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The Hooray Henrys bringing chaos to the King's Road
27 April 2011
The waitress passed on towards the dancefloor, where she arrived at a table occupied by five white-shirted men. They wore an assortment of novelty hats - policeman, jester, miner - and danced inexpertly to electro disco. One of them, grinning wildly, opened cans of Red Bull with his teeth. Receiving the bottle and the sparkler, he stood on a chair and held both arms outwards in triumph. His face wore an expression of wordless rapture.
As I watched, a man named Domingo, in a pink crepe jacket, a blue baseball cap in reverse and a felt crown on top of that, clasped an arm around my shoulder and thrust a glass into my face: vodka Red Bull. 'Join in the fun!' he bellowed.
At a time when the economy teeters towards a double dip and their immediate peers are taking to the streets to rage against rising costs of education, a hopeless jobs market and dim prospects of affording a home, one set is partying like there's no tomorrow. They're not the ones who may actually have no tomorrow, though there is a distant worry that their privileged place in London society is under threat. Mostly, the Public kids - or the Jack Wills Generation, taking that 'outfitters to the gentry' at its word - are above these concerns.
They are in their late teens and early twenties, fresh out of Eton, Charterhouse, Harrow and Stowe and revelling in the freedom from institution. Many of them are unemployed, or 'funemployed', as they like to call it. Many of them are second-generation unemployed. 'It's quite rare that you meet people whose parents are employed,' a regular told me; either mummy and daddy have retired early and now work on charities and galleries, or the grandparental bequest was enough to ensure their leisure. Some of these young revellers do have jobs - estate agent, banker, caterer - and a few others are interning, though they come here to forget about all that. At one point, a remix of 'Islands' by The xx came on: a tune used by Newsnight to accompany bleak images of industrial decline; here the soundtrack to carefree kicks.
Guy Pelly, the son of a garage owner from Kent, made his name revamping the West End club Mahiki and launching Whisky Mist and Guy Ritchie's pub The Punchbowl. Public, the first club he has fronted solo, is located in a 5,000sq ft basement beneath an antiques warehouse on a bleak section of the King's Road (it is possible to imagine the typical reveller being dragged around the warehouse on mornings-after by parents searching for an 18th-century commode).
With its exposed brickwork, fairground horses, and VIP area lined with jars of sweets, it is an attempt to stop the West London set shifting eastwards - and it is proving wildly popular. Princes William and Harry and their cousins Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie have all partied here, though they now tend to favour places where they aren't hassled (friends' houses, or if you're Harry, the new, sexually outré cabaret club The Box). Mostly, Public has been embraced by a younger set - and not necessarily the crowd Pelly was after.
'Guy was after a New York feel, he wanted older, artier types to go there; whereas it's turned into a sort of kiddy wonderland,' said a friend. DJ Clancy, a 29-year-old Mancunian who lives in Hackney, compared the attitudes. 'In East London, they're a bit more snobby - you've got to build a set,' he said, reaching over to adjust his CD decks. 'Here it's all about instant gratification. East and West both get equally fucked, but in the East they're on drugs. Here it's probably champagne.' Jägerbombs and vodka Red Bull seemed equally popular - though, as a colleague observed in the ladies' loos, the cubicles were frequented by as many as four Oyster card-carrying women at once. The results are not always a sophisticated sight.
'You get a lot of arrogance at the end of the night. People patronise bouncers, they think they're above them,' said the friend, complaining that she was offered cocaine by five separate people as she left one night. Taxi drivers steer clear of this area, which is also the location of two other, equally hedonistic, establishments: Rumi and Embargo. One wearily told ES: 'It's happened to me three times: a girl's been put in my taxi alone and then been sick. It's a £50 fine but they're usually in such a state that they never pay up.'
The neighbours are not impressed. 'There is evidence of people having sex near our gates. I have had the unfortunate experience of finding used condoms - it's disgusting,' one complained. 'The Hooray Henrys drink and get really boisterous. I don't have anything against them personally but they really make a racket,' commented another. (One resident reportedly turned up at the club in a dressing gown to ask them to turn the music down.) After 100 people petitioned the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea to close Public down, its licence will be reviewed next month. Pelly politely declined to speak to ES for this article so as not to jeopardise the review: 'I think that at the moment we are trying to keep a low profile just to be tactful. I am sorry that this time I could not be more helpful,' he texted me.
The kids come here because it's easy, it's fun and it's safe. The feel is school disco, closed circle, friends only. For Pat, in loud red Dunhill trousers, it was one stop on a West London spree. 'We'll probably stay here till about two and then we'll move on. We'll go and hammer up someone's house or maybe go to Notting Hill, but it's a bit out of the area code.' Hugo, wearing a white Ralph Lauren shirt, said: 'I'm a sucker of a man so I'll go wherever the crowds go, and at the moment that's here. It's also great because it's just around the corner from home.'
Henry Conway, who organised parties at Mahiki with Pelly (you may remember him from the scandal involving his father, the MP Derek Conway), told me that it was a symptom of the Chelsea set coming home. 'There's a rah-ving set, straight outta Eton, who go to ragga and dubstep parties in the East, but generally the East has lost its hold. Public is on their doorstep - this is why it's been such a success.' It is also within their comfort zone: 'People always want to hang around with people from their set: if you go to Ascot, you want to meet people who know what Ascot is.' The crowd at Public all seemed to know each other. 'It's amazing what small circles we move in,' said one, with a sense of wonder.
However, that isn't to say that flaunting privilege is the done thing - in fact, anyone who does so is labelled 'Arab', as in 'Don't be such an Arab', or 'Don't get Cristal - that's so Arab'. There is a resentment that the traditional haunts of aristocrats, including Tramp and Annabel's, have now become home to a new class of international super-rich: 19-year-old Russians and Arabs turning up in chauffeur-driven Range Rovers; expensively spa'd women dripping with diamonds. 'These are the places that the landed gentry would normally haunt, but they've been priced out of the market. Annabel's is madly expensive,' said Conway.
'I saw a Russian guy literally tipping the waiter with wads of £50 notes in Tramp the other night,' said one regular, who cautioned against easy stereotyping of the young gentry.
'People do realise that they have to work these days. It's drummed into you at school,' she continued, painting a picture of a class whose money is running out - often it was the grandparents who would pay school fees and sub-sidise parental lifestyles, and fortunes are dwindling. 'No one really has trust funds any more. They have allowances, inheritance. Though to be honest you don't really ask where people get it from.'
That is not to say that the concerns of regular twenty-somethings affect them. 'These people don't give a shit,' she said when I mentioned the recent student protests. 'They're so involved in who's going out with who. It sounds awful but they don't seem to care what's happening in the world. I mentioned the Japanese tsunami to one girl - she had no idea what I was talking about.'
By the end of the evening, the dancefloor was a mass of bodies. DJ Clancy had passed the baton over to Isaac Ferry, the son of the Roxy Music singer Bryan. What was the judgement on Isaac's DJing ability? 'He's rubbish,' remarked Pat. 'But he's better than that guy who was on before him. I can say that, though, because Isaac is an old friend of mine.'
Outside, Domingo was arguing with a bouncer. Earlier, he had looked delighted - now, forlorn. 'I tried to tickle this girl and I was standing next to the manager and he had me kicked out,' he explained. Guy Pelly kicked you out? 'His bouncers did. It's so aggressive in there - the bouncers really respond to that.'
He was particularly annoyed as they would not let him retrieve his belongings from the cloakroom. 'To be honest, I haven't been out round here for years,' he said. 'And I don't feel I've been missing anything. The values that are upheld in that place are not ones that I appreciate.'
I nodded sympathetically.
'Thanks for listening,' he said gratefully. 'You're like a kind of priest.'
Kind of. I said a prayer for Domingo, and headed back east. ES
Some names have been changed
CASE STUDY #1: WORK
In the crowded outdoor smoking area, Pandora, a blonde girl with an elaborate necklace, is talking with two friends, also blonde. 'I can't believe that you have to be up at nine tomorrow?' says one of them, whose name is Olivia.
I ask what Pandora has to be up for. 'A lecture,' she replies, explaining that she is studying marketing at Richmond College; her education has already taken in Stowe and Cheltenham Ladies' College. As we speak, a third girl, Allegra, makes an ambiguous gesture with her tongue and two fingers. 'What does that mean?' I ask. 'What do you think it means?' is her pregnant response.
Olivia, brandishing a mysterious baggy, complains that she has to be up at 10am. She is interning at a film company, having dropped out of a fashion photography course at Central Saint Martins. I ask which film company.
'I don't remember'
'You don't remember?'
'It's, like, that really English one?'
CASE STUDY #2:
A stocky male falls to his knees and presses his mouth to the crotch of a young woman. Unimpressed by her unorgasmic response, he makes an exasperated gesture, knocking her drink out of her hand. Sticky, expensive liquid flies across the dancefloor. The young woman looks dismayed. The male extends his tongue towards her mouth in a crude attempt to apologise. The young woman, alarmed, evades the protruding organ. The man runs away. The woman considers her options - and decides to chase him.
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