For a certain generation of English private schoolboy (mine to be precise), the name of Eddie Davenport will always be legendary, synonymous with a particularly debauched series of pay-per-invite parties held in the 1990s, known as the Gatecrasher Balls.
You had to wear black tie—dinner jackets and bow ties for the boys and ball gowns for the girls—to Gatecrasher Balls, but that was as far as the decorum went. Once you got inside, it was all about snogging, as we called making out. You had to see how many people you could snog. If you only managed to snog three people you were a total loser.
The real heroes would snog 30 people or more. It wasn’t exactly “mamading” in Magaluf, but still, thank god there were no mobile phones with video recording facilities back then.
Tickets were incredibly expensive, £30 a pop, I seem to recall, a huge sum to 14- and 15-year-olds in 1988. But, if you bought 10, you got two free.
Thus it was that one Friday afternoon I found myself with the vast sum of £300 in my pocket trying to find an address in Parson’s Green where Gatecrasher Balls were headquartered to score my two free tickets.
Eventually I found the house, and rapped on the door. A few moments later a disheveled gentleman in his early 20s—none other than Eddie Davenport himself, the closest I had ever come to meeting a celebrity—answered the door and invited me in.
It was clearly his parents’ house and he swiftly ushered me up to his bedroom.
The room was piled high with boxes containing the priceless tickets for Gatecrasher Balls. Piles and piles of them, suddenly somewhat devalued in my eyes. Davenport trousered my money and then rooted among the various boxes for the one containing the cheaply-printed tickets for the ball I wanted, handed them over, and sent me on my way.
In the 26 years that have elapsed since that meeting, Davenport has lived a full and varied existence, the last two and a half years of which have been spent in Wandsworth Prison, after being found guilty of being the “ringmaster and guiding mind” of a multimillion-pound confidence fraud that preyed on scores of small businesses in desperate need of finance.
Davenport was sentenced to almost eight years in jail, but was released early, with an order to pay back £13.9m ($23.05m) in a confiscation order. If he doesn’t pay, he will face a new spell in jail (although he is appealing the order, and the sum payable may come down).
First and foremost Davenport was a nightclub and party promoter, but in 1999 he somehow managed to buy an enormous, 24-bedroom, Robert Adam-built Georgian property just off Oxford Circus which had previously been the Sierra Leonean high commission.
“We turned swinging into something that good-looking girls wanted to come to, models wanted to come to, everyone in town wanted to go.”
He paid just £50,000 ($83,000) for it while the West African country was in the middle of a civil war, and subsequently managed to buy the freehold for £3.75m ($6.22m). The house is now likely to be sold—it will probably fetch £33m ($54.7m)—to pay a £14m ($23.2m) fine to the British authorities.
He also bought a Lord of the Manor title, and re-styled himself Lord Edward Davenport. His unintentionally hilarious website, which appears to have been set up to attract marks for his investment scam and never amended, refers to him as “one of London’s most flamboyant and best-known entrepreneurs as well as a true English gentleman from an established British family.”
It also contains the classic line, “Yes, he takes risks and some more traditional investors are not used to this approach. But every risk Edward Davenport ever takes is calculated right down to the most tiny detail: he does not gamble when he cannot win which is why he is known as one of the shrewdest investors around.”
The website is also testament to Davenport’s obsession with celebrity, and contains photos of him posing with his “celebrity friends”, including Hugh Grant, Victoria Beckham, Simon Cowell, Mick Jagger, Paris Hilton, Sir Philip Green, Sir Stelios Haji-Ioannou, Prince Albert of Monaco, Dita Von Teese and, ironically, given his recent difficulties, the former British justice secretary Kenneth Clarke.
But, right now, I feel 15 again as I traipse down Portland Place looking for number 33—“just next to the Chinese embassy”—for my meeting with Lord Eddie.
Eventually I get there, and call “Eddie” from outside the vast edifice.
“I’ll be right down,” he says. Five minutes later, wearing a dress shirt and jeans, Davenport appears.
I tell him he looks good, not the broken shell of a man described by some press reports. He swiftly tells me he was out ’til 5 a.m. the night before.
I ask Davenport how old he is—and guess he might be 45.
“I am 48. But I didn’t age in prison,” he says. “There’s no sunlight and I didn’t go out.”
Davenport spends the next hour showing me around the extraordinary 24-bedroom house, which revolves around an elegant cantilevered central staircase. It has hosted celebrity parties and upmarket swinger parties called Killing Kittens, a business run by one of Kate Middleton’s old school friends. There’s a hot tub for orgies in the basement.
It has also been used as the venue for music videos, including Amy Winehouse’s “Rehab,” and a Kate Moss Agent Provocateur fashion shoot. Five years ago one room was filled with a giant Courvoisier-filled swimming pool which you could row across.
However, it is as the location for the film The King’s Speech that 33 Portland Place is probably most easily recognizable, as the Billiard Room—complete with its heterochromus peeling wallpaper—was used as the set for speech therapist Lionel Logue’s consulting rooms.
“You can host a sit-down diner for 140, and the house can accommodate 700 people at a party,” Davenport says proudly.
Davenport’s parents were Chelsea restaurateurs, running a society restaurant right next door to the Sloane Rangers’ favorite pub, the Admiral Cod, and he inherited their sociability.
“I was always social. My house was the place to meet and figure out what parties were going on that night.”
While he was in jail, Davenport received a kidney transplant, not needed, as you might expect, as a result of hard living (he has always been rather famous in London society for not drinking or using drugs despite a night owl lifestyle) but to replace a kidney transplant he received in his teens to treat a long-standing genetic renal condition.
So when we finally sit down in the cavernous first floor ballroom—aka Winston Churchill’s office in The King’s Speech—I start by asking Davenport what his prison operation was like.
“It was pretty amusing. I was kept in handcuffs for the whole time I was in hospital for the transplant—28 days and 28 nights—which is ludicrous. In the shower, on the toilet. The only time they took them off was when I was under general anesthetic and they just about figured out I wasn’t going to escape then. Going back to prison felt like freedom.”
And how does he feel when he sees himself described in the papers as a “convicted fraudster”?
“I think I need to change what the word ‘fraudster’ means. I have to make it something cool and trendy to be a fraudster,” says Davenport, somewhat bizarrely.
“When I first started reading that word, I just thought it was so far from anything I had ever been involved in. But because it keeps sticking, and there are all these silly articles about it, I just have to make it an acceptable occupation.”
The lack of remorse is almost as astonishing as the self-deception, and Davenport continues blithely on, “It’s a bit like the swinging parties and the sex parties. When I first had one here people were horrified. They said it was sleazy. But then it got to be socially acceptable to have swinging parties. Vogue and Tatler were writing about them. Killing Kittens became a very acceptable, high-end, society party which had swinging at it.
“We turned swinging into something that good-looking girls wanted to come to, models wanted to come to, everyone in town wanted to go.
“So, with fraud, I will just have to change it to something cool, so it’s like, ‘Oh, wow! He’s a fraudster! That’s interesting. That sounds great.’ So rather than try to shake the title off we are just going to have to make it cool and acceptable.
“I think it’s possible. They make cool films about fraudsters. Leonardo DiCaprio is always playing them, they are always good looking, they are always glamorous. Boring people slagging me off on the Internet, it’s just nonsense. We’re going to make fraud glamorous.”
It’s an extraordinary statement, but there’s something about Davenport that is very, very convincing. It’s not till I play the interview back, and write his words down in black and white, that their absurdity and arrogance really strike me. In the moment, I just laugh along with him, and think, well, yes, you are rather cool, and isn’t this rather refreshing, and better than a fake declaration that ways will be changed?
He must have made the most brilliant con man.
Since getting out, in May, Davenport says he has been attempting to pick up what he calls normal life. “I have been out every night,” he says.
Still not drinking? “No.”
Is that a problem when one’s whole life revolves around partying? “No. For the swinging parties, it is an advantage. Some people, especially men, when they are drunk, have a disadvantage.”
So, he participates in the swinging parties, we can conclude?
“I enjoy that kind of thing. There’s a basement full of beautiful girls. There are always more girls than guys. The guys always say before how much they want to come, but then they get shy, or don’t want to bring their girlfriends in case they sleep with someone else. Weird complications.”
Yes, very weird of them.
So would Davenport take his girlfriend? “Yes, of course. Different girls have different things they like, so it would depend what the girl wanted. If they didn’t want to go, then I would respect that, and take someone else.”
Why, I wonder, is Davenport so obsessed with defining himself as part of the British aristocracy?
He sort-of answers me, “I describe myself as an aristocrat. I’ve got a family tree that goes back centuries, a family crest. But the ‘Lord Fast Eddie’ title was made up by a woman at the Dempster column in the Daily Mail. But the Lord Davenport title just seems to have stuck. It came partly because I bought a property in Shropshire that had a title with it, technically the title is Lord of The Giffords.”
But, I say, your website is littered with references to yourself as Lord Edward Davenport! You can’t blame that on the Daily Mail, can you? Why do you call yourself Lord Edward Davenport?
“It’s something to talk about,” Davenport says, vaguely, as if the question has never occurred to him before, “Part of the social scene. Something additionally interesting.”
After the sale of the house and paying the confiscation order, he should be left with over £10m. What does he plan to do with it?
“Make some more money. I have to make this £13.9m ($23.05m) back as soon as possible.”