Only the most well-connected clubbers make the treacherous journey from pavement to dance-floor unobstructed. Veteran celebrity and DJ Boy George found himself "escorted" from the Ministry of Sound last week after a contretemps with the bouncers. Flashing his VIP pass and knowing the doorman on first-name terms couldn't help him. In club heaven, the guest list is gospel and bouncers are God.
Even if you've bought the Britannia yacht, discussed drugs with Brian Harvey and are up for chief witness at Patsy and Liam's wedding, you don't know the meaning of kudos until you've swanned passed a queue of cold, bored people and breezed into the coolest nightclubs in town.
But who are these blessed people who flash a smile or a VIP pass? Well, it's bad news for blaggers. They're either people in the industry, such as DJs and promoters, the right sort of celebrity, reviewers, or "professional clubbers" who've made it their business to know all the right people on all the right doors. And you can bet that they've got a fool-proof plan before they get there.
"I always phone up and make sure I'm on the guest list, have the name of the manager or PR on the door and have my press pass at the ready," says 26-year-old Alister Morgan, The Independent's club reviewer. "Last time I paid to get into a club was some time in 1994 when I started writing for college magazines. In the beginning I had to fax over a request on headed paper, but now I must sound more professional because they put me on the guest list straight away. The only time I really had a problem was on New Year's Eve at the Ministry of Sound two years ago," he continues. "My name wasn't on the guest list, but luckily Jamie Palumbo (the owner) remembered me so they let me in."
A lot of the clubbing industry is based on the "you-scratch-my back-I'll- scratch-yours" principle, and those in the business swap sweeping entrances on a regular basis. James Lohan, 26, is a promoter and DJ at club night Come Dancing. "I stopped paying to get in four years ago when I became a promoter," he explains. "I started DJ-ing as well, and before you know it there's always someone you know who can get you into most of the clubs. As a DJ playing at Fun in Birmingham a year ago, I took a limousine up with eight friends, we parked right outside and they whizzed us through like royalty. It was quite funny, and we were definitely stars for the moment. Once you become a face about town, people let you in because they want to swan into your club."
Communications student Cat MacLeod is 24 and came to London from New York in 1993. "Whenever I go to a new club in London, the promoters or DJs always come up to me when they see me dance and ask me back next week. From then on, I never pay, and I never, ever queue. I always walk straight to the front and get in and I've done this in New York, Japan, Canada, wherever I am. Often punters ask me what club I'll be in next and follow me around. If the music's good I'll go to a club from opening time until the end of the night. Dancing is my passion."
But it's not just the movers and shakers that by-pass the waiting list. It's a clubbing tradition that models jump the queue because they make the place look good. "I've only paid to get into a nightclub once in my entire life," says 18-year-old model, Ami Chorlton who's a regular at Browns. "Most of the drinks are free as well. It's good for the clubs to have models in there, it's good publicity. I go clubbing twice a month, the bouncers recognise me and I go straight through."
Katy Griffiths, 19, unemployed, and Jo Warder, 20, a drama student, wouldn't go to West End night clubs if you paid them. "We go to squat raves where they play hard techno, gabba (250bpm techno) and breakcore," they nod in agreement. "If we carry some equipment into the raves, we don't have to pay to get in. There's such an elite minority of people that everyone knows everyone else and the parties are all word of mouth."
The average London clubber spends over pounds 750 a year on entrance fees, and blagging into nightclubs should be a recognised British sport. So it's no surprise that they make a promoter's life hell.
"There are four ways of getting into this club and there's a real hierarchy about who gets in where," says Aurora Carmena, promoter of Fresh 'N' Funky at The Hanover Grand on Wednesdays. "The people who jump the queues are regular clubbers we know, celebrities, DJs and friends".
Aurora is in charge of an 11-page guest list, compiled pain-stakingly from DJs, her fellow promoters and bar staff requests. "Fresh 'N' funky has been going for six years, and we very, very rarely let anyone in who says they should be on the guest list and aren't. They have a choice, they either queue and pay or just leave," she says firmly. "The most common blagging excuse is 'my friends are inside, my girlfriend's inside, my flatmate's in there with my door keys'. We're very hard on blaggers."
But there is hope. People who look good and get on the dance floor regularly for a couple of years can work their way up to a grand entrance. "It's a gradual process," says Aurora. "And it's the unassuming people who get the top treatment, not those who think they deserve it." I wonder if Boy George knows that.
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