Londonist raises a glass in memory of a bon viveur and rock'n'roll restaurant PR great.
Alan Crompton-Batt was the public relations consultant credited with creating the notion of the celebrity chef. He also used to manage the Psychedelic Furs in the late 1970s and was known in some circles as The Man Who Turned Down Dire Straits Before They Were Famous.
The son of an RAF pilot, Alan was born and raised in Salisbury. He was educated from the age of 11 at boarding school in Penang, Singapore, where his father was stationed. Although he won a place at Oxford University, his plans were interrupted by the painful death of his father, from cancer.
He wrote to Egon Ronay in 1978 asking for a position as an inspector for the great gourmet's hotel and restaurant guides. He became a food inspector for Ronay and, later, had a stint as marketing director for the Kennedy-Brookes restaurant group, which operates the prestigious establishment The Ivy. When the company bought The Ivy from Lord Grade, Crompton-Batt met the impresario's niece Elizabeth. They married in 1987. In 1985 he decided to set up on his own as a restaurant PR; this was a novel idea at the time, and for the rest of the decade he virtually had the field to himself.
Crompton-Batt, who sported electric blue suits and gold jewellery, was an inveterate party animal who was not known for his temperance.
The mid-1980s was the heyday of his PR company. Surrounded by beautiful young assistants (dubbed "Batt girls"), Alan drove a white BMW (in a sometimes wobbly line) from appointment to appointment. Food and wine journalists loved him. Taking a group to show them the finer points of Champagne Taittinger, he put them up in the Taittinger-owned Hotel Crillon in Paris, on the faultless grounds that it was more fun than going to a winery.
Jonathan Meades recalls introducing Alan to Jeffrey Bernard:
"Alan was a great fan. We all had lunch together at The Ivy. I left at 4pm, leaving Jeff and Alan together. Apparently, they were still there when people started turning up for dinner."
Jeremy King, co-owner of The Ivy, said, "If they were ordinary punters, I'd have thrown them out, but not people like that."
Alan and Elizabeth divorced in 1995, but remained good friends. The Evening Standard's Fay Maschler said of Elizabeth that she was "quite the best thing to happen to him in his too short life."
"He loved clothes," remembers Elizabeth, "especially very bright ones. He wasn't particularly a designer person; he bought anything he liked the look of."
Alan would always shop if he had money. He was also a fanatical sunbather. This added to Alan's image as a quintessential Eighties man: suntan, floppy blond fringe and an appetite for chunky gold jewellery. But fashions change, and the flamboyant outlook and glitzy lifestyle that characterised the restaurant scene in the Eighties and early Nineties was replaced by a coldeyed accounting that didn't look favourably on the excess and ostentation of the yuppie lifestyle.
By the late-1990s, things had begun to run out of steam.
"Everyone had run out of money and I ran out of options. It was not a good time to ring someone and say we're doing terribly interesting things with a duck down in Harrow. In a way, we deserved it - we created a bubble and it burst," Alan said.
He was not enjoying this climate and, as a perceptive man, realised that his place in it had essentially disappeared.
He died in South Africa two years ago after contracting pneumonia. He had been planning to write his memoirs there. His memorial service on 2nd November 2004 at The Actors' Church in Covent Garden was attended by such luminaries as Fay Maschler, Sir Rocco Forte, novelist Reg Gadney, Robert Earl, broadcaster Rupert Ponsonby, Simon Parker-Bowles, The Observer's Paul Levy, Nico Ladenis, Simon Hopkinson and the restaurateur Beth Coventry.
It was perfect that Alan should be remembered on the day of the American elections. He loved ranting and raving about American politics over lunch and much wine. After the service, a reception was held for him at Planet Hollywood, Coventry Street, W1. He was posthumously awarded for his outstanding contribution to London restaurants at the 2005 Tio Pepe ITV London Restaurant Awards.
Alan's most (in)famous client, Marco Pierre White, has recently published his autobiography. It contains barely more than a page or two on Crompton-Batt's involvement in his career’s inception. White was still a teenager working at Le Gavroche when he first encountered Crompton-Batt.
"He believed in me when I was 19 and fresh out of Yorkshire," White told The Telegraph in 2004. "He told me I would be the first British chef to get three Michelin stars."
White came to view him as his best friend, adding that he knew "how to lunch, how to dine." The Observer's Jay Rayner was quick to criticise:
"[White is] the kind of man who admiringly calls the drinking habits of his PR man 'amazing'. It wasn't amazing. It was disastrous. Crompton-Batt died two years ago because of his addiction to alcohol."
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