Entrepreneurs: King of clubs Peter Stringfellow is still wearing his crown at 75Comments Off on Entrepreneurs: King of clubs Peter Stringfellow is still wearing his crown at 75
Peter Stringfellow is dejectedly staring up at a 10-foot-high, naked golden angel that looks out over his leopard-print-drenched club. “She’s just too big,” he laments, countenancing a move for the striking sculpture from the shutting-down Angels to his eponymous Covent Garden club. “We’ll have to cut her here,” he says, pointing at its midriff. I raise an eyebrow. “It’s a bid sad, she was made specifically to fit in here.”
After a decade on Wardour Street, Britain’s best-known gentlemen’s club impresario is leaving. Offered a deal with which he’s “very happy”, he’s sold the lease on the sprawling, two-floor Soho club to landlord Freshwater, which is overhauling the area to make the most of Crossrail’s arrival.
It will leave the club boss, who has opened (and closed) nightclubs across the world over the last five decades, with just his flagship, Stringfellows, from which he can entertain celebrities and host scantily-clad dancers.
“I want to move my crowd from here to Stringfellows — it’s in its own league in the girl business,” he tells me, cooped up among the moving boxes in a downstairs office at Angels. Bizarrely, balloons with big ‘3’s on them bob around — his young daughter Rosebella has just had her birthday party among the club’s poles and thrones.
It’s a fitting scene for a cartoonish figure who divides opinion. To some, his discipline — making money from getting women to take their clothes off — is abhorrent. “Of course I’m a feminist, my whole life has been around the beauty of women.” His long-serving PA, Pat Jay, bursts into laughter. “What are you laughing at? I am not a chauvinist!” he chuckles.
Turnover: £8 million (2014)
Business idol: “Sir Richard Branson and Richard Caring are both clever, great businessmen.”
To others, he’s the cheery Yorkshire face of entrepreneurship who has become an establishment figure — he beams as he shows me framed photos of him with the Queen, Princess Diana and Boris Johnson.
The club move has come at a good time for Stringfellow. With late licensing for bars denting the nightclub market, investing in one flagship venue makes sense.
Turnover at Angels was flat at £3 million with losses of £354,731 in 2014, while Stringfellows Restaurants, the company behind original club, brought in £8 million with similar-sized losses in 2014.
Brexit has yet to take effect although more deals are being done in his booths while the pound is weak. “The Americans have a smile on their face,” says the Remainer.
His dancers earn “between zilch and £4000 a night” depending on how many private dances they can elicit from the financiers and tourists who come through the door.
But the 75-year-old — who beat lung cancer in 2008 — says he’s not slowing down.
A virtual reality club you can visit via a headset and a franchised chain of “glamour bars” are among a plethora of plans, though none are nailed down. “Up until now, I haven’t really used ‘Stringfellows’ as a brand name so I’m going to do that. We’re going to bring out a lingerie range on the internet by Christmas and maybe we’ll find somewhere in central London to sell it as a flagship.” He’ll even branch into casinos if they’re allowed to host strippers.
The nightclub owner (he insists he’s not shrewd enough to be dubbed a “businessman”) admits his peers are all “retired on a boat” but he enjoys life, heading in from leafy Gerrards Cross when it suits, strolling up to celebs, saying “Hi, I’m Peter, I own the place”.
After decades of debauchery and adultery, he says his main focus is family. “I told [32-year-old ballerina wife] Bella, ‘if you wake up one morning and you want someone else, not me, then so be it, we’re finished. And vice versa’. That was our pact.” With a gulp, he adds that his daughter “can be anyone she wants to be”, including an erotic dancer, but he wants her to be a scientist.
He excitedly plays me Take That’s Greatest Day, aired at the couple’s Barbados wedding. It’s a far cry from the Beatles, The Who and Jimi Hendrix, whom he put on in his days as a music promoter, starting out in Sixties Sheffield.
He opened in London in 1980 and made waves in the late Nineties, battling for a licence for a premium strip-club experience. Padding through the Leopard Room, Angels’ VIP lounge which has a dance floor where the punters can party with his staff, you see how Stringfellow has carefully combined Soho’s reputation as the capital of sex, London’s ability to attract high-rolling tourists and his clients’ desire to live like a celebrity.
He coaches his dancers on the psychology of dealing with punters: “I teach them about handling rejection if a man refuses a dance. Of course, it’s not real rejection because the man would crawl over broken glass in the real world to get them. The club is a man’s world but women control it and I own it.”
The empire may be smaller, but that power remains.