Dukes, debts and debauchery

In the run up to the London Olympics I was invited to write a piece for a huge tome The Spirit of London. The man charged with improving my prose, and it certainly needed it, made his living as an inspirational speaker. Incredibly when young, George had such a severe stutter he attended voice therapist Lionel Logue’s speech coaching lessons. This rather convoluted introduction brings me to the subject of this post – the most debauched house in London.

[T]hirty-three Portland Place has played host to hedonistic parties, lavish fashion shoots and became the Logue consulting rooms in the Oscar winning film the King’s Speech. Built in 1775 by Robert Adam the house forms part of John Nash’s triumphal approach to Regent’s Park and is situated but a stone’s throw from the BBC.

After the ownership passed through a number of titled wealthy English families, in 1893 Baron James Blyth bought the property with the fortune he made from the gin distillers W. A. Gilbey. It was claimed that Blyth had bought his knighthood from a corrupt member of Lloyd George’s cabinet.

Described by a contemporary historian as: Blyth excluded a powerful presence, which made men tremble and women easy prey.

An inveterate party lover he started a tradition which seems to have continued into the 20th century. He was responsible for installing an ingenious hydraulic wall which separated the dining room from the music room. Powered by a water pump system in the basement it is still working today.

In 1954 the Sierra Leone government bought the house from the Bickerton family who had owned the property for 30-years and made considerable improvements including adding further floors. Reginald Bickerton had made his fortune writing mainly interesting works despite his blindness caused by exposure to mustard gas during the First World War.

Again 33 Portland Place seemed to be cursed as the Sierra Leone government, who had been using the property as their high commission, suffered several financial crises with an inevitable coup and civil war. The elected government were exiled, which put pay to funds to run the London high commission.

This paved the way for 33 Portland Place getting its most notorious owner. With the property, after 30-years of neglect, in a serious state of disrepair the 58-year lease was sold in 1999 amid unproven allegations of bribery and corruption to convicted fraudster Edward Davenport for just £50,000. Six years later he controversially acquired the freehold of the building for £3.75 million.

At this turn in the mansion’s history Davenport or ‘Fast Eddie’ as he became known began transforming the Regency house into a party palace. Agent Provocateur used its interiors for an ad-shoot featuring model Kate Moss; Amy Winehouse recorded the video for her hit song Rehab there; and the world’s ‘sexual elite’ were invited to parties at the house organised by Fast Eddie. On one occasion hundreds of gallons of cocktails filled the swimming pool to shoot revellers rowing across it for a drinks campaign.

Ultimately Davenport lost a long battle with Westminster Council who ruled the parties breached the property’s ‘residence only’. He was then forced to sell to meet the debts and fines incurred during his fraud trial.

This elegant property has now entered another chapter in its life. Comprising 8 reception rooms, a billiards room and 24 bedrooms it is available for hire.

Photos: 33 Portland Place Angel+Blume

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