There can't be a gay man in the UK who hasn't already been to, or will probably end up spending
at least one night at, Heaven. It's arguably the world's most famous gay club and
it's been a fixture under the Arches at Charing Cross for 25 years. On the 27th November, Heaven celebrated it's
birthday with a massive night marking a quarter of a century of gay clubbing.
David Inches has been General Manager of the club since it opened, and he's
now co-owner and creative director. He's been talking to OutUK's Adrian Gillan
about Heaven's history and what's to come....|
AIDS & THE 1980s
OutUK: What impact did AIDS have on Heaven?
David: On the commercial side: not much. But it did impact upon gay
lifestyle and clubbing culture generally.
OutUK: Can you remember the night when Terrence Higgins - drug dealer,
taker and sometime barman at Heaven - collapsed into a coma on your dance floor in 1982?
OutUK: So what nights can you remember?
David: I remember people turning the lights out in The Star Bar and
it evolving into a huge orgy. [Laughs] I remember putting a huge swimming pool out
under The Arches - a mini New York Docks - and having swimming parties.
OutUK: Your biggest star guest?
David: Madonna. Cher was here too but Madonna's bigger. Grace Jones;
Culture Club; Pet Shop Boys: all of them have used Heaven as a stepping stone to
OutUK: Has Heaven ever had a drug problem?
David: Yes: during the rise of ecstasy - especially during Spectrum
on a Monday night, which became very difficult. Some nights you'd walk in and
think "What the…?" We have a strict but fair drugs policy in place here now.
We're extremely tough on drug dealers.
OutUK: Did the police or authorities ever try to shut Heaven down in the early years?
OutUK: Did you get much negative flack in the press though?
David: Only at the very start, in things like the News Of The World.
You'd sometimes open a paper on Sunday and see a photo of a drag queen and some boy
with his trousers half down, captioned "Hell in Heaven: disgusting gay orgy horror." [Laughs]
OutUK: How would you sum up Heaven in 2004?
David: Popcorn on Monday is the most popular weeknight in London now -
hugely busy, very studenty, lots of young people experimenting and having fun,
great energy, marvellous. Fruit Machine, on a Wednesday, is now the best R&B night
on the gay scene. Saturday is hard to define since there are five clubs operating
within one - with five completely different music policies. There's a mixture and
cross-section of people from gay society which I think is quite unique and a lot
more social than most other places.
OutUK: Has Saturday been the most competitive night and biggest challenge?
David: Definitely. That is partly since we are in the centre of
Westminster - which necessitates a completely different clubbing experience from
being in north or south London. Basically, you've got to watch the drugs and the
sex - you've got to run it to the book to safeguard your licensing. That said,
there were periods when we first opened when it was very raunchy here.
OutUK: How would you respond to someone who says Saturday is now a bit
of a tourist trap since Heraven is so well known internationally?
David: You know, it's funny. When I started clubbing, in a small place
in Earl's Court, we couldn't wait for the summer - for the tourists to come! There's
nothing bad about it - it's not all guys in shell-suits! Here we get absolutely
gorgeous guys from Spain, Italy, Hungary, everywhere. Many of our boys working here
are Latino and absolutely awesome!
OutUK: Have you ever woken up and thought: "I'm bored! Oh God, not here again"?
David: Only before we took over ownership ourselves. It was getting hard
to see a direction. I thought carrying on the way we were going wasn't going to
work - that Heaven would fade.
OutUK: Being honest, isn't it impossible to square the circle and be
both mainstream and cutting edge?
David: Good question. It's very hard. Around 1998, I travelled
around - Barcelona, Madrid, Berlin, Chicago, LA - with a view to expanding the brand
in other locations. I think, at that stage, we stepped over into being seen as a kind
of G.A.Y. - no discredit to them. Since I and others bought Heaven from Virgin in
2002, we've been not so much clawing back credibility as making ourselves more
open to a wider range of people of all ages. And that's partly why we're slowly
evolving the music policy - careful to keep on board the loyal following we have,
whilst expanding and adding to it.
OutUK: So why didn't the Heaven brand export in the late '90s?
David: I found good spots, especially in Berlin and Madrid. But, at
the time, Virgin weren't in a position to invest the millions needed to get things
up and running overseas.
OutUK: Garage ran for a decade on Fridays? Why did it shut?
David: We shut the whole venue to refurbish around then. It was just
time to try new things when we reopened.
OutUK: Never on a Tuesday?
David: It's a hard night to do in London, although we have done stuff
in the past. When we first opened on a Monday we debated as to whether we wanted to
go up against G.A.Y., or open Tuesdays instead.
OutUK: Is G.A.Y. stiff competition on a Monday?
David: Not really. Although our Popcorn used to be more poppy, it's
not now - we have cutting edge house, not to mention indie.
OutUK: Do you admire Jeremy Joseph?
David: Yes, he knows his crowd really well and has made a marvellous
in-road in giving gay people a fairly unique opportunity of coming together to share
great artists live on stage.
OutUK: To what do you attribute the rise of the clubbing scene around
Vauxhall in South London?
David: [Laughs] You really don't want me to answer that on-the-record do you?
It's mostly late night stuff - the "Trade Principle". There are fewer restrictions. Some
of our customers head south of the river after Heaven, I know that.
OutUK: Apart from a broader music policy on Saturdays, what other imminent
changes might we see at Heaven?
David: We have plans for each of the major areas in Heaven, in order of
priority and as money becomes available - partly through sponsorship. By the 25th
Birthday, we will have removed the balcony in the main room. We are going to revamp the
VIP area. And we're thinking of putting the bar back centre in The Star Bar. There'll
also be other facelift, window-dressing things like licks of paint!
I'm excited about our 25th party, but I'm even more excited about the next 4-5 years here at Heaven.
More info: www.heaven-london.com or call 020 7930 2020.