1.5 billion Qintex group collapsed – leaving a string of devastated shareholders with hundreds of millions of dollars.
Meanwhile, other resorts quickly adopted Mirage as the epitome of Gold Coast generosity.
Though it would go bankrupt in 1994, Mike Gore’s visionary Sanctuary Cove had become the new mecca for millionaires wanting to dock their mega yachts and play golf.
Then in 2001, Palazzo Versace became the new Broadwater hotspot that attracted the Hollywood glitterati and European uber-rich.
Opening night: George Hamilton and Catherine Oxenberg were among the international rich and famous to attend the 1985 opening of the Mirage
Sheraton Grand Mirage would change hands a number of times before The Star Entertainment Group took over in 2017, only for the embattled casino operator to put it up for sale this week.
Her future now seems uncertain. As one developer put it this week in Daily Mail Australia; “It was a miracle at the time, but she’s old and looks 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’s such a shame it’s not the same anymore because it was just so stylish and fabulous and now the Gold Coast has changed so much of course,” he says.
“But I was lucky to be there in those days, before all social media, when it was all about having fun in the moment.”