Five Star Insights enables us to learn about successful people from a range of backgrounds and sectors who are making a difference in society through their choice of location, literature, music, art and cuisine
My guest on Five Star Insights is Piers Adam, a serial entrepreneur with more than 30 years experience in the hospitality and beverage industry. He founded London’s best and most famous nightclubs in the 1990’s – SW1, Hannover Grand and Kabaret. The Sunday Times described him as ‘the man who redefined how Londoners eat, drink and dance.’
He went on to create a stable of concepts which became globally recognized, Mahiki, Whisky Mist and The Punchbowl Pub with Guy Ritchie. He owns the Craigellachie Hotel in Speyside in Scotland and is founder of Copper Dog whisky which launched in 2016 and is now sold in over 64 countries.
As an entrepreneur he knows about the need to evolve his businesses and over the years he has moved from nightclubs, to bars, to drinks. His biggest challenges have been trying to raise money to turn dreams into reality. The greatest lesson he has learnt is ” Everyone has a dream but you need a collective of individuals to execute and bring them to life”. Ultimately, he puts his success down to creativity and entrepreneurship which he says go hand in hand, along with the love of his wife, Sophie and two sons.
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We start with location and given that Piers was born in London and it lies at the heart of his incredible success as an entrepreneur, I ask what he likes about the Capital city.
“I grew up in North London with Greek friends, Cypriot friends, Italian, Jewish and Indian friends. London is this mélange of cultures all coming together…people with hope in their eyes or with different aspirations. In the backdrop you have these magnificent buildings, late Georgian, Victorian, modern. So, it’s a combination of the people and the backdrop and I just think it is the most energetic city in the world …Its always maintained its forefront in music, fashion and creativity – things that I veer towards.” Pier’s father was a lawyer and his mother was an art teacher so how much influence did they have on his upbringing and his own career? “My father went to Trinity and worked extremely hard and grew a law firm into a medium-sized practice in Enfield and Edmonton. My mother worked at a comprehensive and was always trying to encourage children who were from a disadvantaged background to find themselves and to create, paint and draw. So the influence was to work hard and try and be creative… reality starts with a dream.”
A special trip Piers made with his dad to Speyside in Scotland, changed things forever. Pier’s father had been evacuated during the Second World war and father and son visited the place together years later. It was the first time Piers had been to Scotland and his initial impressions were “It was cold, damp, unwelcoming…” but then Piers discovered the bar at the Craigellachie Hotel. “It was the oldest best whisky hotel in the world – The Quaich Bar and quaich symbolises friendship and love and I just knew I had to buy it.” He saw the opportunity and loved the location. “Speyside is unique; a valley with its Jurassic landscape, its rolling hills almost like the Cotswolds, its raw beauty, the botanicals and with the fastest River in Britain, the River Spey…it is truly a magical place…” Speyside is also home to five businesses in the Walpole institution. Piers explains “…the best cashmere, whiskies, distilleries and shortbread in the world come from Speyside. It has an extraordinary work ethic and the businesses are exceptional – world leaders when it comes to luxury and quality.” I can’t wait to jump on a train and visit the place.
We move on to our next section and given Piers is a mover and shaker in the business world with a track record in nightclubs, what music would make him want to get up and dance?
“My thing was music, music, music. Music is so important in nightclubs; it is the key sense that people notice along with their sense of smell and lighting. My whole business is around music and its important to know when to play and what type of music to play. I love all types of music, classical, Motown, rock and roll, country and western, the Sex Pistols, Elvis, Stormzy.” But I want to know if he has a favourite artist and what resonates most with him about that artist. “Marvin Gaye, I was fortunate to see him live as a boy at the London Palladium. He was so handsome and just had this incredible presence and he wrote all his songs. They take you through all different emotions and the range of his music and his story is interesting. His father shot him, his father was a vicar…I find his music is soulful and reflective.” So, what about if he wanted to get a party really going? “Marvin wouldn’t do that, but a Beyonce track would…so would Madonna’s track, Holiday.” I couldn’t agree more and admit my love for Madonna’s hits from the 80s.
On that happy note, we move on to talk about his taste in food. What type of cuisine does Piers enjoy eating? Without missing a beat, he says “Indian. I’m not just saying that because you are Indian” he adds but “I love the bhajis, paratha, chicken tikka masala, and vegetables. We have a lovely neighbour who is an amazing cook and she has a cooking club so we all put in a few bob and she takes note of what we like and don’t and cooks for us on Friday nights” The family has a tradition of coming together to eat on Sunday too as Piers and his two sons delight in Sophie’s “Sunday roast…she goes to this incredible Farmer’s Market in Marylebone and takes pride in doing the best roast ever” says Piers. When I ask what sort of conversation they have around the table, Piers says “…it is important the boys feel there is parenting. At a subconscious level, they need to know two people who care and that can say more than words. I want them to open up about trials and tribulations, though they don’t always do that…we’ll ask about the best thing or the worst thing that has happened…so we can guide them.” Given his wide portfolio and busy schedule, I ask if he cooks? “I’m not allowed in the kitchen. I create too much mess. I do love my own tomato soup and I make my own tomato salad… but the kitchen looks like a bomb has hit it and so Sophie prefers me to steer clear of it.” I admit that whilst my husband is a great cook, it also looks like something has exploded in our kitchen. What is it with men and mess I ponder, before swiftly deciding to move on to our next section?
Does Piers have much time for reading and what is his current choice of book? “I’m afraid I’m not a good reader. I did an A Level in English and didn’t fare terribly well. I struggled, I’m dyslexic and I find it difficult to just sit and be patient. If I do pick up a book it would be about people’s lives because I find these things inspiring. I am trying to read a book about Margaret Thatcher, I thought she was an extraordinary woman…” Is it just biographies about political leaders or people who have got a fantastic story to tell? “The latter…I want to read about Jay Z; I’m fascinated to learn about someone’s journey. I do that at social occasions when I want to learn more about a person, what their parents do, how they overcome their fear, or the bullying in the playground – what is their story?”
Would we ever see an autobiography, given his background, insight, knowledge and experience? “I doubt it” Piers says, “there are certain things in my life that are just too personal and I wouldn’t want to share them.” Piers does reveal a fascinating true story about once being on holiday with friends and how they met a man, who said his great grandfather had been a senior vice counsel for Britain in India during Victorian times. This man wrote about his life but gifted the book to his great grandson, who he knew he would never meet. “He felt it would be wrong to expose his fears, vulnerabilities, thoughts about his wife having an affair and many other things to his son and grandchildren as they would know him in his lifetime. His great grandson was given the book by lawyers at the age of 21 and through the pages of the book, this man came to life.” Piers continues “I am keen to do something with children and teach them…I like the idea about inspiring stories…but my story can be told by my friends.”
Our final section brings us to art and as Piers says everything in his life is about creativity, I ask him to elaborate. “Creativity is art, painting, drawing, sculpture, film, music and entrepreneurship that is my form of art. I have ideas where I think I can see something and I want to bring that to reality.” Pier’s mother studied at the Royal Academy of Arts and he laughs when he says “she put me off art as a child, dragging me around the V&A, the Royal Academy, seeing The South Bank Show…” but on a more serious note he admired his mother’s ability to encourage and inspire “a young girl with no interest in art to take an O’level and go on to study art at college…the power of the message is in the messenger.” I have to agree. Piers acknowledges how tough the home schooling during the Covid 19 lock down has been for his boys “…the most important thing is to educate and inspire your children.” He recently met his cousin after thirty years and was delighted that she has set up The Art Channel to engage and get conversations going with those children who would not normally be exposed to art, museums or exhibitions. I tell Piers there is an energy in art, it is a form of expression and even though it is subjective it has the power to change someone’s path in life. “So true and when there is a barrier in education there is an opportunity because people really want to learn” says Piers. “Take whisky, we’ve set up a concierge service because people really are interested in it and I’m linking it to art… So, if you have a special occasion and you order a cask then we can get an artist to personalise all the bottles for you…” A true entrepreneur, I ask Piers what his secret is “I’m blessed I have a loving family, I’m optimistic, a dreamer but I have people who can see a project through or challenge me. Being an entrepreneur is not just about money… You have to be humble, modest…it’s about creating something amazing with a good base of consciousness.”
Something Piers does in abundance. And on that note, I thank Piers Adam for sharing his Five Star Insights with us.
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