The promoter and DJ Simon Hobart sought to mix up and shake up clubbing expectations, and the London club world owes him an enormous debt. His most ground-breaking invention, the indie alternative club Popstarz, opened in May 1995 as an antidote to a mainstream gay scene focused on house music and pill popping. "The emphasis is on boozing not cruising," Hobart stated. Popstarz punters agreed, and shoegazed and pogoed to the sounds of Suede and Oasis, swilled cheap beer and snogged in dark corners. Popstarz was radical and ambitious for the time, operating in the 900 capacity (and now defunct) Paradise Club in Islington. Hobart believed his alternative could work; and he was right.
Hobart didn't worry about failure, because he was fuelled by a quiet confidence and love of taking creative and financial risks. Word about Popstarz quickly spread and within weeks of its opening, queues snaked around the streets of N1.
Popstarz then moved on to the West End before finally finding its current home, the Scala at King's Cross. A hive of energy, it is a place where like-minded people meet, fall in love, hatch plans for new club nights, show off, and just have a damn good dance. It was no surprise when Hobart's empire quickly grew in the mid-1990s, with the opening of the club night Miss-Shapes and the Popstarz Bar.
Three years ago, Hobart took over a basement dive in Soho and transformed it into Ghetto, a venue which excels at welcoming a multi-faceted gay crowd. Encouraging of emerging talent and fresh ideas, Hobart always had time to hear out pitches and plans, and would promote those he thought were most innovative, sometimes to the detriment of profitability. His most recent venture was Trash Palace, an old Chinese restaurant on Wardour Street he turned into an attitude-free, yet stylish, Soho drinking spot.
Hobart's ability to chop, change, adapt and juggle different ventures and venues was made possible by his sheer dedication and love of the clubbing world he inhabited and helped create. He also employed an impeccably loyal long-standing team of staff - who were also friends - who shared his alternative clubland vision.
Popstarz may have been Hobart's most successful club in recent memory, but his copper-bottomed clubbing credentials spanned three decades, dozens of ventures and venues, and hundreds of thousands of adoring punters.
Born in 1964 in Peru, where his father was working at the time, at 16 Hobart left comprehensive school in Hemel Hempstead and, like so many gay youngsters with big dreams, moved to London. He took a trainee chef position at the Ritz, then left to do his A levels at Kingsway College in Westminster. By this time, Hobart's interests were more focused on the capital's thriving night-club scene than on making the perfect soufflé.
His taste for London's eccentric club life began with regular outings to the infamous Blitz, where he took inspiration from its host Steve Strange. It wasn't long before Hobart, dressed in New Romantic ruffles and leggings, with lashings of make-up, opened his own club, Fly Trap, in June 1983. But it was his second club, the glam-goth Kit Kat, which brought him success and notoriety.
Opened in February 1984, the Kit Kat was stung in a police drugs raid a year later, with Hobart, "the godfather of goth", arrested in drag. A photo of his arrest outside the club was splashed on the front page of The Sun. It was around this time that Hobart was lead singer for Red Lipstique, a punk band which had a minor cult hit with the dancefloor-filling single "Drac's Back". The Kit Kat survived until 1989, and Hobart then started the rock club Bedrock, alongside the dance clubs Fusion and Vision.
Hobart was known for his cheeky, geezer-style charm and warmth. He encouraged others to take inspiration from his clubs and go off to start other nights, even if they were in direct competition with his own. His great gift was for bringing people together, and it was at his nights that other alternative gay nights took seed. In 2003 he was named as one of the 20 most influential gay people in Britain.
Commanding respect and admiration, Simon Hobart would cross the Popstarz dancefloor on his way to the DJ booth, offering casual greetings to his flock in his trademark husky rasp. A great lover of fashion and jewellery, he was edgy in his look but never his attitude. He was a private man and, although he spent most of his adult life in smoky and boozy night-clubs, managed to stay fit and healthy. Simon notoriously looked younger than his years, although jealous rumour had it that he shaved a few years off his official age.
Simon Hobart's family have announced that his clubs will stay open, "run in the manner and style that Simon wanted". All profits in future will be donated to Macmillan Cancer Relief, a charity Hobart strongly supported following the death of his mother from cancer four years ago.
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