Kir royales with George Michael and pole-dancing with Kate Moss—Sadie Frost reminisces on her whirlwind life in Soho

·9-min read
 (ES Comp)
(ES Comp)

My father, David Vaughan, was an artist and friends with the movers and shakers of London in the Sixties. He had a design company with Douglas Binder and Dudley Edwards called BEV, a pop-art collective, and they made psychedelic posters. He painted furniture for David Bailey, a piano for Paul McCartney, a Rolls-Royce for John Lennon and the car for the cover of The Kinks’ 1967 album, Sunny Afternoon.

That same year he was commissioned to paint a huge psychedelic mural on a wall on the corner of Carnaby Street and Ganton Street, on the side of the three-storey building where the Lord John men’s fashion boutique was. One day he was up on the cradle painting — but someone had spiked him with acid and he fell off it. He already had mental health problems but he never really recovered from the fall.

That crazy incident was my first introduction to Soho. I was reintroduced to it in 1981. I was 16 and I joined the Select modelling agency, which was based on Newman Street. The other new models and I would travel all round London on buses on our go-sees with photographers and magazines. In between meetings we’d all sit in places like The Pollo, one of those classic 1960s Italian cafés with blood-red booths that aren’t there any more. Old Compton Street then was the most amazing place, just fizzing and buzzing with energy. We’d sometimes have three hours to kill between appointments, so we’d just sit around drinking cappuccinos.

Lots of my friends from Hampstead School went to Saint Martin’s School of Art, which was on Charing Cross Road then, and I used to hang out in the union and pretend I was studying there. I was a bit of a gatecrasher, an imposter — but in a nice way! And I did actually model in a couple of the graduate shows, around the time of John Galliano’s 1984 show, Les Incroyables.

Peter Martin, Gary Kemp, Frost and Zoe Grace at Kettner ‘s (Sadie Frost)
Peter Martin, Gary Kemp, Frost and Zoe Grace at Kettner ‘s (Sadie Frost)

I was definitely a punk at that stage. I was modelling for punk boutiques like Boy and Kitsch-22, and for people like Vivienne Westwood, and my hair was in all kinds of colours, all tomboy-ish and tough. My daughter, Iris, has been playing Soo Catwoman in Danny Boyle’s Pistol series about the Sex Pistols, and she is the spit of me when I was that age. I sent her pictures of different haircuts and eye make-ups I had then. She was very upset that I haven’t kept a lot of my punk clothes but I’ve moved house about 20 times since then.

In the evenings I was hanging out at the Wag Club in Wardour Street. It was full of people like Galliano, Jean Paul Gaultier and David Bowie — Julien Temple shot a video for his 1984 song ‘Blue Jean’ there. I was only 18, 19 and bumping into people like Boy George, Fat Tony and Gavin Rossdale. Then me and my best friend from my teens, Zoe Grace, who’s an artist now, started hanging out at The Limelight on Shaftesbury Avenue and partying with bands like Curiosity Killed the Cat. We were always partners in crime, always being mischievous. We were incredibly naïve and innocent, and Soho was just so exciting to us.

In 1983 I auditioned for the video for Spandau Ballet’s single ‘Gold’, and I met the band’s songwriter, Gary Kemp, who eventually became my first husband. We’d go to Club For Heroes on Baker Street, which had been opened by Steve Strange and Rusty Egan in 1981 and was the New Romantic club. You’d have people like Leigh Bowery, everyone dressed up to the nines. But I was a bit more tame in my dress — I’d been a punk and didn’t go for the whole New Romantic look, even though I hung out with them. And I was still incredibly young. It was just a brilliant time in fashion and music, and all centred on Soho.

Then, as I grew up a bit, I was introduced into a more adult scene. I was one of the youngest — and one of the first — members of The Groucho Club. I went there mainly in the day to keep warm and drink hot chocolate with Zoe. But then I discovered Kir Royale, so I evolved from hot chocolate to champagne! It was all very exciting, being married to Gary, hanging out with Spandau Ballet, George Michael and all that pop crowd. And, when Gary and his brother Martin made The Krays film in 1989 /1990, I also met people like Steven Berkoff.

Flesh and wild: Raymond Revuebar in 1997 (Mark Mawson/Shutterstock)
Flesh and wild: Raymond Revuebar in 1997 (Mark Mawson/Shutterstock)

In fact, there’s a lovely picture of Gary and I in Kettner’s on Romilly Street. I’d never been to restaurants much before, or dressed up to eat out, so it’s a picture of us at maybe a birthday of mine that Gary had hosted there for me. But I remember I did still find all that quite overwhelming, experiencing more of the grown-up nightlife. Definitely there was too much champagne drunk in the Eighties and Nineties — and I haven’t drunk it since.

Really, though, I was never that impressed by that side of Soho — the fame, the money, the power. I had young parents who were hippies and told me all that was bullshit. My dad warned me: don’t believe any of this because you’ll just get chewed up and spat out. Which is true.

Moving on a few years: I had acted in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1992 film Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Gary Oldman, Winona Ryder, Anthony Hopkins and Keanu Reeves. After coming back from filming in America, I read the script for a British film called Shopping. I loved the story, which was about teenagers who went joyriding and ram-raiding. Then I did a screentest with Jude Law, whose first film this was, and really wanted to work with him — obviously! We ended up having three kids together.

In 1997, Jude, Sean Pertwee (who I also met on Shopping), Ewan McGregor, Jonny Lee Miller and I were hanging out a bar in Beak Street. We were all really good friends — Jude and Ewan were flatmates. From us all talking together in the bar, we decided to form a film company, Natural Nylon, and opened an office round the back of Carnaby Street, opposite Marshall Street Baths. We were ahead of the game and we got a lot of criticism for it — actors weren’t meant to be chancing their arms at production. All of us were really anti-celebrity, although it might not appear that way because we were in a lot of magazines. But we didn’t court the magazines, they courted us — and we had a lot of untruths written about us.

So even though we made films like David Cronenberg’s eXistenZ (1999), which Jude starred in, and Nora (2000), which starred Ewan, it was a very difficult thing. And when you get that many personalities in a room and they’re all so young, it meant that in the end it didn’t last too long — we folded it in 2003.

But I met Kate Moss through that group — she was dating Jonny. In September 1997, she came over to the house just before I was due to get married to Jude. She asked what I was wearing and I said I didn’t have a dress. She was like: ‘Oh you stupid cow, come round to mine!’ So I tried all her dresses and borrowed a John Galliano for my wedding day. We were best friends from then.

Later on, she, my sister Holly and I took pole-dancing classes — this is before it became fashionable in gyms — in the Raymond Revuebar, the strip club, in Walker’s Court, and I had a pole in my house. It was great for upper body strength. Was I better than Kate or was she better than me? I’ll be diplomatic and say Holly was best.

Also at that time I was hanging out with the Britpop crowd. I’d been in the video for Pulp’s ‘Common People’, and my friend Zoe was going out with their guitarist Steve Mackey, and he shared a flat with Jarvis Cocker. So there was a bit of a scene at the Groucho with those guys, Blur, Damien Hirst… and there was still a lot of champagne being drunk.

When Soho House came along, I was a founder member. They gave me, Jude, Jonny, Ewan and Sean lunch in a fine dining room and asked us to become the first members. It was actually nice to have the two clubs to play off — if there was somebody awful in one place, you could go to the other.

In 2009, Soho became important to me again. My friend Jemima French and I had started a fashion label, Frost French, in 1999. Ten years later we opened a Frost French boutique in Soho, in Noel Street, and did a lot of our fashion shows with people like Lily Cole and Daisy Lowe in the Titanic bar, next to the Atlantic Bar and Grill in Piccadilly.

Now, Soho is again central to my work as a filmmaker. I do a lot of meetings at Quo Vadis on Dean Street. It’s retained its authenticity, you get a great welcome from chef proprietor Jeremy Lee and his food is fantastic. Also, my managers and agents are in Soho, and the distributors of Quant, my new documentary about fashion designer Mary Quant, are Studio Soho Distribution. Funnily enough, after the London Film Festival premiere this month, we had the Quant party at Park Row — which is where Titanic was. That was a nice full circle moment.

But if I were Mayor, I would get a time machine and take us back to Soho in the Eighties or Nineties. When I see my kids going out now, I’m thinking: why would you want to do that? Then I remind myself that actually, that was me, experiencing the best of Soho’s nightlife. Now I need to be in bed at 9.30pm. Although I am going to the Groucho tonight for a birthday party… And now my kids are going there, too. Raff and Finlay have DJed there, and friends of Iris and Rudy waitress there.

At the end of Quant, we show Mary’s motto: ‘Be free, be yourself.’ That could be Soho’s motto when it’s at its best. That’s why Soho is a part of my history and heritage, and it’s where I grew up. From my teens, through 20s and 30s, it really has given me so much material to draw from in all of my work. Whenever I go to Liberty, I think of my dad and Carnaby Street, and his mission to help make it exciting back then.

Quant’ opens in cinemas on 29 October

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