Tube tribute to partying ‘Prince’

Bernie Katz, celebrated Groucho Club host, is the subject of a new portrait by Nina Mae Fowler to be displayed in a London Underground station


The Jewish club manager known as the “Prince of Soho” is being commemorated with a portrait at a London tube station which will be seen by thousands of people.

Bernie Katz, the legendary front of house manager of the Groucho Club, passed away suddenly last month, aged 49.

The portrait, showing him doing what he loved best — partying — is hanging on the walls of Regent’s Park underground station.

It was commissioned by Art Below, a London-based public art enterprise, and created by artist and friend Nina Mae Fowler, whose other work has been exhibited at the Soho club which Mr Katz ran for more than 25 years.

A host of celebrities, including Sienna Miller, Sadie Frost, Jaime Winstone and Noel Fielding, took to the streets of Soho last week to pay tribute to the larger-than-life character. True to form, the flamboyant Mr Katz received a lavish send-off. His coffin passed through Soho Square and by the Groucho in a horse-drawn-carriage, accompanied by a New Orleans-style jazz band.

Printed as a poster, the portrait went on display on Monday and will remain at the station for four weeks. Meanwhile, the original drawing was unveiled last Thursday at the Art Below private view at Le Dame Gallery in Regent’s Park. The picture was then taken to Mr Katz’s funeral at Golders Green Crematorium and later on to the Groucho for a “funeral wake”.

Nicknamed “the Prince of Soho” by Stephen Fry, Mr Katz made headlines when he wrote a book called Soho Society in 2008. It was a collection of semi-fictionalised romans à clef detailing bohemian London life. Such was his influence, that Mr Katz was able to call on Tracey Emin, Damien Hirst and Peter Blake to illustrate his tales.

With a fearsome reputation as a fixer and a keeper of celebrity secrets, the five-foot tall Mr Katz was named as one of GQ’s 100 Most Connected Men in Britain two years ago.

Ms Fowler, who lives and works in Norfolk, has previously been nominated for the prestigious Portrait Award for her painting of the ballet dancer Carlos Acosta.

Of her portrait of Mr Katz, she said: “This drawing is a rare use of colour for me but black and white just would not do when it came to portraying Bernie. He was an avid supporter of artists and combined this with endlessly raising money for charity. This drawing shows him in a moment of isolated ecstasy on the dance floor at my best friend’s wedding. I loved him very much.”

Born in Kennington in 1968, Mr Katz was the son of the notorious gangster Brian “Little Legs” Clifford. Though he once described his father as a “real villain with a heavy clout around south London”, he said his home was a largely happy one thanks to his “archetypal Jewish mother” who was forever “cleaning and making chicken soup”.

Proceeds from the sale of the drawing and limited edition prints will be donated to an online fundraising page to support Mr Katz’s family including his mother Rhoda, and his severely autistic nephew Ethan.

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