On the eve of his latest venture in the business of nightclubs, JANE O'CONNELL talks to wild DJ turned suited entrepreneur Dick de Vigne

Nightclub king Dick de Vigne has a rakish charm which is surprisingly disarming.

But then the 50-something former DJ-turned-manager has made a living out of his easy manner, firstly as a DJ and then as a manager of many an Essex nightclub.

As much associated with the club scene as his long-term friend and occasional enemy Lou Manzi, boss of Tots, Dick is now doing what he does best - being involved in the relaunch of a new club on the site where he began his career more years ago than he cares to remember.

Yup, at an age - he's 50-something - when many men are thinking about pipes and growing roses, Dick is still schmoozing with the young and beautiful of south Essex. "I love nightclubs," he says. "It's what I know."

Storm, formerly Club Art, will open at Elmer Approach in Southend on April 16, with the aim of catering for a discerning, upmarket clientele. Those chasing a pint for aren't the target group.

To mention Dick's age seems somehow churlish and slightly irrelevant, because he is one of life's Peter Pans, complete with Tinkerbell-like girlfriend Michelle, a knockout brunette many years his junior, whom he met while she was waitressing at the Hollywood in Southend.

They have been together five years and, though engaged, have no plans to marry. He shifts about slightly when you ask him if a date's been fixed.

Dick is wary, too, of speaking of his past as something of a ladies' man. As a young DJ, (always known as the Rocking Goose, the name of his sign-off tune) he owned two Afghans - Boob and Disco - and once advertised in the Echo for two "dolly dogsbodies" to take them walking.

"All I need is a couple of birds who will look after the birds. There are no strings attached. Leads, yes," he is quoted as saying.

Married once, "for two or three years" to Julie (whom he met a nightclub) he has a son, Piers, 17, who boards at Millfield public school. He and Julie are still friends, as he is with all his exes: "I like women. I've a lot of women friends. I feel comfortable with them."

The youngest of three - significantly, perhaps, he had two older sisters and was "spoiled from day one" - Dick was brought up at Burnham-on-Crouch. De Vigne senior was an RAF squadron leader and test pilot.

Dick left school at 15 to take up a five-year apprenticeship at Marconi in Chelmsford as an instrument-maker. He started DJing in his late teens and found he could pull in the crowds.

Dick was never one of those anonymous, serious music-lover DJers. His attraction lay in his showmanship, the way he could whip up a party atmosphere quicker than you could say extended remix.

The life of a technician was therefore never one for someone of his flamboyant disposition and, before long, he was offered work at what was then known as the Penny Farthing, at Elmer Approach - Storm several name changes previously.

He worked there for several years before being poached by Geoffrey Turner, a nightclub boss who owned the Alpha 2, along Southend seafront, now Chinnery's.

They were wild times. The club's manager was once forced to take out a full-page advert apologising to customers after Dick and a band of mates called the Crazy Gang gave away 144 pints of lager while a dancer did a striptease on stage.

He once encouraged club-goers to jump up in unison and rip down the £500-worth of Christmas decorations: "They had to drag me off the DJ stand, drunk, still waving a baton."

His public loved it and it wasn't long before nightclub godfather Lou Manzi, then in the process of changing Talk of the South to Tots, came knocking.

Dick worked the club for seven glorious years. "We'd make the entire club go out of the door and conga round the car park," he grins. "Couldn't do it now: health and safety."

Dick and his boss fell out in the early 1980s and Dick went to work at Epping Forest Country Club for a year before being offered a DJ job and a share at Scamps, the former Penny Farthing, by old colleague Geoff Turner.

It was a riproaring success, but after a year Dick gave up the discs for good and moved into management, meeting, greeting and networking. The club was changed to Rain and was sold at the end of the '80s.

An ill-fated venture followed at Pitsea Hall - Dick and partners wanted to turn the manor house at Wat Tyler Country Park into a nightclub, but were stymied by building problems, plus a tax bill, so they sold.

Meanwhile Rain had been transformed into Hollywood, and Dick was lured back there with Ian Reading, another well-known club staple. Within three weeks, takings had gone from £4,000 a week to £23,000, and Dick went on to relaunch Hollywood Romford.

He left after a dispute with the conglomerate which owned the chain - he's clearly not a company man - then helped Lou Manzi relaunch Dukes in Chelmsford.

Their friendship turned sour again when Dick, this time involved with Mr Bs in Southend, cheekily mopped up custom when Tots closed for a nine-week refit in 1993.

"The place was heaving. Then Tots opened again and all the people who had loved it with us went back to Tots. You can't touch Tots. It's so established."

Dick relaunched Mr Bs as Adlib later that year and sold it in December 1997. Since then he has been doing consultancy work until he was approached by Pembertons plc to relaunch Club Art as Storm.

Despite his wealth of experience, Dick admits he's downright nervous as opening night approaches. "You're only as good as your last place," he says.

Despite the nerves, he loves the nocturnal life, still likes a drink and a laugh, to be surrounded by a group. "Nightclubs are the only things I know," he says.

And, for the record, Mr Manzi knows about the venture. And, yes, they are still talking.

I love nightclubs -- entrepreneur Dick de Vigne


Converted for the new archive on 19 November 2001. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.