Bunhill: Planets aligned for Earl

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The Independent Online
ROBERT EARL leans forward on his sofa. 'I'll give you another statement. The new Planet Hollywood in Leicester Square will be the highest-grossing restaurant Britain has ever seen.'

Sitting in Earl's all-white mansion in St John's Wood, London, I don't know whether to laugh or cry. Laugh, because of his self-promotion, or cry, because the man has got it made.

In short, Robert Earl is a genius. He has made a fortune from what some might call tack but what are referred to, more politely, as theme restaurants: mostly Merrie England banqueting halls and Hard Rock Cafes. Aged 41, he went to Surrey University before moving to Orlando, Florida - the site of Disney World and his main home, called, excruciatingly, Early World.

On New Year's Eve he will be due at least pounds 20m when he leaves Rank, for whom he runs the Hard Rocks. But it is Planet Hollywood that will propel Earl into the stratosphere. For the uninitiated, Planet Hollywood is to cinema what Hard Rock is to rock music. Along with his partners, the film stars Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bruce Willis, and Keith Barish, the film producer, he has opened three restaurants in North America, each decked out with movie memorabilia. The fourth, in London, opens shortly. In all, 30 are planned.

The thought of dining under Kim Basinger's handcuffs from 9 1/2 Weeks, Anthony Perkins's dagger from Psycho or Freddy's gloves from Nightmare on Elm Street may not be to everyone's taste, but Earl is confident that the restaurants will be 'generating profits in excess of dollars 150m within three years'.

More stars, he claims, are clamouring to join him. 'Demi Moore, Patrick Swayze, Mel Gibson - the whole of Hollywood wants to be linked with us.' Incredibly - at least I thought so - the studios donate props from the latest films gratis. In a nutshell, collectors' items are given to Earl and his chums for nothing. Are the moguls mad? 'They participate with us. We're locked into a circle of publicity with everyone feeding off everyone else,' says Earl.

People flock to eat at the restaurant that Sly and Arnie own, they see the props, they go and see the film or buy the video. The post-premiere party is held there, the props are donated, the media attend. Earl cannot lose. The food - 'California's classic cuisine, pasta, burgers, pizza' - could almost be an afterthought.

There is more. He has a three-strong British restaurant chain, Mamma Amalfi, which he plans to bring to the stock market next year, and he is producing a film, Dirty Weekend, with Michael Winner. Earl is at his house in Barbados this weekend for Christmas with Winner and another close friend, Andrew Neil, the Sunday Times editor. I should add that the film is based on a best-selling novel.

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