On the top floor of an unassuming building overlooking the London Foot Hospital is the hub of one of the most successful businesses in Britain. There is a handsome board table, an old-fashioned writing desk and a bar. But art books are strewn about, a souvenir koala bear sits on a windowsill, and the desk is piled with paper. The man who runs this must be relaxed and unpretentious, you think, and indeed he is. Richard Caring is a man many are curious about, most of all the members of Annabel’s nightclub, which he bought earlier this year.
A self-made multi-millionaire (from the rag trade), Mr Caring is not someone you would have heard about until recently, and he would probably prefer it that way. But he started buying blue-chip companies four years ago – Wentworth Golf Club, Caprice Holdings and the Mark Birley clubs (‘the diamond in our group’) and everyone sat up and took notice. To top all this, he held a ball of ?Byzantine extravagance in the Catherine Palace in St Petersburg, at which the likes of Bill Clinton, Sir Elton John and Liz Hurley were kitted out in 19th-century costumes provided for them. It raised some £14.5 million for The Children’s Charity, Mr Caring’s foundation, which supports anti-paedophilia projects run by the NSPCC.
With perfectly white teeth filling a frequent and wide smile, enhanced by an apparently per-manent tan (due to his Italian father, rather than long sunny holidays), Mr Caring has suffered a rather snobbish reaction from some members of his new acquisitions, but they’ll get over it, as he’s determined to do the right thing by the businesses. ‘I’m interested in brands where the product doesn’t meet the expectation.’ Hence, when he took over Wentworth, because the catering was below par, he brought in Caprice Holdings. ‘I said jokingly, “for this cost, I’d be better off buying it”. I noticed a flash pass between the people there, and thought, this could be interesting,’ he says of his quick decision to buy Caprice Holdings: ‘So we bought it.’ The energy is infectious. He is clearly delighted with what he’s doing, and feels he is doing it right.
As for the Birley Group, he is planning some changes, but ‘I think you can change things without changing everything and they’re mostly tweaks’. He’s introduced an affordable lunch menu, opened Harry’s Bar on Saturday nights (‘not all our members go to the country at weekends’) and is bringing live music to Annabel’s Bryan Ferry, Jamie Callum and the Rhythm Kings. He is visibly excited at the thought.
The son of an Italian-American GI and the nurse who was in the ambulance when he was injured, Mr Caring was born a Caringi. Keen to shake off the immigrant tag, his father dropped the ‘i’ although his sister still carries the name on her passport and the family have grafted ever since. A London boy, bar a few years in Hong Kong, Mr Caring has been married to his wife, Jackie, since 1971, and they have two sons. This was nearly all lost on Boxing Day, 2004, when they narrowly escaped being swamped by the tsunami when diving. It has been suggested that this is the reason he changed business direction. ‘It did make me stop, and I don’t think it hit me until later. The fact that I was diving with my sons and could have lost them in a split second made me think. But I haven’t gone off on a different tangent. I’m still doing a lot of things I always was.’
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Now, Mr Caring is beginning to plan the next ball, to fund the second stage of the Fresh Start programme he has established with the NSPCC. It looks likely to be held in Istanbul, and ‘Bill Clinton has already said he’ll be there’. The Ivy Club, above the infamous restaurant, opens on March 3 next year and, judging from the number of times his telephone rings, there’s plenty of other business to deal with, too. But when he does get time off, he goes down to Pixton, on the border of Dorset and Somerset, where he has a ‘very pretty’ house. He has seven dogs and has taken up shooting. Are you any good, I ask. He grins. ‘I’m quite good. I can stand in line.’