This is something I wrote for the Telegraph a few years back about going clubbing, for the first time in years, with a club fixer called Richard Walker-Smith.
The nightclub dream is that scene in Saturday Night Fever where Tony Manero (John Travolta) and his crew jump a long queue and walk straight into 2001 Odyssey greeted by everyone on their way in. That has happened to me only once. It was at a nightclub in Leeds called Speed Queen. This was a funky house night with a ‘mixed’ clientele which is code for gays, girls and men who don’t look too straight. Because it was so popular with glamorous Yorkshire girls who wanted to dance unmolested, the queue was always full of hopeful groups of lads in Ben Sherman shirts. One night I arrived with some regulars. They were dressed up to the nines. I wore a sleeveless neoprene T shirt. We walked past all the hopefuls and straight into the club. I felt like one of the beautiful people. It never happened again.
Mostly my experiences involved waiting in queues in the rain with a large chance that I wouldn’t get in. The last time I went clubbing was in 2006 at the End just off Oxford Street (a club owned by Mr C from the Shamen which closed in 2009). I found the whole thing so exhausting that I never went again. I remember thinking at the time that there must be an easier way. A young man called Richard Walker-Smith thinks he has found the answer. He’s the founder of Zoolafix a website that hooks you up with fixers around the world who for around £100 promise to give you the night of your life. He offered to show me what he could do.
I warned Richard that I hadn’t had been to a nightclub in years. I’m now 37, married with a daughter and a very manly paunch. He stheaid that he’d break me in very gently. We’d go to a place called the Box. My wife googled the Box – apparently it’s the louchest club in Britain. ‘Well you shouldn’t believe everything you read in the Daily Mail’, I replied, ‘they probably just found some single mothers there’. Then I looked it up: it’s notorious for heavy cocaine use, obscene floor shows and orgies. It’s also famously difficult to get into.
Richard isn’t the only one promising to take the hard work out of clubbing. There’s now an app called with Fixr where you can buy club tickets online, they give you a QR code and then you walk straight into the club without queuing. The people behind Fixr including tabloid favourite Henry Conway all come from West London backgrounds and thought that the clubs they frequented – the sort of places that Prince Harry is seen falling out of – would jump at their app. They didn’t. The reason is the rather sinister sounding concept of ‘Face Control’. Exclusive clubs need a beautiful clientele. If they let just any Tom, DIck and Harry with an iphone, then they wouldn’t be exclusive any more. So Fixr are concentrating on the more commercial end of nightlife.
What should I wear for my night out? I couldn’t squeeze into the old neoprene T shirt so instead wore my Daks tweed jacket. My reasoning was that they’d think I’m one of Prince Harry’s mates and let me straight in. Before I left my wife wrapped me in a scarf, looked me sternly in the eye and said ‘no smoking, you’ll only make your cold worse!’ I met Richard at what looked like a boarded up pub in Dalston called the King’s Head. It’s now a private members club and has been decorated in what can only be described as William Morris meets Mobutu style. There’s lots of patterned wallpaper, antique furniture and taxidermy. I’m not talking a few stuffed owls but tigers, lions and in one room a bloody great polar bear.
From the King’s Head we went to the Chiltern Firehouse in central London. The bar staff wore white dinner jackets and the waitresses wore extremely flattering red jumpsuits. As with the King’s Head the people on the door knew Richard. I asked him how he had become so well-known so young. He had two bits of advice: go out as much as you can so that your face becomes familiar and wear a big hat. The big hat means you are distinctive so people get to know you quicker. He said the worst thing you can do in a club queue it to try to be unobtrusive. Clubs want colourful people. I made a mental note – buy big hat.
From the Chiltern Firehouse it was but a short hop to the infamous Box. There were two queues. At the front of one was a Welsh girl pleading with the doormen: ‘please! my friend used to work here and she said that I could come down tonight and you’d let me in. She said to ask for Louis.’ They looked at her with that blank look that they’re taught at bouncing school. There was no way she was getting in. Richard ignored both queues, walked right up to the bouncers, and started talking to them. There was a pause where I thought, I shouldn’t have worn the tweed, and then they lifted the rope and I entered the Box!
Inside there were saucy girls in 1930 outfits who all kissed Richard and said ‘hello darling’. I was slightly suspicious about how easy it was to get it. ‘Surely you must have slipped the bouncers some money?’ I asked him later. Richard told me that he’d ‘never done it and never would. Anyhow, I doubt it would get you very far at the places I like going to. I’ve seen doormen at the The Box not even blink at the offer of hundreds of pounds cash.’ I’ve heard from another source that some staff at the Box aren’t so immune to backhanders.
We went to the bar where a beer cost £9.50. No wonder cocaine is allegedly so popular here – it’s just much cheaper than getting drunk. I told Richard to find me some drugs immediately. I’m joking of course, but surely it must come up? For many clubbing is about drugs and the possibility of sex. What if your customers wanted you to procure things or people? Richard replied: ‘Guests after that kind of service can expect to be left disappointed. I’m very focussed on building a reputable business.’ Richard has big ambitions for Zoolafix; he wants it to become the Air B&B of nightlife.
This place used to be Raymond’s Revue Bar, an old school Soho strip club owned by pornography magnate Paul Raymond. The old Soho of stripclubs and sex shops may be dying but money and sex are still intertwined. The club was divided into three groups: down the side were the high rollers in booths that cost thousands necking champagne and all looking very refreshed. On the raised dance floor were the freaks and beautiful people, and then there was everyone else. As someone who remembers the self-conscious egalitarianism of clubbing in the 90s it was strange to see the divisions so starkly defined and ruthlessly exploited.
Of course this egalitarianism was nonsense at the clubs I went to in Leeds. Your face still had to fit, but now if it doesn’t you can buy your way in by booking a table which costs a lot of money. The Fixer boys are in talks with Prince Harry clubs so that you will soon be able to buy tables for £1000s through their app. Money trumps Face Control if you have enough of it. Of course by hiring Richard you are also bribing your way in. It’s not quite how I saw nightlife in the 90s but I didn’t feel that bad about it. If I was taking a night out with a group of friends – I would hire Richard. I’ve never had a night where everything happened so effortlessly. By about one in the morning I was a little drunk and for a moment almost felt like one of the beautiful people. It wasn’t quite Tony Manero in Saturday Night Fever but it was good enough for me.