There is a man in Soho who wears motorcycle leathers but who’d still giggle like a little girl if anyone tried the old “don’t you know who I am?” line. This is Mark Fuller, and he wouldn’t just laugh because that particular strain of narcissism has long been worn thin. The thing is, Fuller, 61, already just about knows everyone who’s someone. The hotelier, restaurateur, nightclub man and rock’n’roll fixer has, let’s say, been around the block. He’s lived a life: never-ending nights partying with everyone from Iron Maiden to Duran Duran, bleary days in the Eighties managing bands, success running London’s swankiest clubs and the hard work of keeping things going behind the scenes at the capital’s biggest festivals.
But, for the past seven years, the tattooed, Harley-riding rocker has been having a quieter time of things (“I did excess to excess, but look, cancer changes you”) and is presently in the middle of a subtle overhaul of Karma Sanctum Soho, the hotel he has owned since 2008 with his partners, one-time Beyoncé and Fleetwood Mac manager Andy Taylor and Rod Smallwood, who looks after Maiden. “We only opened it because Rod wanted a hotel that properly stayed open after a gig,” says Fuller, “After a certain point in the night, you seemed to end up with the cleaner pouring you a warm gin and tonic, so we decided to do our own place.”
The Sanctum has long proudly called itself a home-from-home for bands in town. From Fuller’s festival days — he kept the backstage running for Live 8, Live Earth, the Diana tribute concert and the one for Nelson Mandela — he has seemingly met, well, everybody. The day we speak, Queen’s Brian May is in; May just missed The Pretenders’s Chrissie Hynde, who was picking up some paintings the day before. Zak Starkey propped the bar up last week. Damon Albarn came by asking about doing some shows here. It’s where Suggs stays. Noel Gallagher, too. Even Elton John, once. Soho heiresses India Rose and Fawn James pop in — but then, they would, Fuller is their godfather.
Now he and wife Sherene, 39, are setting about turning the place into the most exclusive club in town. They’re calling it Inner Sanctum, and it’s all about who they think is the right fit. “Look, it’s not about the money,” he says, “It’s about whether I’ll give you membership.”
The Fullers know a thing or two about clubs; Mark’s biggest hits were Sugar Reef and Red Cube, the restaurants-cum-nightclubs which he opened with Marco Pierre White that counted Beckham, Clooney and Madonna as regulars. Then came Embassy Club, the same thing but doing it on his own: photographers would collect outside for a before-and-after snap of Kate Moss, Russell Brand or Jade Jagger.
Sherene, meanwhile, helped run things at glitzy Japanese Zuma before managing events at fashionable Peruvian restaurant chain Coya, helping them expand into the Middle East.
But those were the old days. Sanctum is offering something different. “We’re bringing those Roaring Twenties back, or that thing where Bertie Wooster would come up to town, go to his club, have a ball and stay the weekend,” he says, glinting. “It’s a bit of fun; you come, you have a good time and someone even makes you breakfast in the morning. It’s rock’n’roll Wooster.”
In essence, the couple are taking the hotel and holding most of it back for their members only. “We’re doing a social club: we’ve got your rooftop bar, basement space, restaurant and you can stay here, too. When Marco and I were at Sugar Reef we used to say ‘affordable glamour and total entertainment’ but that wasn’t quite right, because you couldn’t sleep there. Here at the Sanctum, you can have it all.”
They’re looking for what Sherene calls “the music crowd, those in arts and theatre”. Mark is blunter: “It’s not about getting in the wanker-bankers or the coke-heads or the piss-heads. It’s about our music crowd, the people we want. And the people we want to support. I owe my mere existence to the music industry, and they’re running out of places to go.”
Really? Yes, he insists. The pandemic hit the music industry hard. With no concerts and no gigs, promoters, managers and acts themselves have all had to learn to live more leanly. “No one’s got any offices anymore, the days of big corporate memberships in all the clubs are gone,” Mark says, “I’m getting calls from all over going: can you do anything? Can you have us in? Well, yes, love, we can.”
While the Wild Heart Bar & Shokudo, which serves Japanese-style street-food from Michelin-starred Garry Hollihead, is open to walk-ins and rooms can be booked as usual, joining Inner Sanctum gives its members 20 per cent off all food and drink, and the same discount on the rooms year-round, with New Year’s Eve the only outlier.
Members also have exclusive access to the basement space. Once a cinema, it’s now a kitted-out bar and work space, complete with a gig-worthy sound-system. In the day, Sherene says, “it’s there for private meetings, for playback sessions, for maybe working at your laptop in, or just for lunch with a glass of wine”. In the evening, as well as serving a cocktail menu not available in the rest of Sanctum, “we’re going to be doing events — comedy nights, burlesque and cabaret. It’s going to be small, intimate. Nights that are almost a secret but if you know, you know”. Downstairs will also champion live music on Mondays and Tuesdays; last week it played host to the Soho Jazz Festival but, they say, expect all sorts. “When Damon [Albarn] came in last night, he was wondering about playing for a couple of hours after his next set. We’re sorting something with Newton Faulkner too, and then the guys from Raw Power were in touch about it — they do Bring Me The Horizon, Bullet For My Valentine, all that lot.”
At the weekend, the plan is to let things unfurl by themselves: there’s a DJ deck and an open invitation to play. “Look, if Oakey [Paul Oakenfold] is about, he likes to get up, especially after a drink,” grins Mark. “Last time Goldie came in I wondered if he might do something,” adds Sherene. “He said he’d do about five minutes. He was still going two hours later!”
Besides the basement and the discount on the rooms — “we never shut, so we want people to sleep here. Why get into a cab feeling sick when you could stay?” — one big draw is sure to be the members-only rooftop bar, which has a cigar menu alongside the food and drink. It also has a hot-tub.
“A guy was servicing it for us and he said: ‘God, think about how many famous arses have sat here over the years.’ And I remembered once, I’d just finished doing a show for the Killers in Hyde Park and backstage, one of my jobs was to look after [Princes] Harry and William. Harry was good mates with the drummer. At the end of the gig he said: ‘Where can I meet him?’ — this was when he was in a lot of trouble with the nightclubs — and I told him to come here. So off he went. I came back with Natalie Imbruglia back on my Harley, and then I walked in to find Tom Jones, Prince Harry and the drummer from the Killers all sat in my tub, smoking cigars. And that was day one!”
Both are happiest talking about old friends returning, but it’s not an entirely altruistic offering. Mark says the pandemic left him looking at being “about a couple of million in the hole”, but, with help from Soho Estates boss John James and “deals from my own little brain,” he’s now “on about zero; no debts but no money really.” Being shut for so long, and noticing the reluctance of many to head back into the centre of town made him refocus on what his customers really came for.
“Before, you could have whatever — endless Champagne and that — but now I’m giving my customers what they actually want. I’m not pretending to be a big boy hotel. I’m not one. I’m a 30-room boutique spot in Soho. It’s about coming in here and knowing us,” he says. “I want people to know if they need extra bog roll and a bottle of Jack Daniels, who gives a f***? We’ll get it. Or if you need an extra pack of cigarettes, we’ll run out and get them. [ZZ Top’s] Billy Gibbons wanders about in his pyjamas. We don’t mind. That’s the essence of it: it’s family. We can look after who’s booking — and with the club, we’re inspiring loyalty, we’re letting people know that they don’t need to worry when they’re with us.”
That not worrying is tied to trusting Mark and Sherene as gatekeepers — trusting them to let in some people and not others. In other words, says Mark, “It’s a ‘no dickhead’ policy. But it’s also: we’re us and that ain’t for everybody. If you’re an old couple from Reading, it’s probably not for you.”
To that end, the pair are personally vetting every application. “Oh, it’s very much a joint thing,” laughs Sherene. To begin with, they’ll only accept 500 applications a time, and think they’ll stop at about 2,000 in total. “All we want is people who fit,” says Mark, “and if we get that wrong, I will stop the membership — I just will not allow shitty people, just because they’ve got money. Call me a fool, call me a romantic, but that’s it. We are who we are.”
Membership to Inner Sanctum starts at £300 per annum, sanctumsoho.com