Lincoln Townley & David Sullivan: 'We share an admiration for beautiful women and an understanding of the sexy world of clubs'

The acclaimed artist met the joint-chairman of West Ham United FC seven years ago at Stringfellows

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The Independent Online

David Sullivan, 66

One of Britain's richest men, Sullivan began his career by publishing adult magazines and producing adult films before moving into property and football. He was joint-chairman of Birmingham City FC until 2009, before becoming joint-chairman of West Ham United FC. He lives in Essex with his girlfriend

Lincoln has done things with his life that most people can only dream about – and those experiences make him a good writer and a good painter. I met him about seven years ago at Stringfellows [where Townley was working]. He was a placid, intelligent fellow and we had a rapport. But he eventually left and I didn't see him again for quite a while.

Several years later, I read his book, The Hunger. It's a dark and politically incorrect memoir which deals with his battle to control his alcohol and drug consumption while running Soho clubs – and it also deals with how he's treated women badly. It represents what goes on in that world – he was refreshingly honest about it. I wrote to his publisher and we got back in touch.

He came to see me at my house with some of his art, and it fascinated me. He showed me a series of weird pictures that he'd done – some of his early stuff – and there was a beauty to it. I bought a few pictures from him, from his [abstract] "Soho" series, and after that we had quite a few nights out together.

I really like the dark side you can see in Lincoln's paintings. He's done a lot of abstract stuff, but I felt his approach lacked focus and direction. I suggested that as he got on well with celebrities he should paint them, which led to the series that he's doing now [which has included portraits of Al Pacino, Russell Brand and Gary Oldman]. I get great pleasure in mentoring people and helping them on their way – and I think Lincoln will ultimately become an iconic portrait painter; all he has to do is die quickly, and he'll be rich!

We share an admiration for beautiful women. We've gone a few times to [gentlemen's club] Platinum Lace, where we sit in the corner, enjoy the environment and watch the world go by – it's a bit like being Toulouse-Lautrec [a regular of Parisian nightclub Le Moulin Rouge]. We share an understanding of this sexy world that's lived in clubs, which fascinates both of us.

I never speak to him about football as he's not really a football person. But the industry where I started was the sex industry – and as I get older I have a greater nostalgia for the past, and the times I spent in Soho. Lincoln's work captures that.

Lincoln Townley, 43

A former head of marketing and publicity at gentlemen's club Stringfellows in London's Soho, Townley wrote about his experiences with addiction in his memoir 'The Hunger' (2014) and has since become an acclaimed artist. His latest work consists of portraits of Hollywood actors. He lives in London with his wife, the former 'Coronation Street' actress Denise Welch

I've always had a fascination with the darker side of things, and I recall many years ago seeing David in a picture in one of his own [adult] magazines, sitting on a leopard-print chair, like a throne. He was introduced to me by Peter Stringfellow around 2007. David would frequent the club quite a lot and I used to seat him and his friend. He's not the biggest man, but he had a powerful aura about him and I liked him. When I left the club a few years later we lost contact.

Eventually, I left Soho entirely. I was a drinker and a user and I wanted to clean up and get away from the abyss of it all. I wrote my memoir as a cathartic exercise, while I got back into painting, and at one point David happened to read my book, and he got in touch through the publisher. He said, "I hear you're doing painting now?"

He came to one of my early shows at The Riflemaker Gallery and he purchased one of my paintings – the number one of the "Soho" collection. He must have liked it, as afterwards he said, "I'm interested in the number one of any of the next series of collections that you produce." He likes the grittiness of my work – a lot is about men's desires and he sees that I bring a lot of Soho into it. He's played a big part in driving my creativity into a commercial side; it's like I've got my own Dragon's Den.

He's perfect for me to be out with, too, as he doesn't drink. He's the only one who allows me to take the addict out of myself: we'll go to The Arts Club and then on to somewhere else for a couple of hours. At first, a lot of our chats started with the times when I was in Soho. Now we talk about life and the universe.

One Friday night he picked me up in his red Rolls-Royce and we headed for The Arts Club for dinner and got caught by the paparazzi outside – it made us chuckle as all we had there was a bottle of sparkling water and a steak: not quite the drunken rebel label I'd worn for so many years.

I went round to his house recently and he was on the phone. It was football transfer time and he was having all these talks about players. I've got no clue what he was talking about. He's always saying, "You've got to come to the stadium," but it doesn't interest me.

His house is like an Aladdin's cave of bling, with lots of gold and crazy statues of butlers: it's an ostentatious palace that fits very well with his personality. The last time I was there he said, "We should have a game of bowling!" He's got a four-lane bowling alley there. And the red Rolls outside says it all.

The more I get to know him, I discover we have a lot in common: he likes my drive, I think, while he has the ambition of a 25-year-old. More than anything, now, I like how he's less interested in the darker side of my life and more about where I'm going.

For more on Lincoln Townley's work, visit lincolntownley.com

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