Vandalism, blood, and hookers. A Daily Beast investigation exposes the best-kept secrets of Britain’s most powerful men; the hidden archive; the club’s latest outbreak of destruction; new heavyweight members named and Prime Minister David Cameron’s hushed-up past.
The tablecloth was drenched in red wine and blood; broken plates littered the floor and a young man in a $5,000 suit lay unconscious.
Strewn across the Tudor room at the luxury Manor hotel in north Oxfordshire was proof that Oxford University’s notorious Bullingdon Club is still raising hell in 2015, despite claims that their excesses had been checked by negative publicity and mortified former members. “They walked in here as if they were the Royal Family”, John Wood, one of the waiters that served them, told The Daily Beast. “One half were drinking themselves silly, the other half smashing up the crockery.”
The 15 students were served 24 bottles of red wine, 24 bottles of white wine, and plenty of champagne. The damage they inflicted ran into hundreds of dollars.
After three years as a student at Oxford, this was my first glimpse of the Bullingdon in action as part of an unprecedented investigation into the drinking society’s past and present, which is based on discoveries from the archives and interviews with recent and former club members.
Three of the most powerful men in Britain today—the prime minister, the chancellor of the Exchequer, and the mayor of London—were all members, joining an illustrious list of alumni that includes ambassadors, countless CEOs, titans of the financial industry, and four kings. Because the members swear a code of silence, or “omertà,” when initiated, the club has been shrouded in mystery until now.
The night at the Manor began at around half past nine on a cold night in February, a beaten up minibus arrived at the hotel in Weston on the Green, north Oxfordshire. They swaggered out, tipsy from the Dom Pérignon they’d enjoyed on the ride. They’d been picked up from a secret location on Walton Street in the Oxford suburb of Jericho wearing their outfits from Oxford tailor Ede and Ravenscroft.
A set of club rules from 1850, found in a small blue booklet with gold embossed letters and yellowed with age, describes the very same outfit they wear to this day. “The Uniform of the club,” it says, “shall consist of a Blue Tie, Blue Coat, Brass Buttons, Buff Waistcoat, Blue Trousers.”
Oxford establishments won’t have them. The Kings Arms, a popular student pub, banned them from entering the building when the Bullingdon boys started a fire in one of the rooms and smashed an antique mirror in 2006. That was just a friendly drink. Their organized events—known as “blinds”—have been banished from the city for more than 100 years. They were ordered not to hold any meetings within 15 miles of central Oxford in 1894 after smashing all 534 windows in Peckwater, a quad in Christ Church, the grandest of Oxford’s colleges.
Among this year’s vintage were the sons of some of Britain’s wealthiest and best-connected men. Based on the club’s history, one of them could well be ruling Britain within the next few decades.
The Manor is an old English country establishment, built in the 11th century as a monastery, before being gifted by Elizabeth I to Sir Henry Norreys in the 16th century. It is now a luxurious hotel with swimming pools and a tennis court. The living room has heavy armchairs and the Polo Times and Four Shires magazines decorate the table while a fire crackles in the background. Under a false name, the club reserved an oak paneled room with emerald colored walls dominated by a massive mahogany table in the center. The room is a good distance from the main dining hall so that the other guests won’t notice a commotion.
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