[prev] …of Margaret Zampi, who was the widow of the Italian film director Mario Zampi. I took her out a few times and she still had the PizzaExpress premises in Wardour Street, in Soho, which her husband had set up, and I bought it from her to set up my own pizzeria.
WHERE DID YOU FIND THE RESOURCES TO DO IT?
How does one do anything? You’ve got people you know – contacts… I took this place, PizzaExpress, which was already in existence. There was a marble slab there, and a dough machine, because Zampi had originally set it up as a pizzeria, so most of the stuff was there. But the business hadn’t worked.
‘You ought to let them eat with a knife and fork, and perhaps offer a round one…’
DID PEOPLE THINK YOU WERE CRAZY TO ATTEMPT IT WHEN NO ONE IN ENGLAND REALLY KNEW WHAT PIZZA WAS?
Oh, yes! But I just went ahead and did it. And somehow it worked. We had a special oven sent over, and the pizzas came in big sheets which I sliced up and sold for two shillings a piece. And it was an immediate success, really. People came in for that fairly quickly, and then my dear friend and business partner, Ron Simson, said: ‘You ought to let them eat with a knife and fork, and perhaps offer a round one…’ So I started making round ones.
MUSIC HAS BEEN VERY IMPORTANT TO YOU, AND THE PIZZAEXPRESS JAZZ CLUB IN SOHO HAS PLAYED HOST TO STING, JAMIE CALLUM AND NORAH JONES…
I used to put on a lot of jazz in London and Peterborough, and I’m still hankering after doing it again… I loved jazz from when I was at school and in the army, and I’d seen some marvellous stuff in Paris. We also had a string quartet play in the restaurant, which was a big hit. Then I set up Pizza on the Park at Hyde Park Corner, and we had top artists there too, in the building’s basement – George Melly, Cleo Laine, Johnny Dankworth, Marion Montgomery. I’d still like to get some top artists in, but I don’t want to do the organisation myself. I’m getting a bit old for that! But if someone wanted to step in and do that bit I might yet put some jazz on in Peterborough.
‘I’m a Liberal because I feel free, you know, to do what I want – not doing what somebody tells me I ought to be doing’
YOU’RE A MEMBER OF THE LIBERAL PARTY AND IN 1974 EVEN STOOD AS MP FOR PETERBOROUGH. WHAT DO YOU THINK OF POLITICS TODAY?
Politics now is pretty awful, to be honest! But yes, I’ve been a lifelong Liberal – as opposed to Liberal Democrat. I was very sad when all that happened, the merger of the Liberal Party with the Social Democrats. But I was talking just the other day to Adrian Minors – a Liberal councillor who is not a Liberal Democrat. I think we could develop that further. I’m a Liberal because I feel free, you know, to do what I want – not doing what somebody tells me I ought to be doing.
IN 1993 YOU FLOATED PIZZAEXPRESS ON THE STOCK EXCHANGE, AND FROM THEN ON WERE INVESTING IN A RANGE OF VENTURES, THE FIRST OF WHICH WAS THE PURCHASE OF A FAVOURITE HAUNT OF YOURS, THE GREAT NORTHERN HOTEL – AND YOU EVEN MOVED IN AND LIVED THERE.
Yes, I’d go there quite a bit. One of the things they used to do there that I liked was put on jazz shows. Then it came on the market and I raised the cash to buy it, and improved it in various areas. The loss of the hotel was one of the great losses of my life, as I was very happy there. But I needed some more cash and the bank wouldn’t allow me £20,000 so I had to get out! I regret I sold that. I got a million pounds for it, which is not very much, and I wish I could get it back.
YOU HAVE ALSO PUT A GOOD DEAL OF MONEY INTO ART…
Well, I had an art gallery by the hotel. I just collected any I came across, whetever took my fancy, and there were a few by Peter Blake and Eduardo Paolozzi. Also by Enzo Apicella, who… [cont]