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A Meeting with Jackie Hilkene

During May I was lucky enough to have a meeting with Jackie Hilkene during one of her visits to the UK – from her new life in Canada.

In many ways “same old Jackie” apart from a mix of Canadian and Gloucester dialect. Still a caring bubbly person, and a joy to be with.

We talked about her first foray on stage at Cheltenham when she was 14 years old, and a vocalist with her father`s big band. When she had all the attributes of an attractive young lady, except ………

“Don`t worry”, said mum – as she stuffed tissues into the vital area of Jackie`s halter neck evening gown. “No-one with know”.

Later that night Jackie appeared on stage, not only looking the part – but also feeling the part. Infact so into the part that her new role completely engulfed her – especially with her ample new bosom. So for her first number she appeared with her back to the audience, arms raised Shirley Bassey style, ready to belt into the new number.

And I worked – but only until a cavalcade of tissues rained down onto the stage.

Character building or what! – she powered out her song and just got on with things.

Because that`s just how Jackie is!

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Later she joined a group called “Travelling Band”, and entered the world of old vans, humping equipment, and an eclectic mix of gigs. She also spent time at the National Youth Theatre, and then worked with various bands – such as Zucchi, Elite and China Dolls.

Mecca and Top Rank work came along at Bristol Tiffanys, Gloucester Tiffanys, Coventry Tiffanys, Top Rank Birmingham, and Top Rank Southampton.

One of her fondest memories was of the the night they were snowed in at Bath Tiffanys – when manager Andy Younger brought in wheelbarrows of snow – for a snowball fight.

Whilst working at the Top Rank Suite she met deputy manager Mike Hilkene (her maiden name was Malpass). She married Mike around the time she sang “The Lady is a Tramp” to Margaret Thatcher.

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Both Jackie and Mike became well known within the industry, but when they moved to Isabella`s Leicester – the relationship began to falter – and Mike banned her from the club.

But the living accommodation was above – with its only exit being through  the club – so she was well and truly grounded.

Isabella`s was a great success. Gary Lineker`s held his stag night  there – and his wife`s her hen night

It was also the time that began Jackie her foray into healthclub and nightclub management.

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She was so successful in management, that her story is well known. Her final club was Shanghai Sam`s Peterborough, where she took the business through the roof, met an ice-hockey player who made her into Mrs Jacqui Kaese -and now has two grown up sons.

The end of Jackie`s story?

Not likely!

She went on to form the Spotlight stage school. To work with Nicole Kidman, Jason Statham, Robert De Nero, Colin Ford and Justin Chatwin, and to make her way onto the big screen herself.

Her debut is in the forthcoming JK Rowling biopic – when Jacqui plays the book store owner where JK Rowling does her first “Harry Potter” reading.

And the rest of her story……….

We must wait and see …. but one thing is for sure……. in will certainly be interesting!

Great to meet you Jackie after all these years.

 

 

 

 

Top Rank Brighton – Jackie Hilkene – Tina Turner and Mrs Thatcher

Met with Jacqui on Monday and we talked for hours.

So many stories to tell.

Others we promised never to tell.

As we talked, and the years rolled by Jacqui became Jackie – and out came the story of Top Rank Brighton – Jackie Hilkene – Tina Turner and Mrs Thatcher.

Tony Buck was managing the Top Rank Suite, Mike Hilkene was his Deputy, Phil Leopard was DJ, Jackie was resident female vocalist in the band.

The perfect team.

When Tina Turner began a comeback tour she shared a dressing room at the suite with Jackie and fell in love with one of her dresses.

That was certainly one to save for those special occasions!

She could not remember all the acts that appeared, but clearly remembers Tears for Fears, The Eurythmics and China Crisis. All using the famous back stage spiral staircase.

One of her scariest moments at Brighton was singing “The Lady is a Tramp” to Mrs Thatcher.

As Jackie commented “it`s not easy to be pitch perfect and belt out a song when you are waiting to be whipped off to the Tower of London”, but the song was soon to pale into insignificance.

Mrs Thatcher was to appear on stage to address the Conservative Party, and to presumably to tell them to let their hair down and relax. Unfortunately she had a long stage-side wait.

Someone had collapsed on the dance floor and paramedics tried resuscitation then raced the patient to hospital.

The remainder of the entertainment went well, but Jackie need not have worried about being taken to the Tower.

Events later that night made horrific world-wide headlines.

Then she shrugged and smiled.

“Then we went to Leicester Isabella`s where we held Gary Linekar`s stag-night.”

But that is another story!

 

 

Surprise Surprise – Pink Coconut Derby style

The boss said “always enjoy the opposition” –  but how can you when Rank Leisure has spent a fortune on a major refurbishment?

His boss said, “How can you sleep – knowing there is such a threat to your business”.

Some managers would have gone into panic, but not Tony Walker.

His plan was simple; he rang the Rank manager and asked permission to bring a group of his customers to see the new nightclub. To which the Rank man agreed, with the added comment that it was madness to give up your own customers in such a foolish way. Rumour has it that “commercial suicide” was the expression used. What Tony didn`t tell him was that each of his 10 visiting customers were instructed to bring two Rank customers back with them, and his chosen visiting customers would have graced any beauty competition.

Tony worked the venue like the father of the prodigal son, rooting out and accepting apologies from his previous customers for not being loyal to the Pink Coconut, smiling at feeble excuses, and offering absolute forgiveness if they visited his venue later – free of charge.

The outcome – at least 60 errant customers made the short journey back to the Pink Coconut for Tony`s absolution. The Rank manager thought he was mad, but for weeks afterwards sent his staff to stand outside the Pink Coconut giving out the free tickets.

And finally – guess who never any dust on his House Full sign.

 

“Club of the year 1999” – Ikon and Diva York revisited

We visited Ikon and Diva York on a warm sunny evening during July 1999. It was a Saturday, and large queues of people waited for entry to the clubs, which were located quite a way out of York on the Clifton Business Park.

There was transport to the site on free buses, but no transport back into the city centre other than by taxi, a lift or by walking. However this had not deterred the smart and well  dressed clientele from queuing  for entry.

The clubs traded on Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings.

As we approached the building Ikon was to the right, and Diva to the left. They had a joint capacity in the region of 1600 people, and were both successful, and professionally managed.

Ikon was the larger of the two clubs, with a capacity of 1000, and a balcony that gave a resemblance of The Black Orchid Nottingham. Commercial dance music was played, whilst Diva catering for the over 25s.

Both clubs traded without serious opposition, which kept the dust off the “House Full” sign.

We spoke with Paul Woodcock the retail manager, who told us that the General Manager was on holiday, and that he was waiting to move to the Majestyk Leeds. We were also able to spend time with Arthur, the head doorman, who was friendly,  professional, and knew many of the customers by name.

In fact the whole door team seemed to be very good.

Of course Ikon and Diva had opposition, but only from the few clubs allowed to trade in the city centre, as the result of a strict licensing policy to restrict the number of licenses issued.

So there were only three clubs in addition to Ikon and Diva.

Northern Leisure had a 700 capacity club by the city walls called Tofts. A private operator was running the down-market Gallery club, which offered free admission and five free drinks on the night of our visit. And finally there was Ziggys – a club that had traded since the 1960s, and opened by Don Macallion – the former manager of Tiffany`s in Fishergate.

Ikon and Diva was chosen by the industry gurus as “Club of the Year 1999”. It was said to have cost 3 million pounds to build, yet had managed to under-estimated the demand on the opening night – when many guests, including VIPs could not gain entry into the club.

Five or so years of successful traded followed, then the club invited its customers to the parent companies new venue – The Gallery.

And Ikon and Diva closed.

We enjoyed the club, but have a lasting memory of hundreds of people standing around, or sitting on the kerb side, way after closure, while they waited for transport home.

Somehow it just didn`t seem right.

 

Wandering around the Doncaster nightclubs and bars

During the summer of 2000 we decided to spend a night wandering around the Doncaster nightclubs and bars.

We started at Berlins, which was busy, with an audience of mixed age groups enjoying a music policy ranging from dance music to The Beatles. It opened 7 nights per week, had two bars and 14 bar staff on the night of our visit, and had an unused till point half way down the stairs – from which an entry charge could have been made. But as it was – entry was free, which looked to be well compensated by the very busy bars. Sound and lighting were OK, and good use was made of the video screens.

Of course no visit to Doncaster was complete in those days without a trip to Bacchus. The club was legendary, and most definitely the place to be seen. Dress codes were strictly adhered to, but the three door staff in the tiny reception area could be a bit nervy, all of which contrasted with the poor box office cashier working from what looked .like a converted broom cupboard.

The club filled up quickly (at £4 per person), with a very smart, mature clientele, and had a quirky but interesting feel. One feature was a Victorian farmhouse kitchen range; nooks and crannies, some with ornate mirors, fitted in well with the modern bars and the rich red and greens of the dance floor area. This was a destination venue and we did not want to leave.

We understand that this venue ended its days as a gentlemen`s club. If so –           Shame!

Then we went to The Boardwalk to meet former Mecca manager Phil Houston, who was working the box office till. We had been in this club many times before, and always got the feeling that the clientele could fall onto either side of the law. In short – they made us feel a little uncomfortable. However business seemed OK, and everyone was happy there – so off we went to Visage.

Visage, of course, is the former Rank venue in Silver Street, next door to Berlins, and we found the club pretty much unchanged since the Rank days. There was around 500 customers in the room, dancing to modern and commercial dance music – which created a good scene. Management were attentive, and further 400ish customers arrived before we left – they were slightly older, and the DJ adjusted his music to suit.

We think we have visited this building in the past – was it called Rotters? And we found £15 on the floor that night!

At 12.45am we went to the former Seventh Heaven and Romeos and Juliet`s club – now trading as Karisma. Still four floors up, in what used to be the old Coop restaurant. Andy Clarkson was the manager. He had need moved up to Doncaster whilst his club – Volts at Kingston – was being refurbished. Andy was critical  of the clientele at Visage, and to be truthful, he did have a slightly more discerning crowd, but there was nothing wrong with the Visage customers – who had turned out in much greater numbers than the Karisma people on New Year`s Eve. But Andy didn`t want to talk about that!

On the night of our visit he had over 1000 well dressed customers in his club. The atmosphere and housekeeping were exceptional, and a credit to the industry.

Doncaster was special, and only so because a lot of people had worked very hard to make that way.

Congratulations to everyone concerned.

 

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