An evening with Peter Stringfellow
added 07.11.01 At sixty-one years old, he is a multimillionaire, the owner of the world’s most famous nightclub, and has managed to bed over three thousand girls. Matt Killeya catches up with Peter Stringfellow. exposés | three thousand | prison | black cat club | hendrix et al
mafia? | exploitation
Having just watched Peter Stringfellow enthrall and entertain a packed Union Society debating chamber, it is with a mixture of expectation and anticipation that I await my chance to meet the man in person. Looking at my watch, he is quarter of an hour late and, knowing his reputation as a ladies man, I begin to wonder whether this might be down to an impromptu threesome with the DUS secretary and treasurer on route from Palace Green to Bar 24. This, it turns out, is not the case.
As he arrives, and I am ushered towards him, I find myself struggling to know where to start. It is he, upon spotting my minidisc recorder, who begins: “Hell! You’re not from the Daily Star are you?” he laughs. Such a response is typical of the man. Three and a half decades of sex, excess and success, glitz, glamour and girls (his current squeeze is twenty-five – he is sixty-one) have seen him form a love-hate relationship with the press. These days he laughs about the past “exposés”: “Peter Stringfellow took me to bed and we had sex and he just left me to get a cab and go home,” he mocks. “What’s wrong with that?” he exclaims. “What am I supposed to do? I can’t take you home – I’ve got a wife!” He pauses, “I paid for the taxi for Christ’s sake!”
Such traumas, I suggest, are part of the unavoidable heartbreak of having to sleep with over three thousand women. (What can I say, the man is a trooper). The figure of three thousand (one and a half a week by my calculations), he informs me, is not strictly accurate – although it was six years ago. It has not always been this way, though; “When I was your age,” he tells me, “sex was not something we did. We did it with our wives – and we thought out doing it with other people – but, of course, you didn’t do that…. I tried – everything that came near me, I tried – but I never got anywhere”.
This, it occurs to me, means he must have boosted his one and half a week average later in life. How does he do it? I ask (out of genuine curiosity). “Stamina” he proclaims. He then, somewhat worryingly, goes on to suggest I try viagra: “It’s a lot of fun,” he informs me, “unfortunately it makes me sick!” As far as getting women goes: “Being rich helps” (his chat-up line – he has only one – goes “Hi! My name’s Peter Stringfellow, I own the place”). It is a far cry from Peter Stringfellow, the Sheffield steelworker’s son who left school at fifteen, joined the merchant navy at seventeen, married at twenty, and was in prison by twenty-one.
I ask him about the six weeks he spent doing time. “It was horrible,” he says, “nothing like those black and white Humphrey Bogart movies.” His crime was a minor one; “I was a salesman. – making lots of money selling rugs for a company. Along the way, after three months, I got it mixed up who owned the carpets, that’s all – the company… or me.” The experience clearly had a marked effect on him; “When I came out, I decided I would never do anything again that would take me back to prison.”
Saddled with a criminal record and struggling to find anyone who would employ him, he began to look around for ways to earn money for himself. It was this search that was to lead to his first experience of running a club; “I did a deal with the local vicar to rent the church hall on a Friday night,” he reflects.
Black Cat Club
It was here, at what he later named the “Black Cat club”, that he was to book the, as then unknown, Beatles. The story is an intriguing one. It all started with request to play the record “Love Me Do” in his club one night. “In those days,” he tells me, “we only put records on to fill in the times between groups, to try and stop people fighting each other waiting for the group to come on.”
When he booked them for £65 in late October 1962, “Love Me Do” was a lowly seventeenth in the charts. By the time they played in February 1963, “Please please me!” was number one and he had sold 1200 tickets for a venue with a 850 capacity. “People kept saying ‘Have you got the Beatles? I want tickets’ – so I kept printing them”.
Hendrix et al
Following that, he booked the Rolling Stones (then also unknown), Little Stevie Wonder “before he was Stevie Wonder, ‘Big’ Stevie Wonder” and was the first person to have Jimmi Hendrix play outside London. “That was a magical time and I was swept along by it. All I wanted to do was get on that stage with that spotlight, introduce the band, get off and go and have sex with all the girls that wanted it.”
Ten years later, in 1980, Stringfellows – for which he is most widely known – was opened “I just knew it was going to be a famous nightclub – and it was,” he says. And from there he opened clubs in New York, Miami and Beverly Hills.
He is pragmatic about his days in America. “I walked into Hollywood, opened the best club they’d ever seen and promptly lost one million dollars…” Ten years later and heavily in debt “to the IRA” (several puzzled expressions and some head-scratching later, we establish that it was in fact the IRS), he sold out in America and got out by what he describes as “the skin of my teeth”. “I had to bankrupt three companies, got out with one and I think I managed to get out with half a million dollars”. Two years earlier, he reflects, his clubs were valued at twenty five million. As I ask about his time spent on the run from the mafia, it is his turn to look puzzled. It is the first he has heard of it. ‘It’s a good job I filled him in’, I muse.
His return to London in 1991 saw him reinvent Stringfellows as the topless club it remains today. He remains very much involved in the running of the club, spending most nights there, although, these days, it is his daughter who runs all the licensing (as a sixteen year old, she was a Go-go in the club). Does his club exploit women? “Are you crazy?” he exclaims. “I’ve tried all my life to exploit girls – they won’t let me. Impossible!” And, with the girls earning anywhere between £1000 and £2000 a night, it’s hard to disagree.