Vital signs: the ace of clubs

Vital signs: the ace of clubs - When I go to the Groucho (the original Soho all-media club), I always see people I know and meet someone I didn't. At the very least I'm cheered up. If I was a proper media networker I would make something of it while the t

by PETER YORK
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

When I go to the Groucho (the original Soho all-media club), I always see people I know and meet someone I didn't. At the very least I'm cheered up. If I was a proper media networker I would make something of it while the trail's still hot, using a creepy follow-up like, 'great to meet you with Janet last night, I wonder if ...'.

At Soho House I always see someone I know too - but not usually quite so well - and I learn something new. (Soho House is the axis between new-media people and new-pols.) And when I go to Home House, my most local club (an extravagant revamp of a wonderful Adam House in Portman Square, originally the Courtauld Institute, and currently very hot - Tara-speak creeps in when you write about these things), I meet people I know and completely new people. And I always hope I'll be there when Madonna's in (last time I ate there, Lionel Ritchie was at the next table talking about Congressional politics).

I like to get out of my house. Central London media-land is very clubby and the clubs, like the sector itself, are very connective and informal - all those modern things. Once you're inside, of course: inside the sector and inside the club as a member or guest. But what good would the Groucho be to an accountant in electrical components from Guildford? He'd find it interesting to see televisionists in informal mode, but what could he actually do with it? There wouldn't be much meeting of minds on what constituted good gossip.

Most of Groucho's members (ditto Soho House, the Garrick et al) wouldn't accord electrical components quite the respect they deserve - their loss.

But worse still, his own contacts and clients would probably be deeply underwhelmed by it all. London media people think they set the agenda for the nation; they don't realise how indifferent the real world is to them. There are commercially desirable people who don't long to get into these places and, worse, who think somewhere like the RAC Club in Pall Mall, with its shiny marble, swimming pool, 'facilities' and its general agreeableness is far nicer.

Blagging or begging your way into a cool, glamorous or posh club won't necessarily make you happier or better connected. You have to think it through because club membership means more than just the sub. It means identifying yourself with a group and a style. Are you sure your employers, clients, and clients' friends will really go a bundle on it? You might do better with somewhere more local, modest or relevant if you want people to see you as deserving and identifiable.

A genuinely sporty friend of mine belongs to a variety of sports clubs.

They go on amateur cricket tours, they fish in Ireland, they charter planes to big fixtures and they bond like mad. It's helped him drag in lots of clients to his corporate law firm. Starting with genuine passions, he made sure he joined the right clubs with heavy-hitter members - and threw himself into organising the outings. All to great effect.

Another friend gets it terribly wrong. An adman, he has his industry's belief in the newest, youngest and highest-profile. He takes his clients to places that make their eyes pop at the loucheness and newness - not to mention the cost. They love it but they hate it too. Cost-responsible and shareholder- pressured, they think it's extravagant. The whole thing exaggerates that tension between mainstream companies and their more exotic suppliers. One day they'll enjoy bringing him to heel, just for having more fun than they do.

And then there's the gentleman's club circuit. The 19th-century service style, the assiduous shabbiness, the arcane customs, the avoidance of 'trade' ('no business meetings here please, sir') and of women are wonderfully divisive. Some people see them as seventh heaven, but others end up feeling excluded, not to mention ill-fed or cold. It could be a passport to sheer pleasure or identify you with everything your firm is trying to change.

So before you ask your best-connected friends to put you up for places that could blackball you or charge you more than a term's fees at a decent school just to get in the door, be absolutely sure that you'll get something out of it. And then you can start wondering whether you'll meet your heroes or amaze your friends. Because, of course, the cruel fact is that the Olympians who work the club circuit to greatest effect always have several, covering the waterfront and their options.

Peter York, in his persona as Peter Wallis, is managing director of consultants SRU

e-mail: peter@sru.co.uk.

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