The latest in our series on the Great Estates of London touched on one of the newer landowners; Steve Norris of Soho Estates reported on 'sex and the city' in W1.
Barry Coidan was in the audience.
Soho has a rich and varied past, much like the founder of the Soho Estate Geoffrey Anthony Quinn (aka Paul Raymond). Steven Norris had great fun introducing us to Soho, Soho Estate and its founder.
Steven himself has had and continues to have a rich and varied life. Businessman, MP, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport and Minister for Transport in London under John Major in 1992, where he was responsible for the Jubilee Line Extension, the largest extension of the London Underground network to date. Not forgetting his candidature for Mayor of London in 2000 and 2004. As well as all that he was at school with Paul McCartney!
, like our speaker, was from Liverpool. Born in 1925 he was keen on the theatre and having successfully avoided National Service he could be found at the age of 22 on Brighton Pier as part of a mind reading act, having changed his name to Paul Raymond. He arrived in London in 1950 but the genesis of his property empire was in 1958 when he opened the Raymond Revue Bar and subsequently in 1960 bought the freehold for £14,000. In those days the Lord Chamberlain’s Office was guardian of public morals – all sorts of entertainment came within his purview. The Revue Bar’s attractive and naked ladies attracted both large audiences and the attention of the Lord Chamberlain. To get around this it became a private club.
That technical device turned the club into a very successful business . In the 1970’s Paul became a publisher of top shelf magazines including Men Only
. They were real money spinners providing the wherewithal to purchase property in and around Soho.
Paul property buying approach was singular. If a property at an auction was of interest to him he’d arrive during the bidding and hand the auctioneer a closed envelope which would be opened and the bid announced. That would be the winning offer – no one else would bid higher. He always paid a fair price and this technique enabled Paul to amass a sizeable property portfolio.
He had three children. The first he didn’t recognise. The two children from his first marriage were Debbie, and Howard with whom he had a falling out. Debbie on the other hand was her father’s right hand man and as managing director ran his publishing empire. Their working day was, to say the least, unconventional. Each evening at 10 pm they’d get into Paul’s Rolls to tour all their properties. As these included a number of clubs and restaurants by the end of the grand circuit they were well oiled. Bed at 6 am and up at noon to begin another hectic day.
Debbie by then was taking cocaine. In 1992 she died of an overdose. Her death devastated Paul. He lived in an apartment above the Caprice Restaurant on Arlington Street just down from the Ritz Hotel on Piccadilly. He became more and more of a recluse after Debbie’s death, with less and less involvement in the empire he’d founded. Before his death he was reconciled with his son Howard who received 20% of the Estate. Debbie’s two daughters, Fawn and India Rose received the rest. Paul Raymond died in March 2008.
The Soho Estates
Paul Raymond bought all kinds of property in and around Soho. Theatres, cafes, restaurants, traditional shops, coffee bars, residential property and clubs. The clubs included the famous Madame JoJo’s which was forced to close in 2012 but which the Estate plans to reinstate in a smartened up Walkers Court. The main estate is bounded by Oxford Street to the north, Charing Cross Road to the east and Leicester Square to the south – covering around 50 acres.
Paul had never bothered about the quality of the estate – it was pretty run down by the time of his death. The business founded on publishing and property faced two major challenges in 2008. The internet had killed off the magazine business: it now provided much racier content than ever Men Only
offered and it was free. Soho and people’s taste were changing. Drugs, theft and prostitution may have given the place a dangerous exciting buzz earlier on, but in the 21st century businesses, residents and visitors still wanted an edgy Soho but without the sleaze.
A first priority was to clean up the place – repair the fabric of the many delightful buildings in the area. The Estate is spending £23 million refurbishing Walker’s Court, £70 million in Leicester Square and £200 million developing the old Foyle’s bookshop site on Charing Cross Road. 76 Dean Street, left vacant after a fire has been bought by Soho Estates and now part of the Soho House portfolio and will be rebuilt.
Much of the existing build in Soho is low rise, with many brick built terraced dwellings. Its charm is the diversity of its shops and restaurants and other small businesses which give it sense of place, history and liveability. The estate isn’t interested in bringing the big brands – they look across at Carnaby Street and see what was a vibrant environment now rather dull, crowded out by brands you can see on any High Street. That’s not Soho Estate’s vision. They want to encourage small, new businesses – the next Paul Smith or Jo Malone. Other large estates in the area, like Shaftesbury, Grosvenor and Portman, are of a piece. No so Paul Raymond. He bought up across Soho; a patch work of ownership which is weaved into the fabric of an existing community.
That said Soho isn’t trapped in a time bubble. Wardour Street is the centre of the UK and wider film industry. That industry has been digitalised and that means its needs have changed. The large film distributors have downsized. This offers opportunities. Warner Bros were going to move out of their existing building and out of the area. The Estate bought the building, developed it and rehoused Warner Bros at the same price. At the same time this provided space for the new informational industries and supporting services. The new build on the site of the old Foyle’s bookshop will contain below ground screening rooms for use by the film industry.
Keeping Soho lively and in Steven’s words “Edgy not sleazy” Hand in hand with the redevelopment of the area is support for the community. Health, education and young people, enterprise and the arts get valuable support from the Estate ensuring community based schemes have every opportunity to succeed and add to the life of this unique area of London.
After his talk Steven took questions from the floor. These were wide ranging:
There’s more about the Soho Estates here: https://sohoestates.co.uk/
- Dealing with death duty – the Estate took good legal advice so little was taken by the tax man: Reducing Crime – Soho doesn’t buy long leases, only freehold; giving them control of tenancies. Building shops and restaurants encourages people into the area which creates a lively street life driving away drugs etc.
- Loss of music venues for jazz, rock and pop; London’s losing it live music in the area – Soho’s aims to reinvigorate the scene- the new Boulevard theatre,, in the Walkers Court development project, will provide a new performance space.
- Some say that the redevelopment is ruining the old place – Steven Fry was a critic until he came and saw what the Estate is doing.
- Benefits of a private business: not answerable to shareholders and the ills of short termism. See the impact of that in Carnaby Street where quarterly results have led to the place being dominated by big brands.
- Encouraging people to live in Soho: The Estate is a strong supporter of the local community. Granted it’s mostly commercial but residential tenants are also welcomed: although they’re not your usual two kid families!
- The impact of Cross Rail: Huge. Increased the value of our properties by £150 million. For the future when developing Cross Rail 2 some mechanism should be put in place so that those who benefit financially from the development part finance the build.