Working with family should come with a warning, but mother-and-daughter hoteliers Olga and Alex Polizzi enjoy running The Star Inn at Alfriston together, even though the pair admit they occasionally disagree.

‘Honestly, there’s nobody I look up to more,’ says Alex Polizzi, renowned hotelier and star of Channel 5’s The Hotel Inspector. ‘I judge myself by my mother every single day.’

Her mother is celebrated hotelier Olga Polizzi, 77, deputy chairman and director of design at Rocco Forte Hotels, a company she helped to create with her brother, Sir Rocco Forte in 1996.

‘Don’t believe her!’ Olga jumps in, before Alex, 52, fires back: ‘I do, I do darling!’ adding: ‘She’s incredibly good at what she does but also she does it with immense charm and I think that is a really difficult combination to pull off. To be really nice and quite tough and really good at what you do is the magic trio.’

Great British Life: Olga and Alex share ideas and mistakes. Olga and Alex share ideas and mistakes. (Image: Phil Burrowes.)

Together the mother and daughter own and run The Star, a 30-room boutique hotel opposite the village green in Alfriston. It is their first joint venture, though not the only time they have worked together: Alex is a key cog in the other two properties in Olga’s hotel group, The Polizzi Collection: Hotel Tresanton in St Mawes, Cornwall, and Hotel Endsleigh in Tavistock, Devon.

‘It’s been fun,’ says Olga about working with her daughter. ‘It’s been nice to share things. It’s awful doing something completely on your own. At least we can bounce ideas off each other and Alex has a lot more energy than I have.

‘It’s just so much more fun doing it as a duo. Otherwise you always feel “should I or shouldn’t I? Is this the right thing to do?” At least we can share and share our mistakes as well.’

To be honest, it doesn’t appear like they’ve made too many mistakes at The Star. Their Sussex property is a corker, housed across recently updated 20th-century wings and a Grade II-listed inn from the 15th-century, which once served monks and pilgrims on the trail to Battle and Chichester abbeys.

Great British Life: The mother and daughter's labour of love: The StarThe mother and daughter's labour of love: The Star (Image: The Star)

It was also formerly part of the Forte hospitality empire, owned by Olga’s father, self-made hotel and restaurant magnate, Charles Forte, whose portfolio encompassed more than 800 hotels, including Travelodge and a major stake in The Savoy.

The Polizzis snapped it up in November 2019 with the intention of an extensive refurbishment before a summer launch. But they couldn’t have faced a more challenging start.

Covid, stay-at-home orders and a temporary, but near catastrophic, collapse of the hospitality industry shunted the open date back. Delays were unavoidable and service staff increasingly difficult to source. Still, they pushed on, turning what was a tired property into a boutique hotel worthy of the Polizzi name.

Despite the intense pressures and setbacks, many of which are captured in Channel 5’s three-part documentary, Alex Polizzi: My Hotel Nightmare, Alex insists it was a time of enjoyment.

Great British Life: The floor was laid by an artisan Olga calls the 'hands of gold.'The floor was laid by an artisan Olga calls the 'hands of gold.' (Image: The Star)
‘Mum has a house about five miles away in Friston. It was one of the lockdowns so I moved in with my children – and my children’s nanny, I hasten to add – so that I could come in every day to run the builders. It was just the most amazing, wonderful, fantastic time.

‘Mum and I had a few little spats,’ she laughs, ‘but not as many as you might think. Right Ma?’

‘Yes, they were fine,’ Olga agrees. ‘They were over really quickly.’

Alex adds: ‘And then, of course, we opened the hotel and I had to deal with guests and it became a bit harder because the renovations side of it was just so, so fun. Working with people we really respected, we had a builder who we loved, and then slowly seeing the place put together. This was really the project that I’ve most enjoyed in my life. I’ve loved it.’

Great British Life: The duo have their spats but they're quickly forgottenThe duo have their spats but they're quickly forgotten (Image: Phil Burrowes.)

The reinvigorated, refreshed and reimagined hotel re-opened on 14 June, 2021, around 18 months after they bought the property. A couple more years down the line and The Star is a hit, regularly featuring in rundowns of the ‘Best Hotels in Sussex’.

‘It’s doing very well,’ Olga admits. ‘We’re happy with it. Obviously, our business is continual and one’s always got to think of new things and be on top of it all the time. I think we’re now on our way. The restaurant is starting to get a really good reputation.’

Alex nods. ‘It’s been an interesting few years,’ she says. ‘We’re very happy with our product and our guests seem to love it. The thing that I’m proudest of is our service, our team, which is made up of really extraordinary members. So it feels like we are heading for calmer waters.’

It helped, perhaps, that the Polizzis had the support of the Alfriston community from the beginning who were keen to see the historic property reinvigorated – bar the odd grumble about noisy building works and sweary builders, that is.

‘They were incredibly welcoming, which is not always the case,’ Alex says. ‘Of Mum’s three hotels, this has been the most pleasurable experience because they [the Alfriston community] were really so excited that The Star was going to be brought back to life. They support us by coming in and eating and drinking here, which is the biggest compliment.’

Great British Life: Alex was very hands-on with the refurbishment.Alex was very hands-on with the refurbishment. (Image: The Star)

‘It’s an amazing village, it’s full of interesting people,’ adds Olga. ‘People who are doing things. We’ve got lots of lovely shops… it’s a nice group.’

And in the remodelling of The Star, they also worked with many local businesses: furniture is sourced by interior designer Diana Kelly and flowers masterfully arranged by Alfriston-based florist Julia Marsden. The restaurant floor is decorated with a black-and-white Elizabethan design by local artist Amanda Lawrence. ‘My mother would have called her mani d’oro, hands of gold,’ Olga smiles.

‘I think [working with local artisans] gives locals a sense of ownership,’ Alex says. ‘Very rarely does a night pass without someone in. I like the fact that people pop in for coffee all the time, for example, or a drink. Possibly not a meal all the time and clearly they don’t always stay, but also it’s the kind of place people recommend to their friends.’

So. A hit hotel. Local connections. A supportive community. Might there be another joint venture for the mother-daughter team on the way?

‘If anyone’s chomping at the bit, it’s me,’ Alex says. ‘My mother, who actually has a real job working with my uncle, is possibly less keen. I think what puts us off a bit is that borrowing money now is expensive and we’ve always got another something on the go. It’s not like we’re sitting around on our hands.

‘This year, we’re expanding the terrace. We've got a shop that we bought next door that we have to rebuild, stock and open. I would like us to be really, really busy here and there’s no point in being greedy. We want this to work, but I’m also conscious of the fact that I want to possibly grab my mother before she possibly feels like she can't be bothered to do another one.’

To book a room at The Star visit