He failed to buy the Groucho, but Benjamin Fry has no regrets, writes Timothy Barber
Benjamin Fry, psychotherapist, TV self-help guru and author, has come a long way. He used to be Benji Fry, stalwart of a west London scene of ultra connected upstarts such as Tom Parker Bowles and Ben Elliot, who in the late nineties had their fingers in any number of glamorous business pies.
Fry’s own entrepreneurial excursions included dabbling in films, nightclubs and hotels, with a chain of bars among his business ventures. In 2000 he attempted to buy Soho’s augustly iniquitous drinking club, The Groucho, and not only had his £10m offer met with a large raspberry from the shareholders, but stirred up a media wasp’s nest. It was enough to send him running for cover.
“Literally since leaving university I’d been doing things through meeting people and saying I’d get involved,” he says now. “I just rode my luck and knew it would run out in the end. I was gradually waking up to what I really wanted to do with my life.”
What Fry’s retreat led him towards was psychotherapy and, via the Greek woman he met and fell in love with on the first day of training – and soon married – an unexpected association with her home country.
Fry learned the language, and with his wife bought a home in the country. At the same time, he has established a Harley Street psychotherapy practice and a side-line in daytime TV programmes offering self-help guidance. He’s even knocked off a couple of self-help books.
But it is Greece that has enabled him to step back into entrepreneurship, with a magnificently appointed luxury clifftop property. As in the old days, Fry’s involvement came about by chance, when he was invited to see an old hotel on the island of Mykonos. He immediately saw the Greek estate’s potential.
“It’s often been this way with things I’ve done: someone says come and see it, and then you get that vision and get the bug and you have to run with it,” he explains.
Under his guidance, it will become Villa Q, a complex that could have come straight from a Hollywood film. You can well imagine a cat-stroking Bond villain setting up his lair here. Fry, not surprisingly, has a slightly more pragmatic view of his potential client base.
“I could really see someone running a hedge fund from here, and you could install a whole trading floor in the basement if you wanted one,” he says.
The existing hotel consists of a series of villas overlooking a splendid stretch of beach facing an uncluttered headland. Once conversion work is finished in 2010 it will be a single complex built into the rock, with the bedrooms and living rooms occupying the villas and a huge infinity pool across the terraces overlooking the sea. A helipad will top things off.
Fry will start on the conversion in September. All he needs now is an owner willing to spend £19.8m on a home. “They could turn up and say, ‘That looks nice, see you in 2010’ and we’ll deliver it, or they can be heavily involved with the whole design and architectural process,” he says.
For Fry, being able to do business in Greece is the fulfilment of a love affair that began as he left behind the social whirl of London’s posh set.
“As much as I’ve fallen in love with my wife, I fell in love with her country, her culture and language,” he says. it’s utterly beautiful. It’s a great privilege to be able to experience it.”
The well-worn denizens of the Groucho can no doubt stick that in their overused pipes and smoke it.
CV: Benjamin Fry
Fry, 38, was educated at Eton College and Oxford University where he studied physics and philosophy. He began investing in nightclubs at the age of 21, and set up the K-Bar with clubbing entrepreneur Piers Adam, He once worked for Deutsche Morgan Grenfell, and wrote a screenplay for Disney (which was never made) after taking an MA at film school in Los Angeles.
After having therapy in his late twenties, Fry trained as a therapist, studying at Regents College in London in 1998. He has a private practice on Harley Street and has written several self-help books.