"i've just returned from a weekend in Monte Carlo. Splendid place. Ever been there?"
Bronzed, blue-eyed and charming, Eddie Davenport is back in town. We are sitting in his latest acquisition, Bar Circa off Berkeley Square, munching on toasted club sandwiches. Davenport is exuding bonhomie and talking about how "it" all began. "It", of course, refers to his business which has now made him a fortune estimated at some six million pounds.
"I started selling T-shirts on the Portobello Road market at the age of 14. You know, ducking and diving and all that. I left school at 16 - I had a taste for business, not academia."
I quickly sense a rags-to-riches melodrama unfolding and remind myself that this is the Eddie Davenport whose family have made millions from brewing and that Davenport himself was born with a silver spoon (in the form of a multi-million-pound trust) in his mouth.
"Then I started throwing parties. At first they were free and then I realised I could make a bob or two." In fact, the organisation, Gatecrasher, which he founded with partner Jeremy Taylor in 1983, was turning over more than a million pounds a year. And all this at the tender age of 19.
Then, in 1988, the bubble burst, pricked by a large dose of adverse publicity from the Sun and the Sunday Times. Double-page spread photographs of public- school boys and girls snogging and consuming great quantities of alcohol were thrust upon breakfast tables across the country. Parents reacted by banning their children from attending the parties, the police started inquiring into alcohol sales, and Her Majesty's Customs and Excise closed in for the kill.
Davenport has mixed emotions about Gatecrasher. It was an enormous success at its peak, but its end was swift and left him facing a nine-month prison sentence for VAT evasion. So what was prison like? "Oh, I managed to escape all that," he replies enigmatically. In fact he was let free on appeal several days later. "Basically, Gatecrasher was bloody good fun. I enjoyed every moment of it and was incredibly naive about things like VAT. When you're 19 and making money you don't think about tax."
From throwing parties, Davenport turned his attention in 1991 to owning clubs. "I was walking to Victoria Station one day when I noticed the old Tate & Lyle tea-and-dance hall boarded up. I had a look inside, and it was magnificent. I knew instantly that this would make a fantastic club, completely different from your run-of-the-mill disco." The hall was transformed into the SW1 club, which immediately attracted top promoters. Davenport sold the SW1 and moved north.
Nightclubbing in the Midlands was just undergoing a revolution. "I got involved in the Academy in Stoke, and then I bought an old printing works in Derby for next to nothing and turned it into the Conservatory. This was the launch pad for Renaissance (the UK's most successful promoters).
"Now I've returned to London to do what I do best: buying leases on loss- making properties, returning them to a profit and then selling them. My new company bought Bar Circa from Allied Domecq when it was losing £100,000 a year and we've already made it profitable."
There is no doubt that Davenport has the Midas Touch. His other sideline is "finance" as he likes to call it. As we leave for his office on Bruton Street, he lets on that he is in fact a high-class pawnbroker: "I'm opening a new office to deal with loans of £25,000 and above." His office is not announced with the traditional golden balls hanging outside the shop front, but instead with a fleet of pawned Mercedes, BMWs and Rolls Royces. "This is an ideal service. If people need cash in a hurry I give it to them. There are no questions asked; all they have to do is leave something of worth and we're happy." Indeed, there seems to be no lack of customers. "At any one time I will have about 60 cars in storage." If you want to reclaim your car or diamond ring it will cost a minimum of five per cent interest per month on the loan.
Eddie Davenport is nobody's fool. "You know Monte Carlo would be a fantastic place to set up shop. All those casinos. The potential for lending is massive. You really should go one day."