Dave West: Businessman who became a trailblazer in the booze-cruise market then expanded into PR and lap-dancing clubs

After a spell in the Merchant Navy he began his business career as a market trader, selling vegetables and flowers

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The Independent Online

Dave West was the colourful businessman and owner of the HeyJo nightclub and Abracadabra restaurant in Jermyn Street in London's St James's. He had made his fortune from selling cheap beer and wine to booze-cruisers and British holidaymakers returning from France.

West was born in 1944 in Romford, Essex. After a spell in the Merchant Navy he began his business career as a market trader, selling vegetables and flowers. "I started off in Romford Market", he recalled. "I was born into a family that had been market traders for 400 years. If I ended up with £100 at the end of the week I'd done extremely well."

On returning from a holiday to France in the early 1980s he noticed how many of his fellow-travellers were stocking up on French wines and spirits on their way back. He and his wife Kathy acquired a caravan, parked it next to the channel port of Calais and sold cases from pallets. The caravan became a lorry, which in turn became a double-decker bus. He was soon able to open a large warehouse, EastEnders, near the motorway exit into the port. He said in a 1994 interview, "Calais is Europe's beer and wine centre in the same way as Amsterdam is for drugs and sex and Paris for romance."

Selling in pounds and manned by British staff who hardly spoke the local language, EastEnders and duty-frees like it remained popular until poor exchange rates and cheaper alcohol in British supermarkets dampened the party. But despite the downturn, by 2008 the company was turning over £100 million per annum from superstores in France and Belgium, making it the largest British-owned cash-and-carry in Europe. "Maggie told people to get on their bikes," he said. "Well, I got on my bike that had paddles and came across the water..."

One his favourite products on sale was The Dog's Bollocks, a red wine blend he had commissioned, named after the cockney slang for something rather special... The wine critic Peter F May described it as an "unpretentious quaffer" which "has a good, deep, garnet, fruity flavours, a hint of sweetness, and would go well with a cockney meat pie."

In 2002 he was back in England, and three years later he opened the nightclub Hey Jo, named after his former girlfriend, Joanna Dudzik. The project to create the club became the subject of Trouble at the Top, a reality television programme which followed the trials and tribulations leading up to the successful opening. "All my life I've dreamed of building a folly," he said, "It's just all going to fall into place now. All the hard work, all the sweat and all the tears... And hopefully the tills will be ringing my favourite tune."

Soon after, he acquired a manorial title on an internet auction site, becoming "Lord Dave West of the Manor of Hollesley". Also opened that year was his new 150-seat Russian-themed restaurant, Abracadabra, so named he said because "it had a magical feel to the place".

In June 2007 he hired Cherie Blair of Matrix Chambers in an attempt to challenge the smoking ban instituted by the government of her husband, Tony Blair, which was due to come into force the following month. "The only way for patrons to smoke after July 1 is by going out on the pavement and that could land me in trouble with the police if it creates noise or disturbance," he said, "I want to eyeball the authorities and am calling on other nightclubs to join me in the challenge." When the ban came into force the self-declared libertarian and nonconformist at first flouted the law, but did not succeed in overturning the new rules.

The following year he paid £100,000 for two tickets to David and Victoria Beckham's World Cup party, won through an online auction. But the Beckhams tried to prevent him from wearing his trademark brightly-coloured suits or from bringing a camera or business cards. He told this newspaper at the time, "The confidentiality agreement would mean that, had I signed it, I couldn't talk about the party even to my friends". Faced with such strictures he decided not to attend. He maintained business interests in other projects, including the nightclub Pigalle, a public relations firm, Forbidden London, and a lapdancing club, Puss in Boots.

He was found at a property in Ormond Yard, behind his home in Jermyn Street, with a single knife wound. The broadcaster, Stephen Fry, who lives nearby, said, "I was at home on Friday night when I heard these horrifying screams and wondered what was going on... I looked out of the window and saw Dave's body taken out of his home and placed on the road. The emergency services were desperately trying to revive him but were unfortunately unable to do so." His son, Dave West, has been arrested and charged with murder.

"I can't believe it. They were very close. Dave lived with his dad all his life, apart from when he was married. It's his other son, James, I feel for now. He is in bits."

David West: businessman: born Romford, Essex 1944; married Kathy (divorced 1999; one daughter, two sons); died London 12 December 2014.

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