Most people don’t open up nightclubs just because their friends ask them to. Yet most people aren’t the legendary Mark Birley, who opened an enigmatic West London venue during the swinging ‘60s after his casino-owning friend, John Aspinall, expressed dismay that the liminal zone of dawn and dusk offered few places to party after an evening spent gambling.
Ever since Aspinall’s welcome intervention, Annabel’s — which took its namesake from Birley’s then wife, Lady Annabel Vane-Tempest-Stewart — has lit up Mayfair’s nightlife with a roaring sense of fun, but only if you’re lucky enough to be welcomed into its illustrious milieu.
Most famous for its nightclub – which, rumour has it, remains the only one that’s ever been visited by the Queen – the modern world of Annabel’s packs a punch with its amenities. Members have access to an elegant array of floral-inspired restaurants, bars, luscious spa facilities and a leafy garden terrace. Dog-walkers are even on hand to offer pet-care while you take a pause for an afternoon tipple.
For a long time, the private members’ club was overseen by Mark’s son, Robin Birley, but was snapped up in 2007 by hospitality tycoon Richard Caring, the famed proprietor of South Kensington’s Sexy Fish restaurant and the Ivy. Several years ago, Caring packed up shop and moved the club two doors down the street, from its basement setting at 44 Berkeley Square to a beautiful Grade I-listed Georgian mansion at number 46, where the modern Annabel’s resides over four sprawling floors. It was a celebrated move, especially by those closest to Caring: according to Tatler, the club’s former under-earth setting was ‘hated’ by his wife.
The uprooting of the club, which came with a major decorative overhaul by interior designer Martin Brudnizki, cost Caring a whopping £55 million before a reopening in 2018. With few expenses spared, the modern Annabel’s is something of an Eden-like oasis, with liberal lashings of green and bright pink paint making up a series of mesmerising murals and furnishings, all glittering in the venue’s low lighting.
The 2018 renovation also gave Annabel’s another stalwart innovation, in the form of a set of loos inspired by jungle and garden landscapes. A gorgeously decorative space complete with feisty reptilians and delicate sculptures of sparrows and geese, which stand guard over the wash basins’ bronzed taps, the picture-perfect WCs have attracted a stampede of selfie-taking celebrity fans, including Victoria Beckham.
But while the emerald-mosaic loos have been celebrated for their beauty, they’ve also set the stage for wild antics. In 2019, Astrid Harbord, the club’s well-known gatekeeper who oversees memberships (and is also a former flame of Prince Harry and a descendent of the 3rd Baron Suffield), was compelled to send a disciplinary email to members after some guests posted scandalous loo selfies of themselves in partial states of undress.
Whatever goes on behind its doors, Annabel’s has curated a rich, time-worn internal world of unadulterated revelling — a floral-inspired paradise for its esteemed members. Read below to find out more about how you too can join its revelling ranks, and who the club counts among its famous fans.
How do I join Annabel’s London?
Rather than appealing only to aristos and a vaunted international elite of rockstars and A-listers, the Annabel’s of today prides itself on a handpicked ‘alchemy’ of members, that come from all walks of life.
To apply for consideration by the membership committee, the private members’ club says the only official method for joining is by using its online application form — although prospective members requiring extra assistance can complete it offline by contacting a member of the team.
Joiners should take note of three main requirements: a recent headshot, proof of age, and most importantly, a letter of recommendation from an existing member of one of the Birley clubs, which says how long they have known you and the nature of your relationship with them. Former, original members of Annabel’s, however, may be able to skip this step when re-joining.
Revellers shouldn’t expect their joining requests to be handled in a hurry. The club has a long waiting list of would-be members: in 2018, Barron’s reported that 14,000 prospective punters were vying for admission.
Famous members of Annabel’s
Aside from the sovereign and pop-royalty Victoria Beckham, it’s safe to say that Annabel’s counts many famous revellers as its fans.
That’s not to say it’s easy to work out exactly who’s on the club’s books. The full member list is extensive and elusive, while the club’s entry policies ensure that the privacy afforded to those lucky enough to be invited inside is kept sacrosanct. For a long time, the venue maintained a strictly-no-cameras approach, which still pervades some of the more-private parts of the club today, although some gadgets – like laptops for light work – are now permitted.
Yet there are some good clues as to who’s who in the very private world of Annabel’s. In 2017, artist Annie Kevans was invited by the club to create portraits of 20 of its illustrious members. Her artworks of the club’s ‘power players’ captured the likenesses of Anna Wintour, Lady Gaga, Damien Hirst, Naomi Campbell, Princess Beatrice, Cara Delevingne, Daphne Guinness, Eddie Redmayne, Grace Jones, Hikari Yokoyama, Sienna Miller, and Tom Ford among others.
How much is an Annabel’s annual membership?
A full annual subscription costs £3,250, with a one-time joining fee of £1,750, although there are special provisions for younger members, in keeping with the club’s broadening philosophy, which has seen its membership committee search for an interesting mix of joiners from all walks of life.
According to Harbord, the arbiter of Annabel’s memberships, the club’s internal world is now more diverse than ever.
‘There is no set criteria in London society today,’ she has told Spear’s previously. ‘[Membership] ranges from fashion, tech, the art world, and property world as well as hedge funders.’
Widening the pool has also involved enticing a younger set of revellers: there’s a lower rate of £1,750 anyone under 35, while under-27s need only part with £1,250 each year.
A duo of eager entrants can also apply together for a ‘joint annual’ membership — but only if they reside at the same address — paying a combined fee of £5,750. Cohabitant revellers under the age of 35 can fork out £2,600 for a combo annual membership.