The Butlin’s for toffs and trendies

Farm fun with cocktails and saunas – and without the mud and smelly livestock.


Nick Jones: "corporate types" need not apply, except for the bonds

On the 100-acre site of a former farm deep in the Cotswolds, a "new Arcadia" has risen, says Jan Moir in the Daily Mail. With its 40 purpose-built cabins, its cottages and its "honeystone barns stuffed with every modern convenience", this is the Soho Farmhouse, the offshoot of London's "uber-celeb club Soho House". Moir calls it "a Butlin's for toffs, trendies and A-listers, where cocktail trucks' tootle between the cabins delivering freshly mixed martinis and you can book a man to come and cook a full English breakfast outside your front door".

David and Samantha Cameron often "pop in" at weekends, and were there for the opening party last summer, drinking cocktails and "dancing round the fire-pits to crooner Paolo Nuttini". Other members include Prince Harry, Eddie Redmayne and Cara Delevingne.

When Moir arrived, she was whisked from the gatehouse in a refurbished milk float to be introduced to her own "farmhand", Harry, a kind of rustic personal butler, who took her to her £350-a-night cabin, complete with trendy Foffa bicycles adjusted to guests' heights, and green wellies supplied in their sizes. There was a pre-laid fire in the wood-burning stove, the sheets were cotton, and ready-mixed cocktails were waiting in wax-stoppered bottles.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

Moir liked her split-level cabin and found the farm very unlike most farms more like a "Disneyland for adults": no mud or smelly livestock, only a few "spruce" chickens horse-drawn carriages delivering the logs groups of guests traipsing around from sauna to hot tub in brown fluffy dressing gowns looking like monks. In the Main Barn restaurant, however, Moir found "a certain strain of delusional smugness perfumes the air" under the wagon wheel lights.

Soho House was set up in 1995 by Nick Jones. His "brand of louche luxury combined with great service has been a huge success". Or, as the Financial Times puts it, the company (of which Jones owns 10%) has "developed a luxurybrand synonymous with style and celebrity". It now has 15 clubs round the world, all offering somewhere nice to work, sleep and relax. And it has 56,000 paying members, with a further 33,000 on the waiting list. But it's come at a cost. Soho House's finances are "increasingly under strain as revenue though rising fast struggles to match the cost of its ambitious capital expenditure plans".

Analysts warn it is running low on cash, with concerns about money heightened by a failed attempt to tap the bond market last December. Some people, says the Financial Times, even wondered whether there might be an element of schadenfreude in this "the financial community enacting revenge for the club's perceived aversion to suited bankers". (Five years ago, it culled hundreds of members from its New York club because it didn't want to be dominated by "too many corporate types", as Nick Jones put it at the time.)

But Soho House says it's not anti-finance; it merely wants its members to have a "creative soul". Now it needs to boost its margins. Perhaps the quickest way of doing that, as the FT says, is also the simplest: increase the cost of membership.

Tabloid money... the Great Biscuit Revolt begins leave our Garibaldis alone!

At first I thought "it was just my imagination", says Rod Liddle in The Sun. Yet it turns out that manufacturers really "are cunningly reducing the size of their products" rather than raising prices. As a result, "a chocolate digestive is about the same size as a Hobnob used to be, and a Hobnob the same size as a ginger snap". It's time for us to "take to the streets" and tell big corporations to "leave our Garibaldis alone"!

In my hometown of South Shields, near Newcastle, "there is a former council house which is now the registered home of hundreds of shell companies and what are known as limited liability partnerships", says Kevin Maguire in the Daily Mirror. With 386 firms at the address, you might assume it was a "mansion" in fact, it's "a 1930s red brick valued at £86,000 on Zoopla". It's just another sign that "all over Britain there are fatcats and firms enjoying the advantages of our country" while not "contributing their fair whack in tax". Until "we can discover easily exactly what goes on in a South Shields former council house, the system isn't working in the public interest".

The Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) "has had a serious sense of humour failure" over naming its new scientific research vessel, say Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan in the Daily Express. An online vote confirmed RRS Boaty McBoatface as the "overwhelming choice" of the public. Now the NERC is hinting that "it may choose a more conventional name". Yet this "is a near-perfect example of daft British humour at its best". Message to the NERC "paint Boaty McBoatface proudly on the bows of your £200m ship".

In a previous column, I warned that "a property crash at the top end" of the UK market was already here, says The Sun's Kelvin MacKenzie. An estate-agent friend had warned that "£2m-plus houses in London and the South East just aren't selling". I took a lot of flack for that one developer told me "he had just sold a new building in Wimbledon for £3.45m after a bidding war". Yet it looks like I was right, says MacKenzie developer Nick Candy is complaining that "Chinese speculators are walking away from new-build flats they had agreed to buy".