The floor of Peter Stringfellow’s office at Angels, his legendary Soho club, was strewn with packing boxes last week. In case anyone imagined his office to be an extension of the club – all leopard print, velvet and disco balls – it isn’t. It’s just a normal office.
I visited him on Thursday; on Saturday, Angels closed its doors forever. “I’ll be there on Saturday night to shake the hands of all my staff,” he said. “I’ve put ten years of my life into this club, but I’m not going to stay here.”
Freshwater, the West End landlord that owns Angels, has “decided to develop the whole block. But I’m the fly in the ointment. Everyone else is on six-month rollovers – but I’m halfway through a 20-year lease,” explains Stringfellow. By mutual agreement, Angels will close and a new – standard, non-strip – nightclub will take its place.
“My landlord made me a very good offer – in the millions of course – for me to leave. I didn’t want to run this as a nightclub, so someone else is coming in and doing it; I’m in the adult entertainment business.” Up in the entrance of the club (his office is in the basement), he moves his hand in a slicing motion across the iconic gold fibreglass angel that greets you as you walk in – “I’m chopping her in half – just her top’s coming to Stringfellows.”
Stringfellow is focusing on his eponymous Covent Garden club – all the Angels dancers are moving across, and the 75 year-old entrepreneur, who has owned clubs around the world, is confident it’ll go from strength to strength. He’s got a pile of redesigns on his desk. One plan is to introduce a disco-themed private room – “people don’t dance anymore, and that’s a shame... Having all my power back in that one club actually excites me. Here I am at the epicentre of high financial entertainment.”
In a climate of waning nightclub numbers and on-demand sex (think Tinder, Grindr and new paid-for dating app Ohlala), I wondered who goes to Angels these days. “It’s still the financial guys and business owners – the people who aren’t going to queue for clubs, and who often want to bring business associates for a bonding experience. Americans are easily our number one customers; they get what we do.” Scandinavians are also frequent customers – particularly the Icelandic, after former Prime Minister Johanna Sigurdardottir banned stripping and lap dancing. The French and Italians “get it less. There’s a lot of ‘no, she really likes me Pete!’ – no, she just wants your money.” Plenty of people, Stringfellow explains, get off a plane at City Airport or Heathrow and come to the club before going to their hotel.
But now, he’s thinking about his next move. “I would like to open a regular nightclub in Dubai. I might be an average businessman, but no-one knows more about nightclubs than me. They might not allow girls clubs there, but they have variations on a theme. If someone approached me, I’d be very happy to do that. In fact, I’d be happy to do any major international city.” He’s also got plans for “glamour bars” (“that’s the working title!”) up and down the UK. “I know the business, so am looking for the right company to come and speak to me about the idea.”
Away from venues, Stringfellow is also in the process of launching a lingerie range, the Stringfellow Collection. “I’ve got two ranges in mind. A line similar to Victoria’s Secret, and Angels After Midnight, which’ll be more risqué.” He’s hoping to get launched in time for Christmas “but that’s probably just my optimism speaking. That same optimism that told me I was a good poker player. To be a good poker player, you need to be a mathematician, not an optimist. If you’re an optimist, you believe you’re going to win. If you’re a mathematician, you know you are.”
One thing you really can’t help but notice in Stringfellow’s office is the reams of photos plastering the walls – “I should put them in a book, really – this is just a handful.” It’s a shrine to his career: save a portrait of Margaret Thatcher, they’re all of Stringfellow, known for booking the Beatles in 1963 for £85, with various musicians – or people he’s met through along the way. A cursory glance takes in Mick Jagger, Elton John, Paul McCartney, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Ritchie, John Travolta, David Cameron and Boris Johnson.
“We’ve heard nothing from Boris since Michael Gove stabbed him in the back, have we? That annoys me. What’s he doing? Once he went for Brexit, the Remainers had lost it.” Stringfellow is a well-known Tory donor – I had assumed he had been for Brexit. “No, I was a remainer. Of course there’s going to be a United States of Europe – there’ll be a United States of Africa, too. We’ll see federalised states everywhere. Should we be a part of that? For definite. But then we voted Brexit. And actually, it’s more romantic to be for Brexit. And I am a romantic, so now I’m excited, and I’m a Brexiteer. We’ve got to make the most of it.”
Theresa May, says Stringfellow, is “the only person” who can take us forward. “I’ve met her, and I’m a great believer in her.” Peering over at a picture of Bill Clinton, I contemplate asking about the US presidential elections, but Stringfellow beats me to it: “we were at an expensive event in St Petersburg, my wife and I, and Bill Clinton’s eyes were just completely on her. I don’t blame him, she’s gorgeous.” The episode apparently came to a reasonably abrupt end involving a security guard. As you might imagine, it’s one of numerous anecdotes.
Pausing after reminiscing about the time that Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye played at his club (Stringfellow has the piano in his villa in Mallorca), he says, “that era has gone forever now; the internet has changed everything.” Stringfellow has spoken before about virtual reality and strip clubs. “Of course that’s the future. I really want to put a VR club in. The app is easy to do; we’re all just waiting for the headsets to become cheaper. Think about the millions who’d be interested in that; it excites me.”
Stringfellow is refreshingly upfront about what makes him tick: “I just wanted to make money. I never had some wonderful idea, even a plan. I’ve been bankrupt a couple of times – but you’ve got to lose money to understand how great it is to make it. You have to fail. But right now, I’m winning – life is pretty good.”