Before there were gay clubs, there was Heaven.
The London club, which opened in 1979, was considered a game changer in terms of tolerance and acceptance of the gay community.
By 1998, however, it was starting to get a bit tatty, leading then-owner Richard Branson to shut the doors and revamp one of the UK’s most iconic nightspots.
That happened 20 years ago this week, as Heaven hosted a ‘Demolition Party’, with legendary DJ Ian Levine at the helm.
This article by Claire Garner, from The Independent newspaper, captured the reasons behind the closure, and summed up the thinking behind the change.
“Heaven has got a special place in terms of gay culture,” Angela Reed, head of marketing and promotions for Heaven, explained at the time.
“It’s not just a nightclub. A lot of people came here before they came out and as a result they view Heaven as their home. We don’t want just to be a dancing and drinking club. We want the whole experience, where people can mix and meet and socialise with each other.”
And as for Virgin boss Brandon’s plans? Was Heaven about to ‘turn corporate’, and embrace filthy lucre?
‘Some Heaven habitues are worried that the club, which was launched in 1979 as the antithesis of the commercial disco, is about to turn corporate,’ the article reads.
‘It is, after all, owned by Virgin. But Richard Branson, who bought it for a reported £500,000 in 1981, is considered to be onside. Last year he sponsored the Gay Pride festival and at Christmas he went to the club.
‘Some say Heaven is Virgin’s Achilles’ heel, but Branson has been quoted as saying: “It will be the last place I sell.”‘
Branson might have sold up in 2003, but all these years later, Heaven remains one of THE London nightspots, a testament to the community that made it so…
[Article snippets from The Independent, 4 April 1998]