Byline: PAUL PALMER
By any standards, a grimy, former steel plant in the heart of smokytown America would appear to have little in common with an extravagant [pounds sterling]8 million party in St Petersburg thrown by one of London's richest men. The host of the sumptuous charitable ball in Russia just before Christmas was Richard Caring, the British clothing multimillionaire who, in less than a year, has gone from anonymity to being one of London's most high-profile figures.
Caring's personal fortune is conservatively put at around [pounds sterling]300 million. The real figure could be more or less. 'I think the Sunday Times Rich List vastly underestimates his fortune,' reveals a source high up in the retail industry.
'I think the real figure is at least two or three times what they suggest.'
But no one, apart from Caring, really knows. What we do know is that even before November's Russian extravaganza, of which more shortly, this dapper, sleek-haired Londoner bought three of the city's top celebrity restaurants: The Ivy, Le Caprice and J Sheekey. The cost to Caring: [pounds sterling]31.5 million, in cash.
But no sooner had Caring taken personal control of The Ivy, than this elusive businessman became the subject of controversy among Ivy perennials such as Sir Elton John, Joan Collins and the Beckhams. The reason being claims that Caring is planning to open a private members' club in the function rooms above the restaurant, charging [pounds sterling]1,000 a year for membership.
What has put the regulars' noses out of joint is the suggestion that members of Caring's new Ivy Club would get preferential treatment in booking dinner tables in the main restaurant downstairs. One regular claimed: 'Everyone is mortified.
The regulars are all stars who can always book the table they want whenever they want. The idea that members will get priority table bookings goes against the whole ethos of The Ivy.' 'It is a rich man's folly,' commented another insider. 'He paid a very high price for it, for the pleasure and kudos it will give him.
Once you have all the basic things you need in life, then you start wanting more exotic accoutrements. It is all about vanity.' Others are more sanguine. Ronnie Wood, the Rolling Stones guitarist and portrait painter, who was commissioned to paint a triptych of The Ivy crowd, says, …