My favorite room
Charles Dance

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 48, Autumn 2016

Page 18

My favorite room
Charles Dance

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 48, Autumn 2016

Page 18

My favorite room
Charles Dance

Bonhams Magazine

Issue 48, Autumn 2016

Page 18

Charles Dance revels in the bohemian ambience of the Chelsea Arts Club, including its occasional excesses

I first came to the Chelsea Arts Club some 30 years ago to be interviewed for a film role. I didn't get the part, but I did successfully apply for membership.

The club is one of the oldest in London and it originally catered, as its name suggests, for practitioners of the fine arts of painting and sculpture and their associated trades. Whether acting fits into the latter category is debatable, but the club does have a smattering of us on its membership list, and I for one am glad of that.

I live in North London, so it is hardly convenient for me, but that aside it offers me freedom from the 'thrusting Young Turks' who now frequent the other clubs that cater almost exclusively for what's loosely described as 'the media'. Here, in the shabby-chic surroundings of the Chelsea Arts Club, quiet conviviality is the overriding feeling – not least in its magnificent dining room. Beautiful paintings, properly lit, hang on its walls and, when our summer permits, tables are also set in the minimally manicured gardens.

While I try to book a table, I have occasionally arrived on the off-chance that a table will be available, and if disappointed have taken a vacant seat at what is known as the Members' Table. This large 'eating board' sits about 12 people and cannot be booked, so dining here can mean that one becomes part of an ad hoc dinner party, or, depending on the temperament of the other diners, one is left respectfully alone. On one occasion I was not left respectfully alone when one of a group of diners at the end of the table introduced himself as I sat down. "Evening! My name's George," he said. "We're all gallery owners here." "Really? Well, my name's Charles," I replied, "and I'm very glad that my agent doesn't take from me the kind of commission that you lot take from painters!" This remark was received rather like a French kiss at a family reunion, with the not unexpected result that I was left to dine alone.

That evening aside, I have enjoyed many evenings there. As well as the comforting surroundings, the food is excellent and – I hesitate
to say – very reasonably priced. You can get a bottle of decent wine there for the price of an orange juice in one of the fashionable Soho clubs.

Of course, being the last bastion of Chelsea bohemians, there is invariably some mischief to be encountered. I recall that the former secretary Dudley was under pressure from local residents to curb the behavior of certain club members following some high jinks in the garden that had been witnessed from neighboring houses. Complaints were duly made and he was concerned about the status of the club's license.

Not long after a difficult meeting on the subject, he came into the club and discovered a couple at the top of the stairs engaged in what might euphemistically be termed 'heavy petting'.

"Ahem!", he coughed. There was no reaction. He tried again, a little louder.

"AHEM!!"

Still no response from the entwined duo. Just as he had cleared his throat to snare their attention for the third time, the man turned around and said: "Fuck off, Dudley! I'm trying to sell a painting."

Actor Charles Dance played Tywin Lannister in the television series Game of Thrones. His latest movie role is in the new Ghostbusters.

Chelsea Arts Club, London SW3; chelseaartsclub.com.

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