Eight years earlier, Brian Clivaz had shown me a magnificent Georgian building built by the architect Robert Adam in the 1770s. Empty for 12 years, it was derelict but full of history. It had housed all sorts of people, such as Earl Grey, of the tea fame, and Anthony Blunt, of the spying game. It was the French Embassy during the revolution. With its amazing staircase and ornate rooms, it was absolutely stunning and I fell in love with it.
Brian’s idea was to create a members’ club with beautiful sitting rooms, a health spa, 18 hotel rooms, a restaurant, a bar and a courtyard. I liked his concept, and had a few ideas of my own.
I didn’t want just another stuffy, old-fashioned London club, where dress codes usually required men to wear a tie, and which offered a wide, yellow polyester one if you lacked one. Oh, and women were rather discouraged. So I agreed to be the largest investor and later chairman. The club would allow casual dress, mobile phones and lots of women members. I knew that if the women came to the club, so would the guys.
Most of my friends thought it wouldn’t work. “£1,500 a year membership is too expensive Richard. No one will pay it.” “It’s just outside Mayfair. That won’t work.” That one I laughed about: “Yes, but why are all your London properties named after the Monopoly board anyway?”
The restoration and decoration took nearly two years, and cost over £10m. Brian’s struggle to get the work finished and the club open on time was the subject of a BBC documentary, Trouble At The Top. I was portrayed as the worried money guy but the delays were not really a concern to me. For me, the success of the business would depend on attracting enough members, even if that happened six months later than planned.
Eventually, we got the thing going. At first there were many issues with the service – it was not easy opening a business with over 100 new employees. But even that quirkiness seemed to add a charm to the place and it attracted 2,500 members. Celebrities were everywhere. Madonna stayed there. Bill Clinton tried to get in after closing time. I had a memorable moment at a party when Sir Paul McCartney’s first words to me were “I know you”. He’d seen the BBC show and booked the club.
I still enjoy Home House. As “just another member” the business side is not my concern. And I am proud. We invented a genre – the combination of a historic and beautiful building with a casual atmosphere. We sold the business and kept the legacy.
Since the mid-1990s Richard Farleigh has operated as a business angel, backing more early-stage companies than anyone else in the United Kingdom. www.farleigh.com