MBE for Jongleurs founder

Kempinska's new year honour

Jongleurs founder Maria Kempinska was awarded the MBE in the New Year Honours for services to the entertainment and hospitality industry.

The daughter of Polish immigrants, she opened her first club in Battersea, South London, with a £300 overdraft in 1983 after being inspired by a visit to the Edinburgh Fringe.

It originally provided a stage for all manner of bizarre alternative cabaret acts, but soon started to focus on stand-up; helping to launch the careers of the likes of Graham Norton and Jack Dee.

The company evolved into a corporate brand, specialising in entertaining larger parties. By 2000, there were eight Jongleurs venues across the UK, which Kempinska sold to Regent Inns in a deal that valued the company at £30million. She and co-founder John Davy received £8.5million each and retained certain rights to the brand name as well as creative control of over which acts are booked.

There are now 16 clubs, but Regent Inns – which also owns the Walkabout and Old Orleans chains – has encountered financial difficulties. The entire company is now only worth £3.1million, and is trying to sell at least two Jongleurs clubs.

Kempinska, 55, once said: ‘I chose a difficult name because my own name is difficult and once people know it, they don’t forget it.

‘When working people go out on a Friday or Saturday night they don’t want to go to a room at the top of a scruffy pub which is unkempt and uncared for. They want to go to a place where they feel that they are getting an evening out and having a good time.”

‘It is about being the best you can. Do what you want to do, but do it absolutely brilliantly.

Published: 1 Jan 2009

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