Wednesday, 13 January 2010

Marbella It's part euro, part trash.'

'Puerto Banus is like Soho,' he told me at his house. 'You can come out of a theatre in the West End and go to a beautiful restaurant, or go into a side street and find hookers and drug addicts. It's the same here.'
Max, only half-jokingly, suggested that he'd like to be mayor and sort it out. 'I'd clean it up,' he said. 'Someone needs to, because the prostitutes are getting younger and drugs are being sold more brazenly. It's getting rougher.'
One of the main culprits locals blame for the disintegration of Marbella's image is Gary Lineker's brother, Wayne, a cheeky-chappie character with a big grin and even bigger bank balance. His chain of Lineker's bars have become hugely popular throughout Southern Europe. I interviewed him in his main Puerto Banus bar and he was totally unrepentant.
'Marbella's a high-profile place,' he chortled, 'and fortunately for Lineker's, it's turning towards the crowd we want, the working-class British man and woman. We go through 15,000 bottles of beer a weekend now. And the more mucky stories that people write about the place back in Britain, the better business gets. Where there's muck there's money!'
Asked what his message to the rich and famous of Marbella was, Wayne smirked and pronounced: 'Do one.' Which I believe is Lineker's speak for 'Go forth and multiply.'
In the great old days of the town, Ava Gardner and Audrey Hepburn would dine with the likes of Cary Grant and Laurence Olivier at the fashionable Marbella Club.
Today, the cast list of luminaries is a little lower down the celebrity ladder. I ventured down to the coast again to meet up with Bianca Gascoigne, stepdaughter of footballer Gazza, at the infamous Nikki Beach bar. As we spoke, hundreds of half-naked young people began spraying vintage champagne on each other in a four-hourly exercise called, naturally, Champagne Spray Party.
'Do you think this is a sensible thing to be doing in the middle of a recession?' I asked Bianca. 'Absolutely not,' the cheeky minx replied, 'but it's definitely a fun thing to do!'
And that is the attitude of most of the revellers in Marbella. 'Having fun' is the order of the day, and as much of it as you can possibly cram into 24 hours.
'I'm meeting up with Calum Best later,' Bianca giggled, conjuring up the mind-boggling prospect of a Best and a Gascoigne getting drunk together.
One reason the celebrities at each end of the ladder love it so much is that nobody in Marbella, outside of the expats like Max Clifford, seems to care very much what you get up to or what you did in your past.
I found one legendary old rogue, Princess Diana's cad James Hewitt, running a smart new restaurant called the Polo House in Marbella's most exclusive street.
'I had to get away from Britain,' he admitted, 'and this has been the perfect refuge for me. There are no paparazzi, nobody bothers me except when I am happy to be bothered in the restaurant, and I've found the peace and privacy that I could never have back home.
'It's also a very comfortable lifestyle here. But there are two very different worlds. Since the cheap easyJet flights came in, all the hen and stag parties have started flooding into Puerto Banus, and that's changed the character a little from the quite smart, glamorous place it used to be.
'It's also driven the really rich people out a bit, tucked away in the secluded areas on the outskirts.'
That's indisputably true. But the rich still head down to the port occasionally to hit their credit cards in one of the world's most expensive shopping precincts.
I went shopping with former Birmingham City soccer boss Karren Brady. She's about to join Lord Alan Sugar as his new Apprentice sidekick, so should know a thing or two about business. But watching her sweep through Gucci, Prada and Fendi like a human vacuum cleaner was a terrifying spectacle.
Her eyes alighted on a rather plain-looking handbag. 'Oooh, that's lovely,' she cooed. 'You can never have enough handbags.' This one boasted a price tag of £15,000.
'Who the hell buys this kind of thing?' I gasped.
'Oh, there's a lot of serious wealth in Marbella,' she chuckled. 'And they come down to Puerto Banus for the glamour, the yachts, the celebrities, the shops. There are two sides to this place. But both sides are quite fun. It's part euro, part trash.'
And that, at its heart, is Marbella. A place to retire to, party in, make a fortune, spend a fortune, drink shots, get shot --whatever takes your fancy.

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