With the recent release of The King Of Soho London Dry Gin, I thought it would be a good idea to explore the fascinating story behind it. The gin is the brainchild of Howard Raymond and is dedicated to his late father Paul Raymond, the infamous ‘King Of Soho’. Paul was one of the richest men in the UK, having built up a vast fortune from soft porn magazines, strip cubs and Soho real estate. He opened the UK’s very first strip club named Raymond Revuebar in 1958 and Steve Coogan starred in ‘The Look Of Love’, a film detailing Paul’s extraordinary life.
Paul was born on November the 25th 1925 in Liverpool. His birth name was Geoffry Quinn but he later changed it to Paul Raymond when he embarked upon a career in the entertainment industry. He left school at the age of 15 and tried to dodge his National Service with a fake ailment but was caught out and was enlisted in the RAF as a drummer. After leaving the military he turned his hand to several pursuits, including selling goods on the black market during World War 2. He eventually ended up working on Clacton Pier after billing himself as a mind reader with his girlfriend Gay Dawn; it was during this time that he changed his name and became interested in nudes and striptease acts. This came to an end when the couple separated whilst Gay was pregnant with Paul’s estranged son, Derry. Paul only ever met his son once when Derry was 25.
Paul made his fortune in the difficult years following the end of the war. He realised that people wanted glamour and excitement and the old prudish values were beginning to change. At that time, nudes were allowed in theaters but had to be completely motionless, a far cry from what Paul wanted from his adult shows. He opened Britain’s first ever strip club in 1958 and cleverly circumvented the law by making it a private members club, meaning that he could show what he wanted. Within the space of two short years he had 45,000 members and was publishing soft pornographic magazines such as Mayfair, Club International and Men Only. He is widely known as the man who bought the sex industry from the seedy backstreets and basements of London into more respectable establishments.
It was as a real estate mogul that Paul really made the big money, buying properties in Soho when prices slumped in the 70s. He ended up owning a jaw dropping 60 out of 87 acres that make up the London district of Soho! This maintained his net worth even as sales of the magazines diminished due to the rise of the Internet in the 90s. It is estimated that his empire was worth around the £1.5 billion mark.
Despite his success in business, Paul’s personal life was not quite so idyllic. He married Jean Bradley, one of his dancers, in 1951 and they had two children together, Howard and Debbie. By all accounts he lead the life of a playboy, having numerous affairs and indulging in a party lifestyle that his money afforded him. He was known as the ‘richest man in Britain’ and he reveled in the limelight with his trademark long fur coats and flash cars. His marriage to Jean finally ended in 1974 after a long running and ongoing affair with Fiona Richmond, a British porn star and model that starred in a number of his adult plays.
Paul planned to have his cherished daughter Debbie take over the running of his business empire until she tragically died of a heroine overdose in 1992. The loss devastated Paul, who became more and more of a recluse in the years after Debbie’s death. He stopped running the Revue Bar in 1997 and it closed shortly afterwards. He died in 2008 at the age of 82 after a period of declining health, leaving the lion’s share of his vast fortune to India and Fawn, his two grand daughters, propelling them into the list of Britain’s top 1000 richest people.
Paul Raymond was a man who was not scared of getting what he wanted and his tale is a great example of a true rags to riches story. He made history and pushed the limits of the reserved British institution to its breaking point. His legacy lives on in the very essence and culture of Soho, which would be a very different place today if it had not been for Paul.