An out-of-towner and his seven-floor superclub gatecrash London's scene

BRITAIN'S MOST hyped dance phenomenon, a seven-storey "superclub" in Leicester Square called Home, will belaunched this Thursday. According to copious marketing material the 2,000-capacity club "incorporates cutting edge modern design with 21st- century technological chutzpah while maintaining all the most cherished elements of the traditional club".

Home has been the talk of the town this year among clubland's cognoscenti. But rival club owners question whether an out-of-town management can successfully vault to the top of the pile.

The power and money behind the pounds 8m London Home venture is a 46-year-old Scot, Ron McCulloch. "Ron who?" many may ask. Mr McCulloch is an entrepreneur whose Scottish restaurant, pub and club chain is developing global ambitions. Home is his brainchild and flagship.

He has bought credibility with front man Darren Hughes, the former co-owner of Liverpool's legendary club, Cream. He has also hired Britain's top dance DJ, Paul Oakenfold, as director of music, and three months ago the Home team scored an early PR success by being chosen as the anchor of the Radio 1 Millennium 24-hour broadcasts from clubland.

Outside of Glasgow, where he runs the city's most hip dance club, The Tunnel, few people have heard of this stylish and ambitious man: he lives in a 16th-century mansion in Hamilton. His empire is growing rapidly. In October 1998 he opened the first of the Home chain in Sydney, Australia, which will also feature in the Radio 1 broadcasts at New Year thanks to Darren Hughes' close connections to the nation's favourite. Another Home club will open in New York early next year.

His rivals are sceptical. "I think opening in Leicester Square is a very bold move," says Mark Rodol, manager of the Ministry of Sound, which until now has enjoyed the premier position in clubland. "These people are from Liverpool and Scotland and I wonder if there is appreciation of what Leicester Square is all about."

The club says its target is hip dance clubbers, not the mainstream disco crowd of its new neighbours, Hippodrome and Stringfellows. But some rivals suggest it is tourist trap. "It's all a bit Planet Hollywood with clubland's Paul Oakenfold as Sylvester Stallone with all the hype," says Mr Rodol, referring to Home's ill-fated neighbour in Leicester Square.

Mr McCulloch was born in Govan in 1953. He was drawn into the leisure industry while studying architecture in the 1970s when he spent his weekends DJing at the Reaction Dolly Disco with three dancing dollybirds. "It was the closest I ever got to being the Scottish Peter Stringfellow," he joked.

He dropped his studies and went to work for two years with his cousin Ken McCulloch, now the hotelier behind the Malmaison chain. After a few false starts Ron McCulloch got his first club going. Now operating under the title Big Beat, Mr McCulloch has built a formidable leisure business with his partner, 58-year-old George Swanson, the former head of Whitbread in Scotland.

Companies House records show that Mr McCulloch is a director of some 26 companies. His intriguingly named Soixante-Neuf Ltd has now been dissolved. Big Beat Holdings Ltd showed a turnover of more than pounds 13m for the year 1997-98.

His talent is for tailoring each of his venues exactly to the needs and tastes of his market. "He is a very energetic, progressive minded and forward thinking sort of person. He knows the market place very well and the quality of the design for Home is unparalleled in the UK," said Geoff Oakes, of the Nottingham dance club Renaissance, who has a joint venture club with Big Beat.

But will Ron McCulloch's new Home attract the notoriously fickle London clubbers? Darren Hughes thinks so: "Cream was right time, right place and Home is definitely the right place, the right time and the right people behind it."

Some believe Home coulddisplace the Ministry of Sound, located in the unprepossessing Elephant and Castle, as London's pre-eminentclub. Mark Rodol of the Ministry thinks not. "What's missing is the authenticity and integrity that great clubs build over a period of time. It's very hard to appropriate credibility. It's something you have to earn. The question is whether it will be there in five years' time."

Darren Hughes rejects this: "Tourist is a dirty word to some extent and the tourists you see in Leicester Square are not clubbing tourists. What Home will have, as well as a national crowd and a London crowd, will be international clubbers. The right kind of tourist, not the wrong type of tourist."

Big Clubs

CREAM

Liverpool (opened 1992)

Holds 2,000

Key man James Barton

Sell A reason for going to Liverpool University

Big name DJ Seb Fontaine

GATECRASHER

Sheffield (opened 1998)

Holds 1,320

Key man Simon Rayne

Sell `Great value for money

Big name DJ None

GOLDEN

Stoke (opened 1992)

Holds 1,200

Key man Nick Dean

Sell `Blueprint for the big Northern night out'

Big name DJ None

SLINKY

Bournemouth (opened 1997)

Holds 2,000

Key man Richard Carr

Sell `A good night out for their money

Big name DJ None

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