Thursday 25 December 2014

The rise and fall of the Boomtown Prats

It is a mark of how far the Stokes twins have fallen that the best defence they could offer to the High Court this week was their own cluelessness.

With businesses in ruins all around them, Simon and his brother Christian said in an affidavit that they had been "irresponsible" -- but denied that they were dishonest.

The 36-year-olds put their behaviour down to "incompetence" -- a humiliating admission for a pair of businessmen, no matter how young.

It was all so different five years ago. Known as the 'Bang brothers' they were the much-adored and admired Jedwards of the Dublin hospitality scene, feted in the gossip columns.

Their Bang Café restaurant drew rave notices. One female fan enthused in print: "Just imagine, Christian serving me margaritas for breakfast and Simon pouring my Bolly at dinner time. It's enough to make a girl forget that Conrad Gallagher exists at all."

Then there was their pub, The Clarendon, modelled on paintings by Van Gogh and Manet.

When the twins finally opened an opulent members' club, Residence, in 2008, it was hardly surprising that celebrities like Bono, Brian O'Driscoll and Victoria Smurfit were quick to join.

The twins' every move seemed to be played out in public, ensuring that when things went wrong the label, "poster boys for the Celtic Tiger", was quickly stuck on their backs.

And indeed they did appear to lead gilded lives. When the pair were house-hunting a decade ago, they were followed by an RTÉ crew for a suitably-titled documentary, Boomtown.

And when Christian splashed out €150,000 on a Ferrari Spider car we learned the splendid details courtesy of the Sunday Independent.

"I don't drink or smoke, but I have an interest in cars and a passion for Ferraris," said Christian. "I bought it in Belfast and the garage thinks it was owned by David Beckham or some other Premiership footballer."

They were perhaps more chastened men this week when they were barred by the High Court from acting as directors of any company for four years.

Ms Justice Mary Finlay Geoghegan said their conduct made them unfit to manage a company.

It is well-established practice in business that directors do not dip into their firm's funds for personal use.

At a previous court hearing, we first learned of their feats with company credit cards. They racked up bills of just under €150,000- including Simon's visit to the exotic-sounding Coral Reef Club in Barbados, and a bill for €4,425 at the Gucci store in New York (see panel).

In a statement to the court this week, Simon Stokes said the intense publicity surrounding the demise of their business had already acted as a significant punishment.

One acquaintance said: "They put themselves in the public eye. It was inevitable that they would be the centre of attention when things went wrong."

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