The greatest conversion since St Paul! How King of Sleaze Peter Stringfellow ended his days as a devoted family man
- Stringfellow was known as Stringy, ‘King of Clubs’ and the lap-dancing supremo
- He partied with Jack Nicholson, Warhol, Princess Diana and Stephen Hawking
- By his own estimate he slept with more than 2,000 women during his 77 years
Peter Stringfellow, aka, Stringy, ‘King of Clubs’, lap-dancing supremo, gold lamé enthusiast and possessor of one of the worst mullets in the history of hair, has died, aged 77, leaving four children aged between three and 55, and a beautiful 35-year-old widow, Bella, who loved him with all her heart.
During an epic career he made (and lost and made again) tens of millions of pounds, and welcomed rock stars, film stars, politicians and sportsmen at his chain of ‘Gentlemen’s’ clubs in the UK and U.S.
He partied with everyone from Jack Nicholson to Andy Warhol and Princess Diana to Stephen Hawking (yes, really).
The ultimate showman: Peter with Bella and their children in 2015
And, of course, he was obsessed with sex. By his own estimate he slept with more than 2,000 women. Sometimes, he would have sex with just one woman, perhaps in his lavish apartment which had a copy of Botticelli’s Venus on the ceiling, or they’d splish-splash about in his vast, gold Jacuzzi.
More often he ‘entertained’ them in groups of two and three.
Goodness knows where he got the energy. But on a diet of vodka with just a splash of tonic, ever-flowing Krug champagne and a regular bedtime of 5.30am, he managed to keep up the pace.
He didn’t smoke or take drugs, and he was never ashamed of showing off his teeny white buttocks in his favourite lime green G-string as he strolled hand in hand along Barbados beaches with a parade of nubile young girls barely out of school.
No wonder then, that in 2000 when Stringfellow started ‘dating’ Bella — then a 19-year-old professional ballet dancer whose real name was Elaine — her father blew his top. He wouldn’t speak to his daughter’s new ‘boyfriend’ for at least a year.
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The romance started when Bella — Peter called her that because she is half Italian — popped into Stringfellows with some friends after a performance.
She was lovely, talented and, most of all, in his eyes she was ‘pure’. From his vast gold and leopard-skin throne in the Covent Garden club, Peter spotted her in an instant, sent over vintage champagne and spent the next three months trying — and eventually succeeding — to woo her into his bed.
A 41-year age gap was never going to worry a man like Stringfellow — he’d been dating progressively younger women as the years wore on, deaf to those who dismissed him as a sleazy old man.
But everyone else wondered what the beautiful teenager saw in an ageing playboy with a terrible fashion sense and a reputation that would scare off even Miss Whiplash.
‘It was his charm,’ she once said. ‘He was so charming, so gentle, and loving. He’s a really special man.
Peter Stringfellow and guests attend Peter Stringfellow’s 65th birthday party at his club, Stringfellows in London
‘He’s kind to everyone he meets. He’s not what you read in the Press. He’s very gentlemanly and hates crudeness and swearing.’
Indeed, for all his lewd public image and autocratic management style, in the surprisingly well-toned flesh, Stringfellow could be an absolute delight.
Charming, twinkly and youthful (thanks to an extremely good facelift, a penchant for £150-per-pot La Prairie moisturiser and manicures), he was also rather prone to inconsistencies.
For starters, as well as his distaste for crudity and swearing, particularly by women, he loathed porn (‘quite disgusting’), the institution of Page 3 and excessive ladette behaviour. ‘All this drinking and sleeping around. Girls don’t want to do that, do they?’ he once said.
Despite the millions he made from women sharing their naked bodies with onlookers, and the thousands of naked bodies he enjoyed himself, he remained surprisingly prudish, claiming to have a ‘Cliff Richard mentality’ (though presumably without the religion).
‘The world has gone sex mad!’ he once complained. ‘I don’t want to open my paper and see girls with their boobs out! I am shocked by it!’ Hypocrisy? Taking the mick? Quite possibly.
But his senior staff, the dancers he employed and his wide group of friends loved him and raved about his loyalty, kindness and generosity.
Peter Stringfellow poses with his and girlfriend in 1996
As a staunch Tory, that group included the late Baroness Thatcher, David Cameron, George Osborne and Jeffrey and Mary Archer who lived in the flat above him in Westminster.
He was on good terms with his two ex-wives and remained pals with his endless girlfriends, all of whom he had met in the club and most of whom returned to their jobs as dancers when their ‘special time’ with him was up.
Peter Stringfellow was clever, too — with a pile of highbrow books by his bed that he actually read — and cultured. He loved the ballet, was fascinated by ancient civilisations, obsessed with politics and adored science.
When the late Stephen Hawking visited his club, Stringfellow famously tried to engage him in an intellectual discussion about cosmic string theory (of course), only to be batted away by Hawking’s: ‘No, I’m here for the girls! The girls!’
But most of all, Stringfellow was driven.
‘He was like a man possessed,’ says Roger Howe, one of his managers who had known him for 50 years. ‘Very focused, very motivated, very meticulous and very driven by getting more, getting away from his very poor background.’
Peter Stringfellow was born in Sheffield on October 17, 1940, the eldest of four brothers. His father was a steelworker, but money was tight and they didn’t have a proper bathroom — something Peter admitted he later compensated for by filling every bathroom he owned with gold-plated baths, TVs and champagne on ice.
His parents were deeply prudish. He never saw his father naked and sex was never discussed. Even when his mother was hugely pregnant with one of his brothers, she never let on she was carrying a baby inside, let alone how it had got there.
A predominantly male household and an all-boys school meant that for the young Stringfellow, girls were a mystery — exotic creatures, that he put on pedestals.
He left school at 15 after an unimpressive scholastic career (he was dyslexic but good at maths). Next came a two-month stint in the Merchant Navy (which he hated), a job in a bakery (where he met a girl called Norma, married her and almost immediately started sleeping with her cousin), followed by a job as a door-to-door salesman and eight weeks in prison for stealing carpets.
On his release, he had sex with his pregnant wife in the back of a car while his dad sat in the front, eyes firmly on the road.
His next foray was into rock’n’roll. He held his first hop in a church hall renamed the Black Cat Club in Sheffield in 1962.
And it was as he stood on stage for the first time, spotlight on him, microphone in hand, that everything changed. Finally, he had found his calling and the girls came flocking. He made love to one of them in the back of his van that very first night. And every night after.
By the time his daughter, Karen, was born, his business — soon he was promoting The Beatles, The Kinks, the Rolling Stones and Fleetwood Mac — and sex life were taking off in tandem. Conveniently, he never considered it infidelity on the basis he wasn’t bothered about the conquests.
Until, that is, he met Coral who gave birth to their son, Scott, in January 1966. She became wife No. 2 in August 1966 and, immediately after the wedding ceremony, he left to DJ at a club in Nottingham, had sex with a woman from the crowd, before driving back to Sheffield to consummate the marriage.
And so it went on . . . conquest after conquest. He once said the secret to monogamy was lying.
Meanwhile, his empire was growing — clubs in Leeds, Manchester and eventually, after borrowing £1 million, Stringfellow’s in London in 1980.
It may be regarded as naff now, but at the time, Stringfellow’s was properly cool and packed with celebrities, including Marvyn Gaye, Rod Stewart and Eddie Murphy.
Everyone who was anyone went there, with Stringfellow lording it in the middle on his gold throne — the best connected man in London and, according to his staff and dancing ‘angels’, a delight to work for.
He ran a very tight ship, used to joke that his clubs were run ‘with more rules than Westminster’ (including a strict no-touching rule for his dancers). In 1996, he introduced lap-dancing to the UK and, in 2002, applied for a ‘full nudity’ licence from Westminster Council and got it.
He was Stringfellow’s and he adored working. But eventually, even he began to slow down.
In one interview he admitted he’d had to cut back a bit: ‘My appetite now can satisfy one lady and that’s enough,’ he said. ‘The effort in running two or three girls is just too much . . .’
It was at about this time that he met Bella. Her father’s reaction wasn’t helped by the unfortunate coincidence of how he found out about his daughter’s new love in the first place.
Bella was back at home one weekend when Peter, characteristically over-refreshed, slipped as he grabbed a bottle of Vina Sol from the fridge in his Majorcan villa and phoned her in distress. She told her parents she had to fly to Spain because her boyfriend had dislocated his shoulder.
Naturally, they were sympathetic and supportive — until an hour later when they were watching the news and Peter’s face popped up with the announcement he’d dislocated his shoulder in Majorca.
Bella’s dad turned grey. Who can blame him? But fast forward 18 years and, astonishingly, Bella and Peter were still together, married for nine years, utterly faithful and still so besotted they’d leave little love notes around the apartment for each other.
It’s a big decision to start a family in your 70s, when you already wear a hearing aid and know you’re unlikely to see your children grow up.
But particularly in Peter’s case because in 2009, just months after their Barbados wedding, he was diagnosed with lung cancer, and had most of a lung and a couple of ribs removed.
(Bella dressed up in a skimpy Agent Provocateur nurse’s outfit to remove his stitches and mop his brow.) They went ahead and in 2013 Rosabella was born. Angelo followed two years later. Peter was completely obsessed with his new family.
He did the school run. He changed nappies. He talked about his children constantly, photographed them, watched videos of them. He became a ‘new’ man. And, perhaps inevitably, he tried to rewrite history.
After years of going on (and on) about his epic sex life, he suddenly refused to discuss his hedonistic years, as though they’d never happened. ‘As far as I’m concerned, the past is the past. Gone,’ he’d say very firmly. ‘Other than my own family past and my success with the business, of course.’
Presumably he was trying to protect Bella, but she had her own explanation.
‘I think he just wasn’t with the right person [before]. I met him towards the end of his crazy lifestyle.’
After some years in remission, sadly, Stringfellow’s cancer returned last year. He was taken ill on the way home from a holiday in Italy last summer and rushed to hospital where he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.
It was clear to everyone around him that this was the beginning of the end, but for months he fought hard, refusing to give up on his young family, hoping he’d live long enough for his children to remember him and reminding Bella over and over that she must get on with her life and find love again.
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