A night at the round table

Now in its 25th year, Peter Stringfellow's famous nightclub is so respectable that even the Iron Lady comes calling. I'm no prude, says Deborah Ross, but a night with the Tories' most loyal lothario was enough to put me off my crème brûlée
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Stringfellows, the famed nightclub, is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary and I'm asked to go along to see what the fuss has been about all these years. "Oh great, bring it on," I don't say. Instead, it is more of a pathetic: "Must I?" Yes, I'm told, I must.

Stringfellows, the famed nightclub, is about to celebrate its 25th anniversary and I'm asked to go along to see what the fuss has been about all these years. "Oh great, bring it on," I don't say. Instead, it is more of a pathetic: "Must I?" Yes, I'm told, I must.

I beg my friend Lisa, a highly rated editor of academic books, to accompany me, because I do not think I can face it alone. She is not particularly keen but I soon find a little gentle persuasion of the kind that involves crying a lot and threatening to burn her house down finally brings her round.

We are extremely anxious about the Saturday night ahead. What should we wear? What if we need to get our reading glasses out? Can't we somehow, anyhow, make ourselves more youthful, more glamorous, more footballer wife-ish? Lisa thinks she might call herself "Shandy". What about me? I ask. "You can be Brandy," she says generously, considering I also threatened to stab her with nail scissors if she didn't come.

We arrive at the club which is a moment's walk from the Upper St Martin's Lane corner nearest the Coliseum. Although we are to meet Peter Stringfellow and his fiancée for dinner, the bouncers seem reluctant to let us in, as if we are somehow improbable, which is absurd.

I've even bought a new, black jersey dress which is so clingy it shows all my fat bits off nicely which, as is widely known, is very sexy on a middle-aged woman who is also wearing M&S "hold in" tights which aren't holding a lot in but do come with one of those most attractive, mammoth gussets. Eventually, the bouncers, while not appearing any more convinced, do agree to shift aside and in we go.

The décor in Stringfellows is, I guess, what happens when baroque meets brothel: vast chandeliers; red velvet chairs; inky black drapes; lots of gold beady things. The long-legged topless girls with that peculiar dead look behind the eyes are already at it, slithering around their poles. What do you think about, when you do that, I ask one of the girls later. "Money," she says.

Peter is already at the table, his table, the table where "I've spent half my life". His table is big and round and Peter sits on his leopard-skin throne like a faintly ruined King Arthur but with capped teeth and a silver mullet. Peter is heavily scented. I don't think he's ever understood the "less is more" philosophy, or particularly wanted to. He clanks with gold jewellery.

His fiancée is Bella, a philosopher and animal rights activist whom he loves for her mind. OK, maybe not. She's a 22-year-old former ballet dancer who used to be one of the lap dancers here. She is extremely pretty, in her pink, fairy-like, frothy dress and diamonds. Peter was her first. I know because he says so. "I was Bella's first, which was nice."

Peter is 64 but still a goer. "How many times a day do you have sex?" he asks me. A day? Well, if I work it out as an average, maybe a ninetieth of one time? "I have sex between one and three times a day and sometimes four, and I'm not exaggerating," he says.

I was only teasing, I say. I sometimes have it 17 times a day and I'm not exaggerating either. As for Shandy, she's at it all the time, aren't you, Shandy? "No," she says. "I am not." I feel a bit let down by Shandy here.

Peter asks if we would like champagne. "Must I?," I don't say. Instead, it is: "Great. Bring it on." The champagne keeps coming and coming and coming. We eventually build up to a Krug '88 which I can easily identify because I'm sophisticated and worldly. It's not because Peter keeps saying: "It's a Krug '88. Do you like it, this Krug '88?."

I think that if you had to explain why Stringfellows has been a success all these years, it might be because its owner is the club: that is, is all money and sex, with no daylight between the two. It's not that he believes in what he does. He is it.

On to dinner. The food is surprisingly good, though I can't say exactly what I had as I didn't want to get my reading glasses out for the menu, so I just pointed at a blurry item. It turned out to be a wonderful, huge stuffed fish. I eat till my mammoth gusset is fit to bust.

I'd assumed, for some reason, that Stringfellows would be some kind of chav heaven with the odd middle-aged creep thrown in but the punters are rather posh. There's a group of Welsh Guards on one table. There's a group of former Eton schoolboys celebrating a 21st at the table next to us. Perhaps this is sort of thing that appeals to men from all-male environments who think of women as idealised, fantastical, purely sexual objects, which not all of us are, present company excepted, because I am perfect and never even fart.

Peter orders girls to dance for the Eton boys, as a birthday gift. It costs £20 a dance, which you pay for with the fake Stringfellows' "Heavenly Money" you buy on your credit card. The girls put it in their garters or stocking tops. They do full nudity, revealing their little shaved fannies. A shaved fanny, I now know, looks like a bike park for a teeny tiny bike. I am, at one point, all but surrounded by swaying shaved fannies, which would have been enough to put me off my crème brule if I didn't feel I owned it to my fat bits to plough on.

I do wonder what the men get out of it. You're not allowed to touch, so presumably it's like having a chocolate éclair waved in front of your face on the understanding that you not only won't eat it, but won't even take the smallest nibble. You're only allowed to dribble. Um... Peter? "Yes." What do the men do about their ... ahem ... hard-ons? "They're all gentleman," he says. "That explains it," I say.

I later ask one of the girls the same question. "Sometimes," she says, "they even come. They go 'oh' and then you see the wet patch." How unpleasant, I say. I couldn't be doing with that. She says she's not bothered, "as long as they pay".

We're on to coffee and chocs now, then Peter clicks his fingers and the guy strippers come over. No, Peter, no! "Yes," says Peter, "Yes!" I get the fireman. Shandy gets the marine. My fireman is called Simon. He has an amazing body. He strips to his thong and smacks his tight buttocks a lot. I'm not a prude. I'm fine about undressing on a beach, as long as I have a towel around me, and a quartet of windbreakers, but Jesus. I just do not know where to look. I wish I was at home, maybe even watching Parkinson.

As for Shandy, her discomfort has made her come over all conversational and motherly. "So," she asks. "are you eating all right? You're looking after yourself, then?" Peter pays them with the great wodge of cash he keeps on the table.

Peter, the son of a Sheffield steelworker who made the end bits for shovels, is mad for the Tories. He is even hosting a Tory fund-raising event. Mrs Thatcher is coming. He is passionate about Mrs Thatcher. I think that if he could get a lap dance out of Mrs Thatcher, Peter Stringfellow would be a very, very happy man. Peter thinks he will only have sex twice tomorrow, what with all he has to do.

We drink more champagne. Peter gets surprisingly sozzled. How do you know, I ask, when you are in love? "When you see an arse like this," he says, grabbing a handful of Bella's behind, or what would be a handful, if there was a handful to be had, and she weren't so tiny. Shandy and I offer to be bridesmaids at their wedding. They are still sober enough to say they're in no "rush" to get married, which is a little hurtful.

I don't think Stringfellows is a bad place, necessarily. Apparently, the girls are treated better here than anywhere else and can earn £1,000 to £2,000 a night. Everyone seems to be having a good time. Still, you know that if money were taken out of the equation, no one would be quite as friendly anymore. I am minded of the old Yiddish proverb that goes: "With money in your pocket, you are wise and you are handsome and you sing well too."

Shandy and I leave at around 2.30am, which seems an excellent time, as Bella is on Peter's knee and it looks like it's almost certainly going to be throats and tongues next. We hail a taxi and, strangely, appear to have no trouble stating our destination. "Home, please," we chorus, "and don't spare the horses."