So, what’s the Mark Fuller story?
“I’ve asked myself that several times. It kinda happened by default. I was involved in still photography – working with Lord Snowdon – and I came across the Rt Hon Andrew MacPherson, the son of Lord Strathcarron. He introduced me to a rock band who wanted some clean, honest management. Clearly I was far too clean and far too honest as I was an utter disaster – I lost a fortune! I got taken loads of places with these guys who were quite influential on the London scene and I ended up running restaurants and bars when the music career went out of the window. I felt a little bit weird about this to begin with – a bit like a fish out of water. But I soon found that people liked me.”
When did you realise that becoming a restaurateur, club owner and anchor point for the London social scene – was your calling?
“I used to have the Boardwalk and a place called Little Havana and soon the media began calling me Mr Soho. At that point I realised that although I was a man who opened bottles and served plates of food – there is some sort of importance attached to that position. My stepfather, Reg, used to adore various Maitre D’s and waiters. And you realise how important these people are – people like to go out and drink and eat and it’s these professionals that make people want to feel like a celebrity. Make them feel famous. And that’s what I discovered was the key to this business – to make the customer feel like a celebrity.”
During our conversation, Fuller returned to the importance of service again and again – this clearly being his guiding principle in business. At this point in our interview, a renowned Hollywood film director joined us, having clearly enjoyed slightly more of Mr Fuller’s hospitality than he perhaps should have the previous night. When asked how he was going to spend the next couple of days – he mentioned in passing how much he would like to visit a particular house in Scotland. Within ten minutes Fuller had ensured that Sanctum’s concierge had ordered a private plane and made all the arrangements to take him to Scotland to see Alastair Crowley’s paintings in Jimmy Page’s old house on the banks of Loch Ness. He was picking up Carl Barat and Nicholas Cage on the way. Such excesses and flights of fancy are second nature for Fuller who takes pride in providing his customers with personal service.
This attention to service began with Fuller’s template for the original Embassy Club – ‘Fouberts’, a run down 1930’s haunt in Carnaby Street.
“I remember this couple used to come in regularly and order the cheapest burger on the menu. They used to a glass of tap water with it. My staff used to wonder why I used to make such a fuss of such a boring old couple who spent the minimum they could. And I said ‘they come every week and they put £7 in my pocket – they’re very pleasant – why not?’ And funnily enough one day those guys won the lottery! They came in and filled the whole restaurant up with friends and family because he remembered how kind I had been. I think that’s important.”
Fuller’s early success with The Embassy club and The Boardwalk was eclipsed by his connection with Marco Pierre White when they opened Sugar Reef in Piccadilly and White took over the food offer at Little Havana – another of Fuller’s clubs. This propelled Fuller into the world of A-list celebrity.
“That was my very first skirmish I had with celebrity. Neil Redding (celebrity and club PR) did a great job on the club. We pitched myself up against Conran’s Quaglino and won, we had a couple of celebrity parties, a BBC documentary about the building of it and we were away. After the documentary I remember that celebs attitudes towards me changed. Whereas once I used to greet the likes of Martine McCutcheon and the Beckhams and show them to their tables, now they were asking me to sit with them. I saw my takings roll and joined the treadmill of celebrity.”
Since then, Fuller’s profile has soared thanks to “6 or 7 documentaries about me plus the bit parts I have in other shows. Including repeats they number in their hundreds.” Indeed the BBC 1‘s recent ‘Rock n Roll Hotel’ show charting the building of the Sanctum Soho has ensured Fuller gains as many column inches as his guests.
“I consider myself someone who pours drinks for a living – I find it extraordinary that people recognise me and want to have their pictures taken with me. Having been close to celebrity for so long I find it extraordinary to be called one. I just did a photo shoot for OK magazine for the centre pages. They told me it felt like I should have been in there years ago because from Beckham to Spice Girls to Jimmy Page to Iron Maiden – I know everybody and everybody appears to know me.
Its a vacuous, shallow trip through the West End. What I have found is that as soon as you get into the celebrity life you can’t afford to leave those pages. Otherwise you’re finished. When you start getting into celebrity circles you start to become connected in life with other famous people”
So PR is clearly incredibly important for Fuller – what agencies does he use?
“We use Sean O’Brien for TV and also Roche PR. We also do some PR in house. Matthew Freud once said to me ‘You change your PR like you change your underpants’ . I beleive good PR is about depth of contacts and I have a very good contact book myself.”
Fuller sees the paparazzi as “a necessary evil. I don’t want them in the hotel but I need them outside the Embassy Club. Press will call me about gossip for the Embassy Club and I will never reveal what goes on inside there. Although if a couple come out of there and the press want to know if they have been snogging…you know what – someone is going to tell them…. However – the Sanctum is off limits.”
Fuller’s business interests have expanded into events with Sanctum Special Events handling the VIP bars Download, Hyde Park, Lovebox, T in the Park, Sonisphere, Glastonbury, Reading, Leeds, V, Wakestock, Latitude and Isle of Wight festivals. His partnerships with Iron Maiden’s managers, Andy Taylor and Rod Smallwood has also seen him open Embassy Dubai and take over Notting Hill’s legendary seafood restaurant Geales. What is there left to achieve for Fuller?
“I love to work and I love to party. My ultimate ambition is to achieve satisfaction. I want to achieve the ultimate hotel – to leave a building behind when I’m gone. I think I’ve done that with Sanctum.”