Chiltern Firehouse is a haunt for the celebrity scene in London, so only God knows why the cycling scene ended up there. Actually, apart from God, Simon Wear (GCN Founder and CHPT3 partner) knew, for it was he who had invited us all there. I think he thought it was a good way to introduce Phil Duff, the new owner of Assos, into the fold. What fold that is I don't know, and I'm not sure it even existed before we sat down at the table, but it certainly feels like we created at least a seam if not a fold.
Phil is an interesting chap. Not only a survivor of 1980s Wall Street where 2am finishes were the norm, but a champion of it, becoming the youngest ever CFO of a Forbes 100 company when he was 30 and eventually the CFO of Morgan Stanley, one of the most prestigious jobs in banking. He has always been a cycling afficionado, being one of the earliest adopters of Assos back in the 1970s. So when it came to slowing down his banking career and moving into something else he decided to take his appreciation for Assos to a level few could dream of by buying it outright; lock, stock and barrel. As you do.
Also present were:
Simon Mottram, founder and CEO of Rapha.
Eric Min, the founder and CEO of Zwift and a previous sponsor of my old team's (Garmin-Slipstream) U23 development program.
Paul Bolwell, one of the originals of Wiggle, and a CHPT3 partner like Simon Wear.
Dom Langan, CEO of Madison, the UK's leading distributor of cycling products.
Andrew Croker, Chairman of GCN, and one of the most connected men in the British sport industry.
Ashley Palmer-Watts, the man who runs the Heston Blumenthal empire.
Wayne Brown, COO of Grey London, one of the most respected advertising agencies in London.
It was more than a cycling networking dinner, because in truth most of us had conflicting interests, it was more a gathering of like-minded people and a chance to talk about the things we were doing and why we were doing them, all of us have a common interest in cycling and each a different business interest, even if competing within the same arena. It just so happened that three of us were joining forces in CHPT3, which I decided to announce for the first time that evening as it seemed the perfect time and place to reveal it.
It was a masterstroke by Simon Wear to organise it as there was no other circumstances where we would have had such a moment together, and it proved that we were more than the business interests we represented. As the wine flowed the chat went from business to life, and as the night grew longer the two Simons and I found ourselves downstairs in the smoking area pilfering cigarettes – not that we're smokers, but sometimes we do. So there we were, chatting away, enjoying each other's company when a woman appears and asks if we have a cigarette she herself could pilfer. didn't think twice and simply asked the group nearest us, so didn't really pay attention to who or why I was doing it, I was simply being helpful. I returned with the cigarette and handed it to her and said, "Nice tiger."
She looked rather bemused, and I could sense mild panic from the Simons, so I pointed at her chest, very closely apparently, Simon W actually thought I was about to touch her chest, and repeated, "Nice tiger." She looked down to her chest, where we were all now staring, and smiled and said, "Oh, right, thank you."
And then we got chatting, can't remember about what but it ended up with the Simons leaving us and the two of us sitting down and carrying on. She'd had a rough day because her old friend, Chris Cornell of Soundgarden and Audioslave, having committed suicide that very morning, and it was the fourth of her rock friends to have killed themselves. It was about this point I realised I was having a tête-a-tête with Courtney Love, she said, "Shall we have another cigarette?" I was like, “For sure, I'll go ask somebody.” But she wouldn't let me, “Stay there, I'll get them.” And that was when Courtney Love got up to find the two of us another cigarette each.
We chatted for about another ten minutes and then went our separate ways, she was, I have to say, not batshit crazy, actually really quite lovely, and quietly charismatic. I guess she'd had a tough day though, actually, probably more than that.
I returned up to dinner and sat back down next to Simon Mottram, he immediately said, “You didn't know who she was, did you?”
“Not at first, no. Nice tiger.” I just hung my head and shook it with shame. Simon kindly patted me on the back. And that was that, the weirdest dinner interlude ever.