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Richard Caring: the King of Exclusivity

The man behind exclusive private members' clubs Annabel's (just completed a £60 million renovation), Soho House and restaurants such as The Ivy, J Sheekey and Sexy Fish has taken exclusivity to an even higher level with the recent opening of restaurant Bacchanalia and Apollo's Muse, with room for a maximum of five hundred members, the 'most private or private members' clubs'. 'The King of Exclusivity' himself, Richard Caring (London, 1948), shows us around.
Jake Curtis (portrait), Johnny Stephens, et al

The latest addition to hospitality tycoon Richard Caring's portfolio is a true temple of excess. Museums and galleries will be jealous of the ancient decorations: a marble Venus from the beginning of the era, a Greek oil jar from the fourth century and, of course, the club's namesake: Apollo's Muse, a sculpture from the second century . Mirrored tables, Murano glass wine goblets, velvet bar stools and gold leaf napkin rings add to the exuberance. “Don't you think she's beautiful?” whispers Richard Caring, with the laugh of a teenager in love. “Look at her closely” – and he runs his eyes over the body of the muse of the god of fine arts. With her delicate features and flowing curves, she has everything to make a big man go crazy. Almost two thousand years and not a line or crow's foot in sight! No wonder the 75-year-old billionaire named his latest pride after this Roman work of art.

Festival of debauchery

Before the opening last April we will get a sneak preview. Richard looks toned and tanned and is dressed in a snow-white shirt, his trademark. “Do you want coffee, tea? Maybe something stronger?” Such old-fashioned courtesies shouldn't come as a surprise, but it's shocking how many men in positions of power feel superior. I order a martini, he a Black Label whiskey. While we wait for drinks, he tells us how, as a young man, he once walked past a Porsche garage. “I always thought to myself: one day I will earn enough money to buy a car like that. But instead I bought the entire garage.” The garage site now houses his headquarters, Caprice Holdings. We're just about to toast when he remembers something. Laughing, he says that a journalist once told him that he has now reached the age where he wants to surround himself with antiques to appear younger. This certainly does not apply to his second wife, the Brazilian Patricia Mondinni, who is only in her early forties. Together with her he has four children between the ages of one and nine: Matteo, Isabella, Annabel and Giovanna. Maybe that's why he looks so trained. He also remains young in his music preferences: he prefers to listen to house. “But I prefer to play classical music here. Then I lean back in a chair, look up at Apollo's Muse and wonder what she has seen and heard in her almost two thousand years of existence. That makes me…” – he takes a moment to look for the right word – “…emotional.”

The idea for Bacchanalia and Apollo's Muse came about when Caring walked past a painting depicting a Dionysian festival. “That is a celebration of debauchery. The idea is to get drunk on wine and then gently mingle with the opposite sex. And that appeals to me, you know? I have been a supporter of these things all my life, haha.” Is Bacchanalia a reaction to the new Puritans, who don't drink a drop, eat only vegetables and are intolerant of flirting? “Not exactly, it is more of an adulation of people who enjoy themselves, celebrate life.”

Full of jokes, full of life

Although Caring often surrounds himself with celebrities, he has never felt the need to become a celebrity himself. In fact, 'the man with the greasy quiff and snow-white teeth', as the media characterizes him, has managed to stay relatively under the radar. He gets that restraint from his mother, Sylvia Parnes, and certainly not from his father. Louis Caringi is an Italian-American soldier stationed in Great Britain during World War II. The two get to know each other in an ambulance. After he is injured, she accompanies him to the hospital and cares for him during his recovery. After the war they stayed in London and got married there. Louis Caringi decides to Anglicize his name by removing the last i. According to Richard, his father could have seamlessly become part of the Rat Pack. “He was like James Dean: full of jokes, full of life, he loved everyone. My mother, the daughter of Polish immigrants, was much more reserved. Also more economical: when I was doing my homework in my room in the evening and she came in, she turned off the light and told me to sit closer to the window.” “Lou” is not going to be Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis Jr. but seeks refuge in the textile industry. His company Louis Caring Originals supplies knitwear to retailers. Although Richard's immense talent for golf lands him a scholarship to the sports-oriented Millfield School in Somerset, he is forced to leave school at the age of seventeen to help his father, whose business is in dire straits. Things are going so bad that the family is even in danger of losing their house. In an attempt to prevent this, Richard and his then girlfriend start selling brightly colored miniskirts copied from the Italian fashion label Fiorucci. Such a skirt costs two pounds to make and sells for three and a half pounds. Their goal is to sell two hundred units per week, which will become twenty-five thousand per week.

Soho House London

Restaurant equivalent of LVMH

Some question the speed at which Caring is expanding his restaurant chain: as if he were playing Monopoly and haphazardly buying where the dice take him. But according to Caring there is a master plan: “I spotted a gap in the market. In the hospitality business you have individual brands, but not a group of brands, which is what we do. There's only one Ivy, there's only one Annabel's. A group of such top notch brands, that is what we want to achieve. With London as a starting point.” Soon the portfolio will be worth much more than the sum of its parts. Caring's strategy is built around three brands: 1. Annabel's, including the Birley Clubs: refined, discreet, elegant; 2. Soho House: creative, enterprising, young; 3. Caprice: the restaurants as a link between both club chains. There is now a Le Caprice in New York, a Cecconi's in Miami, a Soho House in Berlin, Chicago, Los Angeles, Amsterdam... The British journalist, critic and author, the late AA Gill, called Caring's expanding empire 'the restaurant equivalent of LVMH '. If we extend that comparison, which brand would Apollo's Muse be? Caring thinks for a moment as he swirls the ice cubes in his glass. Then he looks up: “Christian Dior. Because it is unique. Stylish. And just like Dior, Apollo's Muse can last into infinity.”

Annabel's Matteos

Napoleonic ball

As an investor in real estate, restaurant chains and members' clubs, Caring is further increasing its capital. In 2022, according to the Sunday Times Rich List, an estimated fortune of 1,05 billion pounds (1,19 billion euros). Since the devastating tsunami in the Indian Ocean in 2004, he has also invested his fortune in charities. That year he spends the Christmas holidays with his sons in the Maldives. On Boxing Day, their diving instructor suggests they sail to an island and go diving nearby. They anchor on the north side of the island, after which they spend 160 minutes at a depth of thirty meters. When Richard resurfaces and hoists himself aboard, he is flooded with calls from concerned friends around the world: "Are you okay?" The island acted as a buffer against the tsunami. They had indeed felt a swell under water, "but that could just as well have been caused by a large boat." Divers on the south side of the island are less fortunate: their bodies are found 2005 miles away. Philip Green sends his private plane to retrieve the family. Immediately after the tsunami, Richard donates one million dollars to relief efforts. “It didn't matter if I had drowned together with both my sons. That does something to you. Did I see the light? Not that. It does change the way you think and look at the world.” Partly for this reason he supports the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). In 8, he organized a Napoleonic Ball for the child protection charity at Catherine's Palace in St. Petersburg, where Sir Elton John performed. Caring spends £14,5 million to fly in four hundred and fifty guests by private plane, including Bob Geldof and Bill Clinton. The charity event ultimately raised £XNUMX million.

Dream list

De membership fees are undoubtedly excessive, as Caring waves away my question about them with a simple wave of the hand. And when I asked why the membership is limited to a maximum of five hundred, he answers briefly: “We don't want the same people you see everywhere. In a perfect world you have a mix of backgrounds, education and wealth – and you need that mix to create something special. That's why we've put together a dream list. After all, you can only become a member by invitation.” It would be my dream to get my hands on that list, but that's not going to happen. The only indicator of who is not welcome here could be the dress code for Bacchanalia: no ripped jeans, sandals or revealing clothing. The latter would mean that half the population of Mayfair is not welcome. What are the biggest deal breakers for Caring in terms of etiquette? I would think of taking photos of dishes or cell phones on the table, but something completely different arouses his annoyance: “If I ever see one of the guests snap his or her fingers at our service, then it's the end of the story. Literally: it will be put on the blacklist. See you soon! I want respect for my people.”

How smart is it to launch a club of these proportions during a recession? “Okay, we spent way too much money. But listen: I like challenges. There is always room in the market for something original and we did not yet have something like Apollo's Muse in our portfolio.” However, he is annoyed by the declining British work ethic since corona. “Every industry in this country is now short-staffed, which is putting a brake on the economy. You don't have that on the other side of the big lake. America is a country of 'can do', while the UK has unfortunately become more laidback. I love this country and London, and I'm not talking about the majority of the population, but a certain section could use a little more push. I know I won't get a ribbon for this statement, but this country is ruled by some pretty poor politicians. People who want to create wealth are being driven out of the country. Brexit has really harmed us. "

MASTERS MAGAZINE #54

Want to read more of this interview? The summer edition is a fresh cocktail of entrepreneurship and sport. In this edition, several entrepreneurs from the Champions League of business are reviewed. Including Freddy Heineken and hospitality tycoon Richard Caring, whose expanding empire has been called the 'restaurant equivalent of LVMH'. Doing business is top sport, but top sport is also doing business. Take Formula 1: the sport is increasingly developing into an octopus with arms that touch all aspects of our society. Jaap de Groot investigated how millions are converted into billions. Also interviews with gymnast Sanne Wevers, two-star chef Guido Braeken, hotelier Robert-Jan Woltering, designer Maarten Baas and Rico, together with his Naomy. The 'King of Kickboxing' also turns out to be an octopus (with very strong arms): as an entrepreneur he is active in various industries. “When I look back later, I don't want to think 'I wish I had this or that'. I just want to, boom, accelerate, do fun things, enjoy.” Boom, the new MASTERS: enjoy!

Order MASTERS Magazine #54 here