In order to secure a table at Raffles nightclub on the King’s Road in Chelsea you have to spend at least £500. But to even get the opportunity to fork out the astonishing “minimum spend”, you need to know the right people.
Welcome to the exclusive nightclub scene in Chelsea, an area thriving like no time since the 1980s, where a well-heeled young crowd parties every night with celebrities, sports stars and royalty.
And while most of the country is cutting back, here money is being spent as if the good times never ended. While the 1980s-style debutante balls, dim men in bright trousers and equine young ladies still appearing in Tatler magazine clearly haven’t completely disappeared, things have moved on since the early days of the Sloane Ranger.
Today Chelsea is made up of a more varied mix of old and new money, both from the UK and from Europe. In the clubs and bars, the landed gentry and the British nouveau riche rub shoulders with impeccably turned-out Mediterraneans and Scandinavians, along with a new wave of oligarch offspring from the former Soviet Union.
And unlike the current set’s much-maligned loafer predecessors, there’s a new Chelsea breed dubbed the “Turbo Sloane”. They’re ambitious, driven and don’t expect to get where they want merely because they’re lucky enough to have wealthy parents.
Francesca Hull, who used to do PR for Raffles nightclub on the King’s Road, is one of them. Combining freelance work and journalism, she is one of the stars of a new reality series, Made in Chelsea, that lifts the lid on the party kids of London SW3.
It follows the lives of 12 late teens to early 20-somethings who live, work and party in one of the most exclusive postcodes in the UK. Aspirational for some, antipathetic to others, it follows hard on the heels of ITV2’s reality soap The Only Way Is Essex.
Francesca is determined not to be portrayed as a workshy party girl. Her family come from Salcombe in Devon, where her mother runs a boutique. She won a scholarship to St Mary’s boarding school in Wantage, Oxfordshire, and from there went on to study fashion promotion at the University for the Creative Arts at Farnham in Kent.
“I have gone on the show because I want to change people’s perspectives and stereotypes,” she tells RT. “I work hard, as do my friends, in order to be able to afford to live this lifestyle.”
Four days a week she works for a corporate events company, getting into the office at 7.30am and often staying out until 11pm organising events. She also writes a “Girl about Town” column for Matchbox, a glossy lifestyle magazine aimed at the affluent residents of Notting Hill, Knightsbridge, Chelsea and Kensington.
Joining Francesca on the show is her best friend, Alexandra “Binky” Felstead. The pair are no strangers to the spotlight after their joint birthday party last year featured in an episode of MTV’s My Super Sweet, a series that goes behind the scenes to look at the planning of the world’s most lavish parties.
Their bash was complete with champagne, cocktails, burlesque performances by the birthday girls and three outfit changes, with Francesca and Binky arriving in the back of a vintage American convertible.
Their friend Ollie Locke, originally from Southampton, who also went to boarding school in Oxford, is a club promoter and controls the door of Whisky Mist in London’s Mayfair. He also says he doesn’t conform to the trust fund kid stereotype and has aspirations to write a book, but readily admits to wearing fake tan and carrying around eyelash curlers.
Others, like Old Etonian broker Spencer Matthews, enjoy the trappings of family money – his parents own the Eden Roc hotel on the fashionable Caribbean island of St Barts, where he took a group of close friends to celebrate his 21st birthday.
With all the privilege naturally come connections. Spencer’s best friend is nightclub promoter Hugo Taylor, who knows a thing or two about the limelight. Not only did the man known as “Fagin” to his friends used to work at London nightspot Chinawhite, but he also attracted column inches over his friendships with Princesses Beatrice and Eugenie and a night when he (allegedly) flirted with Prince Harry’s girlfriend Chelsy Davy.
In addition there’s Icelandic model and pianist Fredrik Ferrier; singer/songwriter Gabriella Ellis from Henley, who is half Greek and had a recent number one in the charts there; Francis Boulle, the Franco-Mauritian polo-playing heir to a diamond fortune, who was reportedly dating Harry Potter actress Emma Watson; “heartbills breaker” Caggie Dunlop and her partner-inpartying Milly (Camilla) Mackintosh; and fashion entrepreneur Amber Atherton, who is best friends with Lady Kitty Spencer (a niece of Princess Diana) and used to attend sleepovers at the Spencer family home, Althorp House.
While many of these people were already friends, some had never met until the producers brought them together. The common link is the well-connected Goldsmith’s College student Rosie Fortescue, who constantly has her phone clamped to her face and is billed as a real life “Gossip Girl”.
A serious element of the lives of this It crowd (and indeed the series) is the going out. Part of the fuss is, of course, the exclusivity factor. To get into most of the clubs, you have to know a promoter, or at least know someone who does. Once inside, you have to pay the sort of bar bills – £180-plus for a bottle of vodka or champagne – that, even if the country were not suffering an economic dip, would still seem excessive.
By and large, the crowd stay local, preferring to drink in south-west London rather than head to central London. A typical night might start in a local pub such as the Phene, the Sloaney Pony (real name, the White Horse), the Cod (real name, the Admiral Codrington), and then on to a fashionable club such as Beaufort House, where Prince Harry and Chelsy Davy are said to have reconciled, Maggie’s, a 1980s-themed nightclub named after Margaret Thatcher, or Public, owned by Guy Pelly, a friend of the young royals.
“It becomes like a social cycle as well as a social circle. Each night there are one or two designated hangouts,” says Joseph Ryan, a former habitué of the Chelsea scene who now runs Aura nightclub in Mayfair. “It’s a small group – if you’re in the middle of it all then it’s great, you have a social life wherever you go. But if you’re not, you might wonder what the fuss is all about.”
The presence of young royals on the partyscene has raised the profile and popularity of the clubs in this corner of London. Midweek is the coolest time to go out, when there’s an air of the idle rich going out because they can. On Tuesday nights the crowd heads to Boujis, while on Thursdays they flock to Raffles.
For some, that means dragging themselves out of bed and working through a hangover, while those unburdened by having to earn a living are free to rise at midday. And with the cafés, restaurants, gyms and shops that make up the King’s Road – which Kate Middleton is so fond of – there is plenty for the cameras to linger on.
If all this sounds like your sort of thing, you can always pop down to Chelsea to see for yourself. As long as you know the right people, of course, and have at least £500 to spend…
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Luke Blackall is the diarist for the Independent’s compact newspaper, the i.