HE started work as a page-boy at one of the capital's most prestigious hotels aged 15, working his way through the ranks to become concierge.

Now Billy Garioch, concierge at Edinburgh's Caledonian Hotel, has been honoured after chalking up 50 years' service in the hospitality business.

In his time at the hotel, Mr Garioch, who retires next month, has dealt with thousands of customers from all over the world, and has met celebrities ranging from Nelson Mandela to Billy Connolly, Burt Lancaster and Sir Sean Connery.

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Last night's celebratory dinner at the Princes Street hotel was organised by the Society of the Golden Keys, which brings together concierges from across Scotland.

Mr Garioch said: "Every day really is a different experience. We help guests with restaurant, theatre, train and plane bookings. Lately we have been getting a lot of Russian visitors, Japanese as well. There was a drop-off in American visitors in the aftermath of September 11 but they have been coming back.

"August is probably our busiest month, with the festival. Sean Connery was here a couple of years ago, as he was patron of the film festival."

The hotel has long been a favourite with celebrities.

"I used to take Burt Lancaster's golf clubs to the car every morning. He was playing golf at Gleneagles.

"My boss once asked me to ask a couple to leave the hotel as they were unsuitably dressed: she looked scruffy and her jeans were splattered with paint.

"I went over to ask them to leave and she took off her head-scarf. It was Liz Taylor and Richard Burton. I rushed to get my boss and before I knew it, there were lots of people eagerly serving them.

"I also met Nelson Mandela once, and was surprised by how tall he was."

Mr Garioch, who turns 65 next month, has come to be regarded as a friend by many long-standing guests. "I will really miss the guys I've worked with," he added.