If you remember Boujis you weren’t there. Certainly you weren’t knocking back Crack Baby cocktails with Prince Harry on Tuesday nights in the Noughties when Harry was fun and Boujis was London’s most famous nightclub.
A Studio 54 for aristocrats and It girls, the South Kensington institution that first opened in 2002 captured a moment. Its tiny dance floor would be crammed with pop stars, royals and bankers in Ralph Lauren loafers, and made for an improbable mix of Lady Gaga, Lindsay Lohan, Lewis Hamilton and the Chelsea set. It was a place where Leonardo DiCaprio, Justin Bieber and Russell Brand partied alongside royals — Prince Harry, Prince William, Princess Eugenie and Princess Beatrice were regulars — while paparazzi and plebs camped outside.
“It was a time when the rock-star lifestyle was still going ahead. Celebrities were clubbing weekly,” the former employee Carlo Carello recalls. “You could go there any night and some magic would happen.”
The young royals particularly loved Boujis (so easy to fall back to the Palace!). It was the club where William flirted with girls and “Waity Katie” let loose during their breakup. Later the Middleton sisters danced around the princes at table 11 before being snapped falling bleary-eyed into cabs. It’s where Harry was famously captured tumbling head over bottom on the curb after (allegedly) lunging at a photographer as he left.
Now, having shut down in 2016 after two punters had a bust-up, Boujis is back. But does young, posh, loaded clubbing have the same appeal in 2023? Or — like Harry, its original face — has it grown up?
Carello was only 16 when Boujis first opened and 18 when he started working there (although he’d snuck in before). At 36, “clean and sober” and married with two children, he’s relaunching the club with the original owner, Jake Parkinson-Smith (grandson of the photographer Norman Parkinson), Fraser Carruthers, Steve Manktelow and Barth Rougier.
Within 24 hours of the announcement of the opening of B London, enthusiastically dubbed “Boujis 2.0”, the club’s website had 40,000 hits. “Someone joked, ‘There aren’t enough babysitters in London,’ ” Carello says with a grin. “Some people put collages up of their best nights at Boujis — it was incredible. I had more responses for the opening of B London than I did for the birth of my children!”
The young royals particularly loved Boujis (so easy to fall back to the Palace!).
Carello, who’s also behind the swanky London clubs Raffles and Mahiki, is not surprised clubbers are so keen to re-experience the venue. “It was the epitome of London nightlife. It’s probably the most special club for me that I’ve had anything to do with.”
His “favorite memory by far has to be the night I got a phone call from Lady Gaga’s manager”. She’d just finished her London show and wanted to head down “for a fun night out”. She rocked up under a flash of paparazzi, dressed with typical understatement in a see-through white leotard and sunglasses. “It was one of those nights where magic happens in every sense. She said, ‘Do you mind if I perform?’ and we’re rushing around trying to find a microphone, and Gaga gives an impromptu performance to our guests.”
Those kinds of phone calls happened “the whole time”, he says. “We had all the agents on speed dial. [Celebrities] felt safe at Boujis. It was a place they could come and let their hair down.”
Nights ranged from star studded — Rihanna turned up for her brother Rorrey’s first London gig there — to mad, such as when David Hasselhoff hosted a Baywatch party. Jaden Smith turned up with his dad, Will, while Metallica arrived in five limousines. Prince “always made a huge entry”, once arriving in a purple gem suit. Was there anyone so naughty they got banned? “The reason they come is we don’t tell their naughty stories.”
Being an intimate venue with a no-camera policy, the club allowed celebrities to feel free. “People always wanted to perform,” Carello says. Snoop Dogg and members of Black Eyed Peas played, while Nicole Scherzinger “had a lock-in and got on the mike for 20 of her friends”.
The venue had crazy requests from VIPs, including a guest who wanted zebras outside for a party. They told him “it wasn’t the best idea and ended up with fire eaters”. When the club celebrated its tenth birthday Boujis Dolls paraded around in barely-there gold knickers and nipple tassels. One friend recalls a night out there when Paris Hilton lost a diamond earring and the whole dance floor got on their knees looking for it. Carello laughs. “It could be true!”
Staff meetings were enthusiastic chaos. It’s where they came up with the Crack Baby’s Daddy: a giant egg-shaped ice sculpture filled with 40 Crack Baby shots (the club’s unique cocktail of vodka, passion-fruit puree, Chambord and champagne) and a bottle of champagne, costing $700.
People begged to get in. Allegedly Kate Middleton’s brother, James, was among those regularly rejected. “We had all sorts, from people waving their black Amexes on the front door,” Carello says, telling me one particular punter desperate for membership turned up with £5,000 (about $10,000) in pound coins. With pop stars and friends braying for entry, “it was a constant juggling act of which calls you picked up and [which] you didn’t”.
“I had more responses for the opening of B London than I did for the birth of my children!”
If you did get inside, “it was such a family”, Carello says. “It felt like someone’s home.” He saw Millie Mackintosh recently, who screamed, ” ‘[Boujis] is where I met my husband [Hugo Taylor]!’ The amount of people that met their respective partners at Boujis who are now married with kids is insane.”
Their secret, Carello says, is “we like to treat our customers like f***ing rock stars — that’s my mission statement. We know what drinks they like. We make everyone feel special who walks through the door. It’s a show, we put on theater. Our service is giving people a good time … you’ll find myself and my team on the floor going, ‘Is it too bright? Is it too dark? Is the volume loud enough? Is it too cold? Is there enough haze in the air?’ There’s science saying people stay longer in the nightclub if there’s a bit of haze in the air because they feel more able to dance and less shy.”
For young royal regulars the attraction was that “we let them have fun. We looked after them.” Also, “we didn’t talk about them”, Carello says, and goes on to prove his point. When I ask if William or Harry was the best dancer, he grins. “No comment.”
My own memories of the nightclub, where I went not as a posh punter but as a showbiz reporter, are appropriately hazy recollections of a shiny bar packed with braying toffs on leather banquettes spanking money on silver buckets crammed with champagne (minimum spend was $1,000). Even then it seemed flash. Does a club serving vintage Krug that held nights called things like Beautiful and Dirty Rich still have a place today? “I think with the cost of living crisis the nightclub sector is actually quite protected,” Carello says. “People always want to have fun and let their hair down.”
He predicts an older crowd at B London than there was at Boujis: 40 was the average age of guests at the launch party on March 16, a mix of nostalgic old clientele “dusting off their shoes ready for the dance floor” and (perhaps) their offspring.
The club is opening earlier (from 6pm), partly in response to the pandemic. “After Covid people are going out a lot earlier and going to bed earlier,” Carello says. Although he insists Covid hasn’t dampened enthusiasm for clubbing: “We’ve got Raffles down the road and that’s been booming every night. There’s definitely a demand for it.”
The new club is showier than Boujis, which was a surprisingly tiny sweatbox — “We were never glitzy,” Carello says — with madcap areas like a telephone booth filled with Seventies escort cards that leads to a secret Cuban speakeasy bar.
Meanwhile, the venue is plugged into the metaverse so that people can experience Boujis online. “It’s the first one-to-one carbon copy of a club in the metaverse,” Carello says, explaining that they want to be “pioneers”. “We were the first people to put Boujis in the Royal Enclosure at Ascot. I remember the controversy with that … we like to push the boat out and move with the trends.” I tell him that I think clubbing at home in a headset sounds rather boring. “It doesn’t tickle my fancy,” he admits, “but in China that’s what everyone is doing.” And it means people who can’t get to the club to watch David Guetta play can see it at home.
Can Boujis thrive without the young royals who made it so popular?Harry? “I don’t know. I would like him to.” Would he like the new club? “Yeah, of course.” Do you think he’ll bring Meghan down? “Please, no to this question!” However, in a nod to the good old days (and how much of the royal family’s money was spent there) there is a portrait of Queen Elizabeth II at the club’s entrance.
Katie Glass is a columnist at The Sunday Times. She is also the winner of the Young Stationers’ Prize and was short-listed for the feature-writer prize at the British Press Awards