Alex Proud is the powerhouse behind a burgeoning nightclub and cabaret empire which is taking over the South East of England. The Proud brand has booked out the O2 Arena for New Year’s Eve and expects to sell over 5000 tickets across all its venues for the big night.
Speaking to The Global Herald, the nightclub owner and photography promoter explains how he went from selling Japanese art to running a collection of culture-heavy venues in the heart of the UK capital.
In the early nineties, the UK was deep in recession and a young Alex Proud had just graduated with a degree in politics from York University. Despite having strong links with Charles Kennedy and the Liberal Democrats, Proud weighed up his options in an ailing job market and decided to take an apprenticeship with an art dealer. He sold Japanese art and even Rolls-Royces to raise the money to open a photographic gallery in 1994 – Proud Central.
Proud Central was a great success and hosted major photographic exhibitions such as Rankin’s Nudes, The Official Bob Dylan Show and Buddy Holly: The Making of an American Legend, just a stone’s throw from Trafalgar Square in London.
The Proud brand continued to grow to include Proud Camden, which was launched in 2006 and quickly followed by an upgrade, then the launch of Proud Cabaret and Proud Chelsea in 2009.
2010 has seen the set up of Proud Brighton, Proud Kitchen and, lastly, Proud at Matters which will see its inaugural night at the O2 Arena on 31st December 2010. All of the venues bear the hallmark house style of vintage cool and retro entertainment. Even the landmark NYE event has a burlesque dress code.
Projects for 2011 include Proud New York in Greenwich, Proud South Bank and Proud on the Water at Eridge Park in Tunbridge Wells. Asked about expansion abroad, Alex Proud said that he is considering opening venues in New York and the harbour in Montenegro, adding that it would be nice to travel with his children and allow them to see the world.
When asked about franchises, however, he chortles and says that critics may laugh in ten years time if he does it, but that for now there are absolutely no plans to franchise the name of which is he is so… Proud.
The popularity of burlesque, which has catapulted Dita Von Teese to fame and has seen the release, on 17th December 2010 of a movie starring Christina Aguilera, is clearly a strength in the Proud empire. Alex Proud says that the business maintains an open mind for new trends in 2011, but explains that cabaret and burlesque attract a wealthy and well-behaved female audience, who he is keen to attract to his venues.
Proud puts his 60% female customer demographic down to a “serious eye for detail” and commitment to clean, attractive venues. He does, however, expect that the Proud @ Matters crowd will be a little “younger and more clubby”.
The broad portfolio of the Proud business incorporates several venues which house everything from football match screenings to cabaret performances and photography exhibitions. The collection of venues are “incredibly stressful and consuming” to run, but Proud still manages to divide his time between a house in Sussex and a flat in London, saying that to only have one or the other would “drive me mad”.
In 2004, Alex Proud married Danielle and they now have two young children of three and two years old. Danielle is an interior designer and has appeared on This Morning, ITV 1 series House Gift as well as BBC2 in the promotion of her home crafts business. A graduate of Central St Martins, she was well accustomed to London night life before meeting Alex.
An average week sees Proud work 60-70 hours, not counting emails, though the unusual working hours allow him to spend time with his children. He makes full use of video conferencing and other modern technologies which allow him to work from home.