[prev] …became a great friend and also designed the interiors of several of the resturants for us. I rather wanted the paintings to go into various rooms in the Great Northern Hotel, and into the restaurants, but most of that collection went when I sold the hotel. I sold over 800 pictures, and got about £70,000 for the lot.
‘Apparently I spent £10m on the top floor, putting in the bar and everything. We never got those costs back… But I’m still glad I did it’
THEN CAME THE HUGE SCALE REFURBISHMENT AND RELAUNCH OF THE BROADWAY – THE OLD ODEON CINEMA – IN 1996 WHICH TRANSFORMED IT INTO A MULTIPURPOSE ENTERTAINMENT VENUE WITH THEATRE, CONCERT AND CONFERENCE ROOMS. WHAT WAS YOUR CONNECTION TO THAT PLACE?
I was ten years old when it originally opened, around 1936, and I was taken there regularly every week by my aunt Clara. We’d go on a Thursday afternoon, and then again on a Saturday morning. Of course, it was all cowboys and Indians then. It was a beautiful new interior at the time – and it still is. Apparently I spent £10m on the top floor, putting in the bar and everything. We never got those costs back and before it closed down it was not making a profit. It’s difficult! Shows just cost a lot of money. But I’m still glad I did it.
DO YOU THINK YOUR VISION FOR THE BROADWAY WAS SIMPLY AHEAD OF ITS TIME?
Yes, I believe so. Peterborough hasn’t always been seen as a cultural place, but now there are a lot of theatres, restaurants… But there are a lot of well-to-do people living on the outskirts of Peterborough who come in and support it. I went with a friend to one of the recent shows at the Broadway and it was packed out. We couldn’t get a seat! Eventually they came with two chairs for us.
‘I invented the pizza Veneziana – and it’s still there on the menu’
YOU MENTIONED YOU ALWAYS WANTED TO GIVE BACK TO PETERBOROUGH, BUT YOU HAVE GIVEN TO ANOTHER CITY TOO – VENICE…
When I was writing my first recipe book many years ago, there was no pizza in Venice – you just didn’t find it there – so I thought: ‘I’ll invent my own’. So I invented the pizza Veneziana, and it’s still there on the menu. We had 25p for each pizza which went to Venice in Peril.
YOU’VE HAD TWO MAJOR HONOURS FROM ITALY FOR THOSE EFFORTS, AND AN MBE FOR YOUR SERVICES TO BRITISH INDUSTRY – IS THERE ANY CHANCE OF A KNIGHTHOOD?
I rang Venice in Peril a couple of days ago, because I have said that we raised £2m for Venice, and I wanted to check that before it went out again. I spoke to the current chairman, and there had been some suggestion that I might get a knighthood or something for it, and he said ‘Yes, I’ll suggest you do!’ One of the honours from Italy was Knight Commander of the Order of Merit of the Italian Republic – so, a knighthood of sorts!
IN 1997 YOU BOUGHT PETERBOROUGH UNITED – NOT A MOVE THAT EVER LOOKED LIKE IT WAS GOING TO MAKE YOU MONEY. WHAT INSPIRED THAT?
Well, when I was eight years old, my dad used to take me to the football, and I’d stand with him watching Peterborough United. Years later I was in a position to get more involved and help them when they were falling apart. My accountant says I put £7.5m into the club… But it basically saved them. And I did get a lifetime membership out of it. My game was hockey, really. I didn’t get a blue at Cambridge, but I did play for my college a lot and am still in touch with a lot of hockey people nationally. I’m still high up in Hampstead and Westminster, and I get them to come here and have a game against Peterborough.
‘I’ve never been married, and that is a sadness to me. I’d like to have met the right woman’
WHEN YOU LOOK AT PETERBOROUGH NOW, DO YOU THINK IT HAS CHANGED?
It’s changed. Oddly, it hasn’t changed that much in the middle. I went on Saturday, and looked in this huge marquee for the Italian Festival – it was packed out. Lots of people having a good time there. I had my little Italian honour on my lapel… There are a lot of restaurants now – but we need to keep showing an interest, and make it work. It’s shocking at night, with no people about. We need to get people to go there in the evenings. Nobody walks around. We have that PizzaExpress, which does well, and we have that bit outside where you can sit – but no one sits outside! More people living in the centre would help. But also we have all these people in the villages who could come in, and I think they would if it was made easier for them to do so in the evenings. Developing the university idea would be good, too.
‘Keep at it. Don’t give up!’
DO YOU HAVE ANY REGRETS?
One of the very few things I’m sorry about is losing the hotel. I’d like to have kept that and developed the gardens – which now have become a car park. Also, I’ve never been married, and that is a sadness to me. I’d like to have met the right woman. There was no shortage of girlfriends, though – and that might mean that somewhere out there I’ve got some children, I just don’t know!
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO SOMEONE SETTING OUT IN BUSINESS NOW?
Maintain your interest, even if you lose. Keep at it. Don’t give up!
Peter Boizot’s autobiography Mr Pizza and All That Jazz is available in various formats from bookshops, Amazon or via www.mrpizzabook.com