Don’t fancy sitting in traffic for hours on race day? Simply enjoy it all from a private room of a West End club instead, writes William Cash
The election of Boris Johnson as primborie minister was a cause of double celebration in the Cash family. For my father because Boris is hopefully going to deliver Brexit; for myself because last summer I wagered £150 at 6/1 on Boris to be the party’s next leader.
It was after I had had a few cocktails at Glorious Goodwood – just an hour after having Balthazar Fabricius open my new private account at Fitzdares bookmakers while I was only on my second glass of champagne of the day. While private banks such as Coutts are politely culling many of their less wealthy customers and HNWs are often finding the terms of opening new private banking accounts onerous (Hoare’s expects a minimum balance of £5,000, otherwise you are charged), a few HNW gambling firms are flourishing at a time when 5,000 traditional bookmakers closed their doors last year.
Fitzdares is the Annabel’s of bookmakers. Its social DNA is a throwback to the fashionable days of the 1950s Clermont Club era, when aristocrats like the late Duke of Devonshire and Lord Lucan would spend more time at the restaurant and gaming tables of their casino than their actual clubs, or homes, or estates (until they had to be sold in lieu of a bad debt).
‘We offer an unparalleled personal service,’ says Will Woodhams, who has injected a high level of ‘club-like’ glamour to Fitzdares since taking over from Balthazar as CEO. As the club’s maître d’, Will is responsible for realising that many HNWs don’t actually want to travel for hours in tra c to get to Ascot or Cheltenham.
They are just as happy to sit and watch the racing – or football, or cricket – on giant TV screens in Mayfair from the comfort of a private room or terrace at Mark’s Club or 5 Hertford Street. Bets are placed with increasing enthusiasm as the magnums of claret or rosé are passed around, along with betting slips. Gambling as part of the Fitzdares Club is simply fun, and part of that fun is knowing you can get into a little ‘hot water’, as Balthazar likes to say.
One ‘member’ apparently had £20,000 on Boris to be PM, although at shorter odds than I got a year ago. Win or lose, Balthazar takes every ‘whale’ bet in his stride. Not long after he had started laying bets at Fitzdares, he was attending a charity dinner concert at Billingsgate with the Goldsmith brothers when his phone rang. It was the office saying they ‘had a bit of a sweat on’ after an HNW punter had put on £50,000 at 9/1 on the final score of a football match being 0-0.
‘I said, “Just text me when the first goal is scored.”’ It never came. ‘You have to take the knocks and sit yourself down. I sent my congratulations to the client, along with returning him half a bar [£500,000].’
When I attended a Royal Ascot day lunch at 5 Hertford Street in June, Fitzdares had taken over the entire roof garden all week, with Ruinart champagne being served from noon and more fresh flowers on the table than at lunch with Elton John.
Around 24 high-London-rollers were hosted by James Osborne (half-brother of John Aspinall), who set the tone with a witty speech: ‘I must warn you about taking tips from your bookmaker, but here’s our house tipster exper all richer.’ I was £250 poorer by my second bottle of rosé.
Back to Boris, who has an important cameo role in my new memoirs, Restoration Heart, after I became entangled in a love triangle around a decade ago with my girlfriend, a former Spear’s award-winning art dealer, Helen Macintyre, and our new prime minister.
I believe the key to understanding Boris is to look at the type of women he has seduced, married and often moved on from – all in the cause of being ‘loved’. They are almost all smart and sexy. His wife Marina is a QC and his current girlfriend Carrie Symonds has a first. Helen was also super-smart, with a 2:1 from Edinburgh.
As Petronella Wyatt put it once: ‘There is an element of Boris that wants to be prime minister because the love of his family and Tory voters is not enough. He wants to be loved by the entire world.’
I once asked Jacob Rees-Mogg why he was so drawn to supporting Boris despite his rackety personal life. Jacob replied that it was because Boris had such ‘winning charisma’. Most of the sniping comes from jealousy or a sense of intellectual inferiority (Boris was a King’s scholar at Eton and won a top scholarship to Balliol.)
Even those whom Boris has let down usually forgive him. That’s a commendable feat. He has an extraordinary ability to command both loyalty and love from the women in his life. I take the view that the opinions of intelligent women are more reliable than former colleagues and rivals.
William Cash is founder and editor at large of Spear’s