The rock stars’ hotelier on why he’s still cool despite London’s “chameleon climate”
“I’ve just got back off tour with Iron Maiden,” explains nightclub owner, restaurateur and hotelier Mark Fuller. “I don’t manage them though, my business partners does. My official title is Chief Bottle Opener.”
Fuller is not the latest addition to the revived heavy-metal group – he’s just a mate. Feeding, watering and housing rock stars is what Fuller (godfather to the Soho Estates heiresses Fawn and India Raymond) does. And he does it rather well.
If you’ve missed Fuller’s rise to fame, however, you’d be forgiven. His array of restaurants, clubs and hotels are largely marketed at rock stars – the latter almost exclusively.
But even if you’ve not personally set foot in his Mayfair nightclub, Embassy London, you’ll certainly know the regulars: Rio Ferdinand, David and Victoria Beckham (also personal friends), Jodie Marsh, Russell Brand, Prince Harry and Chelsy Davy. Sir Alex Ferguson does his best to keep his star players from drinking there at all hours.
Then there are the two Geales restaurants (Notting Hill and Chelsea) – modern takes on traditional fish and chips, acquired and renovated by Fuller and his business partner, Andy Taylor, in 2006 and 2010.
Fuller namedrops consistently but, unlike 99 per cent of namedroppers, he does so unconsciously and with genuine reason: the names are his business, synonymous with his brand – they pay the bills
Outside the capital, there’s Sanctum on the Green (formerly Inn on the Green), a nine-bedroom country house hotel in Berkshire, brought back from the brink of closure following a £1m-plus refurbishment last year.
Further afield still, the empire extends to Embassy Beach in Portugal and Embassy Club Dubai. Also in the pipeline are plans for Embassy Barbados and a Sanctum Hotel in Miami.
It’s at the original Sanctum Hotel in Soho that I wait for Fuller. Marketed as London’s first “rock ‘n’ roll hotel”, it is discreetly situated at the top of Warwick Street, away from the swarming tourists and creative industry types.
A three-part documentary chronicling its hazardous construction was aired on BBC1 in 2009, thrusting the project, Fuller and his family into the limelight.
Today the hotel’s restaurant is empty save one table. “That’s the thing with hotel restaurants; one day it’s packed, the next day it’s empty – plus it’s sunny outside,” says the father-of-one casually when he joins me.
Before his arrival I had time to study the collection of black and white portraits of rock royalty that adorn the opulent plum-coloured walls. They’re not the typical signed snaps found in theatre land, but paparazzi shots taken by a mate of Fuller’s, Alex Chapman.
An impressive collection, it includes the likes of Ronnie Wood, Kate Moss, Bob Geldof and Liam Gallagher leaving London’s most exclusive bars and nightclubs – “Liam nearly took his home with him the other night, he likes it so much,” Fuller tells me.
Fuller namedrops consistently throughout my time with him. But unlike 99 per cent of namedroppers he does so unconsciously and with genuine reason: the names are his business, synonymous with his brand – they pay the bills.
They have done so most of his working life. As a young man Fuller went on a “self-destruction course of alcohol and girls”, but still managed to get a job sweeping up film bits at a processing lab called Ceta Colour.
It was during this time of self-destruction that he was knocked off his motorbike (an avid biker, Fuller still rides Harley Davidsons today), which calmed him down a little – “as it would do when you can’t really walk”.
He began taking his job seriously, learning the intricacies of film processing and ending up running the business. “I had nothing better to do; I couldn’t walk to the pub. I [processed]the royal engagement pictures for Charles and Diana, and the royal wedding pictures too,” says Fuller matter-of-factly.
“I ended up running a really big business when I was really young with a lot of big clients – Testino, Lord Snowdon and everything else.”
Fuller races through this part of his life as though describing a walk to his local butchers. His self-effacement is disarming; it’s only on reflection that I consider the gravitas of his responsibility and regret not asking more about it.
Interrupting Fuller’s monologue is no easy feat. He speaks fast, with such unwavering confidence that any dialogue is a struggle. He rarely pauses to think and moves from modesty to unashamed boasting in the same breath.
“I just proved myself at my tender age, to make this fantastic business run, and I was landing a shedload of money in it. At 20 years old I had three motorcycles, two cars, a flat, girls hanging off my arm, this, that and the other.”
(The effect is disorientating; just moments ago we were sweeping up bits of film and Fuller was in his early 20s recovering from a bike accident.)
“I had this very bizarre conversation with the late Paul Raymond who phoned me up and said, ‘You want to rent 18 Greek Street from me, don’t you?’ And I said ‘yes Paul’. And he said ‘I am asking £165,000 a year, you are offering £130,000, and I am accepting. Goodbye.’”
It was around this time Fuller met the famed Hollywood photographer, Andrew McPhearson, who put him up for managing a rock group.
“We had a couple of hit singles, but then a tour fell through and the record company went bust. We went from riches to rags really quickly.
“I remember being in New York with no money for a cup of tea, having to forge a ticket to get back.”
This was the first in a chain of events that would lead Fuller to putting on club nights in London and turning restaurateur. The journey wasn’t plain sailing, and he speaks candidly as well as dramatically; pitching each turning point against its historical backdrop, the effects of which lend his biography both melodrama and sobriety.
“My wife didn’t want me coming home at eight o’clock in the morning any more, so we bought a restaurant on Percy Street. Bought it two days before Margaret Thatcher’s Britain came crashing to the ground,” says Fuller passionately.
Although the restaurant was just off the busy Tottenham Court Road, there was a flaw in his business plan: “When people are off to buy a discounted computer system, they don’t usually blow the discount on lunch.
“We survived. I don’t how we survived.”
Then came 18 Greek Street. Fuller rented the property from Paul Raymond (“Paul was the most extraordinary person”), the late pornographer and founder of Soho Estates – now run by Fuller’s goddaughters India and Fawn Raymond – or the “doyens of London” as refers to them.
“I had this very bizarre conversation with the late Paul Raymond who phoned me up and said, ‘You want to rent 18 Greek Street from me, don’t you?’ And I said ‘yes Paul’. And he said ‘I am asking £165,000 a year, you are offering a £130,000, and I am accepting. Goodbye.’
“We opened just as the tanks rolled into Kuwait and the second recession hit the world. F***ing great way to start a business.”
Then came bar-restaurant sisters Sugar Reef and Red Cube, in 1999 and 2000 respectively – a joint venture with Marco Pierre White. “We didn’t fall out as friends but only in business. We’re st
ill friends now.”
Sugar Reef and Red Cube were sold together for £7.5m in 2001, to Chorion. “We managed to pull off one of the biggest deals that London has ever seen.”
Fuller acquired the Embassy Club shortly after in 2001. “It was a s**t hole. Time Out said it was the only place in London where you wipe your feet before you leave. “But there’s a pattern here: two days before I sign the lease, 9/11 happened.”
Still, 9/11 or no, after a renovation and reopening the Embassy became a success. It now turns over £3m to £4m a year.
As for the Sanctum, he won’t tell me how much it turns over, only that it’s considerably more than the Embassy. “The level of income you can make out of a 30-bedroom hotel is phenomenal. That’s the future.”
Throughout the interview, at the back of the restaurant, a photo-shoot is taking place. Fuller’s not very happy about it. We’re not sure who it is being photographed, but apparently she’s very famous, a big R&B star. She’s flanked by minders.
So why is it that agents are choosing the Sanctum to promote their hottest stars? “I think London is a chameleon, it changes, and I believe the entrepreneurs in London ‘get it’. You’ve got to reinvent it. You’ve got to give value for money.”
By the end of lunch (Fuller has the chicken Caesar salad and water) he’s annoyed by the starlet’s presence – or her entourage’s, at least. “What the f**k is this? We’re being taken over by a photo shoot.
“Are they paying for this?” he asks a member of staff heatedly under his breath. “It’s really not what we do here – we’re a rock ‘n’ roll hotel.”
He’s obviously annoyed, but I sense the staff aren’t too worried, that his bark is a good deal worse than his bite, and that they’re used to him flying off the handle.
So instead he asks very politely for the entourage to “tone it down a bit” and take up a little less space as he doesn’t like all the minders hanging around the doorways.
It’s just not cool you see – it’s not the way Mark Fuller does things. It’s all too orchestrated, it’s not rock ‘n’ roll.