In its heyday, there was just nowhere else to go. Annabel’s was the nightclub of choice for royals, aristocrats and tycoons.
Everyone who was anyone could be seen at the members-only club in the basement of a townhouse in Berkeley Square, among them the likes of Princess Diana, Frank Sinatra, the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. It is said to be the only nightclub the Queen has ever visited.
But with the passing of the years, Annabel’s has lost just a little of its sheen. That may be about to change.
Its current owner Richard Caring, a restaurateur with a dazzling smile and tan to match, has declared his intention of ‘sifting’ through its current 7,000 or so existing members with a view to removing those “who are not really cool”.
Mr Caring has now recruited two of Britain’s best connected aristocrats to help him with the task.
Alexander Spencer-Churchill, the grandson of the 10th Duke of Marlborough and a distant relative of Winston Churchill, has been appointed to comb through Annabel’s membership - and weed out less illustrious feepayers in time for the club’s historic move from its basement home to much grander new premises two doors down.
Mr Spencer-Churchill, once rumoured to have stepped out with Pippa Middleton, is joined in the membership review team by Astrid Harbord, who in turn is a close friend of Prince Harry. The two are said to have dated briefly.
“Richard Caring wants to make Annabel’s attractive to a new, hipper, younger crowd,” said one well-placed source, “He is trying to change tack and that’s why he has employed Ali Spencer-Churchill.
“It is his job to persuade the younger, better looking crew that Annabel’s is the place to go.
“Ali and Richard make an unlikely pair but it shows that Caring recognises the problem of creating the right kind of membership. He is a very good restaurateur but running a private members club is a very different game.”
Mr Caring bought Annabel’s and four other private members’ clubs - including Harry’s Bar and Mark’s Club - for almost £100 million in 2007 from its founder Mark Birley.
Mr Birley, who died in the same year aged 77, had named Annabel’s after his wife Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart, who left him for the financier Jimmy Goldsmith.
Under Mr Birley’s stewardship, Annabel’s became “synonymous with sophistication, exclusivity, daunting good taste and unapologetic snobbery”, according to The Telegraph obituary at the time.
But in the past decade, its pre-eminence as the nightclub of choice has, according to those in the know, somewhat faded.
Mr Birley’s son Robin founded a rival club at 5 Hertford Street, which is just round the corner, and took with him some of the Annabel’s old guard. The waiting list for membership of 5 Hertford Street is said to 3,000 names long.
There has in the past been no love lost between Mr caring and Mr Birley. “Robin Birley’s a twit,” Mr Caring was quoted as saying in a newspaper interview seven years ago.
“What do we know about him? He put his head in a tiger’s mouth,” he added, in reference to an incident when Mr Birley was 11 and was mauled by a tiger he had been petting at a friend’s private zoo.
Sources suggest the two rival club owners have since declared an uneasy truce and now meet monthly over lunch.
How long the peace lasts may depend on the success of the new Annabel’s.
The club will move two doors to an 18th century townhouse at 46 Berkeley Square at a cost of £55 million.
Membership for the new club is “by invitation only” and candidates will require a proposer and seconder and “election will be strictly by Committee”.
Existing Annabel’s members will not require a proposer but will need “strict Committee approval”.
Mr Spencer-Churchill and Ms Harbord will take a major role in guiding Mr Caring in judging who is ‘contemporary’ enough to be allowed to join.
Mr Spencer-Churchill, 33, who married last year, and Ms Harbord, 35, are well-placed to do so. The society bible Tatler listed Mr Spencer-Churchill in its “100 Most Invited” list.
When Ms Harbord hosted a party following the London marathon in 2009, Mr Spencer-Churchill arrived with the Hollywood actors Russell Crowe and Kevin Spacey in tow.
Under the previous regime, some Annabel’s members - those who were there from the outset - paid as little as £5.25 a year, the equivalent of the five guineas it cost in 1963.
The new joining fee will range from £250 to £1,250 and the annual subscription from £750 to £2,750.
In a statement, a spokesman said: “The membership of the new Annabel’s will be a hand-picked alchemy of like-minded people who share a passion for the best things in life, bringing together people from different worlds, new and established, interesting, dynamic and diverse. Membership for the new Annabel’s is open and is by invitation only.”