After all the anecdotes about the late Lady Thatcher this week, allow me to recount one more from Steve Coogan. At the premiere of The Look of Love, the biopic of Paul Raymond porn baron and “the King of Soho” in which Coogan stars, he told of the relationship between the Raymond and Thatcher.
“She was a fan of his as an entrepreneur,” he said. “I think she wanted to invite him to Downing Street for a business dinner, but it was vetoed by Michael Howard, who felt he was a moral degenerate.”
Moral degenerate or not, Raymond became, after making a fortune from nightclubs, pornography and buying up swathes of central London real estate, Britain's richest individual and a celebrity figure. Having inhabited him for the film, Coogan describes Raymond's way of life as “very avaricious, consumptive, materialistic [and] indulgent.”
Which is, as it happens, how many view not only Thatcher’s boom period of the 1980s, but our own society (if there is such a thing...) today. Just as Thatcher changed the country enormously during her time in office, Raymond in his own small (but brash) way left an indelible mark on the London nightlife scene. If you have ever been out in Soho, it’s likely you have been in a building owned by his estate. And today even the most risqué of mainstream nightclubs don’t push the boundaries much further than he did.
The film itself – dubbed “a labour of lust” on the night – is gently risqué but focuses more on those age-old imbalances: that sex doesn’t equal love, just like wealth doesn’t mean happiness (although looking for all four is understandable).
Part of Raymond’s image and notoriety came from his pushing cultural boundaries, and part from simply pushing at the right time. His legacy is due to be explored further with another film in the pipeline - The King of Soho, backed by his son Howard.
Although when Raymond died in 2008, part of an era died with him, when we look at people's current relationship to things such as pornography, celebrity and property – and how in the portrayal of the media, all three are a route to money and success – he’s a character and it's an epoch perhaps worth re-examining.