ARE you really 100 per cent libertarian?” Peter Stringfellow asks a room of Adam Smith Institute supporters. “I consider myself a libertarian but I do question myself occasionally. I want the freedom to compete, but I don’t necessarily want other people to have the freedom to compete with me.” The audience laughs. He is speaking to a room of professed libertarians about freedom of choice and enterprise. I was given the chance to speak to him, before his talk.
We sit in the airy downstairs bar at the St Stephen’s Club in Westminster, a regular stomping ground for think tankers and politicos. The bar is quiet and he is concerned that we might be interrupting the couple silently nursing their drinks in the corner. Surprising, for a man known for his brash style.
I persuade him that we’re not and tentatively ask him how he got started in the club business. “You’ve started a book with that question. I mean, I’m 70 years old. I’ve been in clubs nearly 50 years,” he warns. But before I try to reassure him that we have time, he interrupts “but to put it bluntly, I started to make money and that was my motivation.”
He pulls out a scrappy bit of paper from his back pocket and scribbles “motivation” on it. “Sorry,” he says putting the paper back into his pocket, “I’ve been trying to think of that word all day.” He suddenly appears more relaxed. The note is a prompt for his speech later.
“There was this club in Sheffield, you see,” he begins to explain, “where a band called Johnny Tempest and the Cadillacs used to play. It took 800 people and it was run by this little old lady and little old man. And one day I said to them that I was thinking of booking this group. I asked how much they paid for the group and the hall and they threatened to kick me out.” Later, he discovered that they were making £67 profit a night, and that was an awful lot of money in those days. “It was like – click. My best wage ever at that point had been £20 in a week.”
So a few weeks later he rented out a town hall, found a band and launched himself into the club night business. “I had two unsuccessful weeks and by the third week I was borrowing money off friends and I thought this is my watershed moment, I can’t lose money again, I have to make this work.” He booked Johnny Tempest and the Cadillacs and stepped up his marketing. It paid off. “I made £64 that night,” he laughs, “and that was it, I never worked for anyone else again.”
He moved from Sheffield to Leeds running club nights, losing everything he had got four or five times over, before deciding to move to London. “I decided to move to London, because I was rich, but I wasn’t famous.” In 1984, he set up the Hippodrome in the West End, before expanding into New York, Miami and Beverly Hills.
“But then the big recession hit and cost me everything, but it was just then that I came across the girls business.” On a trip to Florida he discovered a club called Pure Platinum. “It was like nothing I’d ever seen before, all these beautiful girls taking their clothes off with no argument. So I thought I’ve got to bring in girls. It took me three years to get the applications through, get the licenses and find the girls.”
So Stringfellow’s Presents Pure Platinum Girls was born. It was a taxing experience for him though: “It took six weeks to find the girls and it was very dispiriting to see so many people naked that I didn’t necessarily want to see naked.”
But he eventually found them – many of them struggling dancers and students. “They’re real entrepreneurs. Smart, sassy girls. They don’t get a salary. One night they might earn nothing, the next night, nothing. Then on the third night earn £4,000.”
The business is highly profitable. “Each club is more than capable of turning over a million pounds net profit. And, of course, I take a lump for me. I’m in business to make my living standard what I want it to be.”
“I earn £500,000. Am I happy? I’m seventy. Trust me, it’s fabulous.”
CV | PETER STRINGFELLOW
Studied: Left school at 15
Family: Two adult children; now married to former Royal Ballet dancer Bella Wright (29).
Clubs: Angels, Soho; Stringfellow’s, Covent Garden; Stringfellow’s, Paris.
No. of staff: 165, employed directly, and 300-400 female entertainers and various support staff.