Interview: I'd love to be Stephen Hawking: From his four-in-a-bed childhood to dancing girls every night, Peter Stringfellow knows all about how to turn fantasy into reality

Angela Lambert
Monday 22 August 1994 23:02

Peter Stringfellow is about to trademark Angels: the word and the concept. By Angels he means beautiful, shapely, very young women wearing only a garter and a G-string, who will dance for (but not with) any man who slips pounds 10 into the garter. They are trained to hold eye-contact with their benefactor, so it often takes two or even three dances before the man can tear his eyes away and allow them to travel lower. When all's said and done, you don't pay pounds 10 to gaze into an Angel's eyes.

These earthly delights will shortly be on offer at his new club in London, to be called The Cabaret of the Angels, which opens in the West End early next year. He describes the idea without a trace of mockery as 'Disneyland for adult males: and just as safe'.

As we leave the restaurant where he has given me lunch, he picks out the types whom he expects to patronise his new club. A silver-haired man with a woman who could be his granddaughter? 'No, not him, though you might think so: but him' - a well- dressed man in his forties - 'and those three - but not them' (indicating four rowdy twentysomethings). By the time we have threaded our way through the restaurant, I've got the general drift. Middle-aged, middle-class men with lavish expense accounts would just about sum it up.

Peter Stringfellow is 53. He's been opening and closing nightclubs for 30 years. He started in 1962 in his native Sheffield, where he renamed a church hall the Black Cat Club, hired local groups, and earned as much in one night as his day job as a travelling salesman netted in a week. By the plummeting end of the Eighties he owned the Hippodrome in Leicester Square, three Stringfellows in America, one in London, and was close to bankruptcy. The sale of the Hippodrome for pounds 7m in 1989 saved him in the nick of time.

He's now on the way back up, with the help of the Angels. He plans to open more Angel clubs and to franchise Angel lingerie, Angel nightwear, Angel shoes.

The idea of a club whose main attraction is near-naked young women whom you mustn't touch, can't date, can't even dance with, is not, he admits, his own. He first came across topless, look-but- don't-touch hostesses at a nightclub in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, in 1990. 'I'm up against the bar going (he covers his eyes) wow man, I'm going Ohmigawd . . . Afterwards I thought: I walked in expecting to spend dollars 200 and walked out having spent dollars 500.'

It was a night-club owner's QED. Peter Stringfellow imported the idea to his New York club and from that moment, as far as he was concerned, the recession was over. Within four years he had made enough money to finance his new club in London, with the hostesses renamed Angels.

He has me marked down as a feminist. This doesn't stop him being immensely gallant, gazing into my eyes (his are brown, crinkly at the edges), insisting on paying for our lunch, touching my hand, holding my arm, steering me deftly along pavements and through doors as though I had tiny bound feet. All the same, he expects to be attacked, and launches a pre-emptive strike.

'You think it's a strip club . . . mmnneh, yes, but no, not really. We never use the words topless or stripper: we call them showgirls, entertainers or dancers. I'm up against the (with a mock shudder and a vestigial swaying motion he thumps out crude strip-music rhythm) da-da-da-da-dah. There'll be none of that.

'Salacious and seductive are two different universes, and salacious is against the rules. The girls don't just have to take their clothes off. They've got to have personalities.'

In practice this means they will ask the men questions and look interested in their replies. They must also know how to break off the conversation tactfully (since they don't get tenners for talking, only for dancing). I've often wondered how you silence a drunken businessman so I ask how the Angels are supposed to do it. 'The girl suggests that perhaps he might like her to take her dress off and do another dance.' Yes, that would probably do the trick.

Are women welcome? Of course. But unless they are very confident or curvaceous they might not feel too comfortable.

Here follows a short, smiling lecture on the difference between male and female sexuality. 'There's great enjoyment for a man in just looking at a woman's body in an intimate environment.'

'Like girlie magazines, or porn movies, or even virtual reality images?' I ask. No. Wrong.

'Eye-contact is very sexual for a man. And he can feel the heat from the woman's body and she can be as delightful as she wishes without giving the wrong signals. The male psych (sic) is different. What we're doing here is giving the man a fantasy where nobody looks at him disapprovingly, he's not going to get into trouble; he can look and still be a gentleman. And it's a wonderful environment for men to do business in.'

'But,' I object, 'suppose your girlfriend were to go to a club filled with gorgeous young men. She can't date them or get their phone numbers, so you're quite safe. OK?' He's heard this before.


'She sits around with them all evening and they just talk. But they're brilliant - really witty and original; thoughtful, fascinating. Then she comes home to you, and asks why you don't make her laugh like that. How would you feel?'

Mr Stringfellow is very fair. This wasn't the analogy he expected, and he gives it some thought before acknowledging that, no, he wouldn't be too happy. 'I can't lie to you. I couldn't handle that. But men are always under threat to their power, their ego, their position in society.'

Now I trot out the objection he was poised to deal with - the one about what it is like for the wives waiting at home, their bodies aged by marriage and childbearing; how must they feel about the comparison with Angels? He says, ah, but if the wife's clever she'll make a sexual fantasy out of what he's seen and it'll be a turn-on for both of them. OK? Now then, how about some coffee back at his flat?

Mr Stringfellow lives with his girlfriend, 23-year-old Christine, in a rented flat a few yards from his present club. Christine stops by for a brief hello. She is wearing a sweater made apparently of knitted porridge. Despite this she looks like Kate Moss, with the same glossy, youthful skin and pert little features, but a rather more inflated figure.

Mr Stringfellow has a genius for malapropisms. He recalls his first mother-in-law warning her 16- year-old daughter against marrying him, back in 1959. 'She must have been prolific.' Now he says, two wives later, 'I'm perfectly happy at 53 and a lot of mental pressures have left me. I was an angry young man on the way up; now I have eretheal (sic) moments of happiness'.

When I ask if spending his life in night-clubs drinking champagne with adolescent girls isn't perhaps a case of arrested development, he preens himself and says: 'I'm just lucky - it must be in the genes or something, but I've kept my figure and never lost my hair.' It's either a very nifty side- step, or he has misunderstood me. A reverse malapropism.

Peter Stringfellow sports two little beaded braids in his shoulder-length hair and clear varnish on his manicured fingernails. 'I'm showing people how to be 50, and in another 10 years I'll show them how to be 60 and then how to be 70 and if anybody thinks I'm going to give up on my sexuality they've got another think coming. I don't play golf or football, I just run my night- clubs. I like talking to people, I like the stage, the microphone, being interviewed; I like to show myself off, wear good clothes.'

He is what every night-club needs: a glitzy, larger-than-life character whose energy and flirtatiousness give an evening atmosphere and make for outrageous stories next day. Champagne, wine, vodka - you name it, Mr Stringfellow pours it down. Everything except drugs. He's never touched drugs, or cigarettes. 'I like the sexual experience of being among people who are enjoying themselves. But nothing has given me greater enjoyment than sex.'

I suggest that older men may find it a relief no longer to be driven by their incorrigible sexuality? Surprisingly, he agrees.

'Sure] Let's face it, only after a climax, for a few seconds, minutes perhaps, is a man free of all sexual thoughts. Many times I've lain back and just enjoyed that - until the old chemical comes surging back into my brain.' He does the I-can't-help-it, I'm-just-a- naughty-boy routine. 'I like ladies; their bodies, their eyes, their hair - everything about them. And I hope I don't ever stop.'

As a result of this liking, Mr Stringfellow has had two wives (but only two children, one of whom last year made him a grandfather), at least three resident girlfriends, and claims to have made love to more than 2,000 women. It is obviously a dream come true for the kid from Sheffield who slept four-to-a-bed with his brothers, failed his 11-plus and didn't lose his virginity until he was 18. But that was in the late Fifties; pre-teenage liberation, pre- Pill, a whole different world.

'Owning one of the best night- clubs in the world suits me fine because the immaturity in my environment has worked in my favour. I do a whole lot of laughing and enjoying myself. I have very few real friends but an awful lot of acquaintances. I can read about anyone who sounds interesting, invite him to the club, and he'll come. I live the life of a perpetual Jack Nicholson on the loose in the West End. People look at me and they think: there he goes again, flash old sod]'

I say, if you weren't who you are, who would you like to be?

'Stephen Hawking,' says Stringfellow unexpectedly. 'I'd love to be incredibly intellectual - yet (referring to Hawking's divorce and second marriage to his nurse when already at an advanced stage of motor neurone disease) he's a man who lives within his brain and still manages to feel the overwhelming power of sex. Isn't he the answer to people who attack the sexual side of our human-ness? They're all charging at windmills, you know. It's there.'

Has he invited Hawking to his club? He looks at me, apparently awed by this idea. 'Do you think he'd come? Well, then I will.'

(Photograph omitted)

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