Today, we lost a friend as well as the first person to put their trust in The Cult and join us.
Peter Stringfellow was - and Stringfellows still is - our longest-serving client.
Nine years ago, Peter called two 26-year-olds into his office on Wardour Street, because he’d heard they’d left journalism and moved into the world of PR.
He didn’t ask us to pitch. There were no Powerpoint presentations or long-winded meetings about goals and KPI’s. He liked us and wanted to give us a chance. So that was that.
We didn’t sign a contract. We didn’t need to. Peter’s word was as good as a contract.
And just like everybody else who works for Peter, we’re still here nearly a decade later, because loyalty meant everything to the man who’d built his business empire from a tiny, church-hall club-night in the early Sixties.
One of the staff we’d regularly see around the club was Peter’s late brother. We’d often have to pause meetings, while Peter ran out to get him a sandwich or drink because, due to his disability, he was incapable of doing so himself. But Peter gave him a job and welcomed him into his office every day to give him a sense of normality - that’s the kind of thing he did for people.
Perhaps ‘meetings’ is the wrong word. Only 10% of time spent with Peter would be discussing business. He was a man who instinctively knew what he wanted; how to get it and the people who could get it done for him.
But he had stories. And boy, did he love to tell them. Stories of how he booked The Beatles from a phone box outside his club for £65 and interrupted their set to hand John Lennon a telegram, congratulating his up-and-coming band on their first number one hit. Stories about how he booked a ‘strange kid from America’ to play at his venue, only for word to get out that he was ‘rather into his drugs.’ Unsure what to do with this information, Sheffield’s fire brigade turned up to politely ask if Mr Jimi Hendrix had any narcotics in his dressing room.
He’d booked them all - Rolling Stones, Elton John, Fleetwood Mac, The Who, Gene Vincent, Small Faces, Ben E, King, Tina Turner, Yes, Stevie Wonder, and plenty more besides.
He re-launched The Hippodrome and started its first ever gay night. And he nudged Dusty Springfield out of retirement, to record her final track, Sometimes Like Butterflies on his Hippodrome Records label. He opened clubs in Bel-Air, New York and Miami and had run-ins with the Mafia - the bullet holes are still visible in the walls of his former, New York club. And he befriended everybody from Princess Diana to Margaret Thatcher. He won big, but he also faced bankruptcy and had to start building his empire all over again.
But what always struck us about Peter was that, despite being one of the most recognisable faces in the country, he was always in awe of the talent around him. He never regarded himself as a ‘star’, he just revelled in how lucky he was to be in the presence of them.
He’d tell anybody and everybody about the greatest person he ever met - Professor Stephen Hawking. In typical, Peter-style, he bounded over to Stephen with a bottle of champagne, explaining that he was a huge fan and would love to chat about The String Theory of Relativity… that is, of course, “unless you’d rather just speak to the girls.”
There was a brief pause before Professor Hawking replied, “The girls…”
Peter would roar with laughter whenever he told that story.
His endless stories and magnetic charm also meant that our job was far, far easier than it could have been.
We can’t escape the fact that once Peter moved from music and regular nightclubs into the adult entertainment business, he became a controversial figure. He knew that, too.
We’ve seen journalists enter his office with a long list of questions-cum-accusations that they wanted to fire at him. He never flinched, or raised his voice. He’d answer them all like he was talking to an old friend.
He didn’t change everybody’s opinions, but every journalist came out of his office with a newfound soft-spot for Peter. Some of the most militant journalists we encountered ended up going to dinner with him at his club.
And if he had a problem with something a journalist wrote, he’d pick up the phone himself. No lawyers, no threats - mostly just a chat about why it hurt his feelings and an offer to join him for dinner one night.
And it worked. Much of Peter’s public image became a caricature of the man he really was, but he loved to poke fun at himself and we began to find that journalists - especially female journalists - would jump at the chance to come and meet him, or take a look around the club and sit in his famous throne. There was always a lot of love for him.
Perhaps the only regret we have is that we never managed to convince Peter to appear on I’m A Celebrity. Every year, Ant and Dec would say he was their dream contestant. Every year, we tried to convince him that it would be fun. Every year, we’d get the same response: “Nobody wants to see me on their telly, eating a Kangaroo’s willy!”
In recent years, Peter stepped back a little from the limelight, to enjoy time with his two young children and wife he doted on, and their beloved dogs. Indeed, he once chartered a private jet to transport chihuahuas Cindy and Ollie and Yorkshire terriers Rocky and Millie to Italy, while he travelled there the following day on Easyjet.
But he knew the image the press and public wanted of him - pictured with the dancers, or surrounded by champagne in his nightclubs. He also knew it was disrespectful to his family to pretend to be the young, party-loving celebrity that first made him a tabloid favourite in the mid Nineties.
He wasn’t a fan of photo shoots, and he didn’t want to answer questions about how much he’d partied three decades ago, but he was always keen to discuss his three big passions, business, politics and family. It meant that he wasn’t in the papers as much as he used to be, but it also meant that he could go away and be a proper dad - something that gave him endless joy - and we’d never end a meeting without Peter excitedly showing us a lovely slideshow of his kids running around in the garden at his new family home.
The last time we saw Peter, he’d invited us to dine with him at Stringfellows in Covent Garden, where he held court at a table with some of his close friends and people who’d worked with him for many, many years.
We all knew he was ill - he was a little thinner than normal and his trademark big, gold throne dwarfed him more than before - but he was still cackling with laughter and had the energy of a teenager, topping up everybody’s champagne and staying up until the early hours of the morning.
We didn’t know then that his illness would turn out to be terminal. But in many ways, it was the perfect way for us to say goodbye. That was Peter in his element - larger-than-life, effervescent and the life and soul of the party.
And that’s how we hope he’s remembered, too: A kid with big dreams, who was born amidst the rubble of Sheffield during the Blitz, and managed to become a national treasure whose walls were adorned with pictures of his beaming face next to A-list friends from around the world.
Our job is to tell stories. In the end, we’re all stories. And Peter made sure that his was a good one that won’t be forgotten.