Oi Polloi

Interview: Tony Pikes and his Ibizan Utopia

Published: Wed Jul 16 2014

You may know Tony Pikes as the moustachioed bartender in the video for Wham’s 1983 smash hit, Club Tropicana. But not only is he a great dancer with a penchant for neckerchiefs, he’s also the founder of Ibiza’s real life Club Tropicana, Pike’s Hotel. Famously the location for Freddy Mercury’s 41st birthday blow-out, this place has long been associated with decadence, hedonism and downright sleazy behaviour. By some bizarre turn of events I found myself sat with Tony. It would have been rude not to ask him a few questions.

Here’s the context — we’re sat next to his purple tennis court, it’s two in the afternoon and Tony, who has just celebrated his 80th birthday, is still up from the night before. He has a habit of deviating from the questions I ask him and going off on long-winded tangents, but seeing as he’s been up all night, I suppose I could hardly expect concise answers. I start by asking what brought him to Ibiza…

What makes you go anywhere in life? Fate — complete fate. I don’t believe in God, I believe in destiny, that’s two different things. I’ve always chased the rainbow. I’m not stupid. I work hard and I play hard. I learnt at a very early age that you can’t play hard if you don’t work hard. I started without a penny, I had an inferiority complex, I couldn’t speak to people, I was nervous because of my childhood. I was bullied by my older brother. I’ve moved on from there.

Now I meet with the best people in the world. It’s just worked out very well. These are people from all stretches of life. I sit up there every morning and have breakfast and I see a new customer coming in like a bantam cockerel with his chest out.

“Are you Tony Pikes? What’s all the hype about, it’s a fucking farmhouse,” he’ll say.

“Can you ask me that question in 24 hours?” I’ll say.

22 hours lately he’ll come up to me and say, “Tony, forgive me, I didn’t realise. I thought I was a really important man and now I realise I’m just part of the team.” And that’s what I want, for everybody to be equal.

The sign at the bottom of the road that lead’s to Pike’s Hotel

You were exiled from Australia, you worked selling yachts and you had been shipwrecked in the Caribbean. Then you landed up here. What was your plan? Did you always want to open a hotel?

No, not at all — it was destiny. I had a house in the Côte d’Azur that was apparently owned by Napoléon’s sister. It was a picturesque little house. I held a dinner party and one of the guests stood up with a fork and started scratching away at all the plaster. I said, “What the fuck are you doing?”

He said, “Tony, when these houses were built they were constructed with timber. I’m sure there will be timber underneath this thing. So he carried on, and there was a beam. He said if you strip all of this off it will be beautiful.

I took his advice and the next day I brought builders in and they stripped it all off so it was all beams. So I oiled them with linseed and they were beautiful. I stayed there for three years. Then things went wrong so I moved on.

A friend of mine had moved to a place I’d never heard of called Ibiza and when he came back, he said, “Mate, you must go to Ibiza.”

What year’s this?

I came here on the first of June 1978, so this must have been in ’76. If anyone had said that to me I wouldn’t believe it, but we used to hold parties together in Bangkok. So when he said to me to come here, I believed him. I came over here in March for ten days and there was nobody here because it was winter time. But I had a feeling for it. So I came back in June.

Now Spanish people are fairly short. I’m not really a big man, but in Japan I am. When I’m there I wear a kimono, but I have to have one made for me as I’m too tall. And so when I looked over the side of the boat there was a guy standing head and shoulders above the rest. It was a mate of mine from Sydney called Pete Middleton. He was a typical Australian, always swearing. I had a Méhari (editors note: a Méhari is a small off-road Citroën) at the time and Pete, who was very athletic, leapt over the windscreen and landed in the seat next to me.

“Come on Pikey I’ll show you the island, I’ve been here for a week, I’ll get a Sheila for you,” he said.

I said, “Look Pete, all I want is a bed. I was at a party for 48 hours in Antibes, I’ve had a day’s drive to Barcelona in this Méhari that won’t go over 60kmh with so much wind-force that I’m going backwards. I’ve been to Majorca and now I’m here five days without sleeping. I’ve got to have some sleep. I’m a human; I’m not a machine.

He said, “You’re bloody senile, you used to be good fun Pikey, how old are you now?

“I’m nearly fifty,” I said.

“Nearly fifty? You’re a fucking child, what’s your problem?”

I said, “Mate, I just told you I’m shot. I’m a mere mortal, I need rest.” Then all of a sudden this Seat Panda drives past with a woman in. I honked the horn, but this was no a klaxon — it was a wounded cat with no guts. I got behind her but I couldn’t overtake her as it was a narrow road with one lane, just like it is now. So I got two wheels on the soft shoulder, which is very dangerous, and I’m going by and I look up and she’s a nice, pretty girl. I eventually managed to get in front of her but she smashed in to me.

“What’s the problem?” she said.

“There’s no problem, what are you doing for dinner tonight?” I said.

“Is that all?” she said.

“What do you mean is that all? I’m going to change your life.” And I did — I changed her life. We started this place together. We bought an apartment that was being built in the island’s first high rise, but when we came back there were just mounds of gravel and sand and nothing had been done. It was blacklisted by the authorities. It was all unsafe. The builder had put gas pipes, water pipes and electricity all in the same conduit. It was disastrous.

So we had a coffee, feeling a bit miserable and then walked up the road, just past an estate agent’s window. And in that window was a five hundred year old finca in San Antonio. I said, “That’ll be fresh air sweetheart, let’s go there.”

So we came here and it just had a feel about it, I don’t know what, but we both felt something. We got a bottle of wine, put a rope on the neck and swung it down. We got pissed too as it was hot.
She said, “Wouldn’t it be lovely if we could forget husbands and wives and divorces and stay here together.

I said, “Why can’t we?”

“Well, you haven’t got any money.”

I said, “Don’t mind that, if I want to do something I put my mind to it then I’ll do it.”

So I got this idea of not making a hotel, but a house. And it just started from there.

How long was it until word got out?

From the word go. I sold boats from a marina in France to Peter Sellers, Roger Moore and Shirley Bassey, so I was used to those sort of people. I’ve always been a yachtsman and a businessman. I didn’t have a childhood and I had a tough life, but I started to get the feeling for a good life. I thought if I work hard I can get it, and I have — I’ve got a world-wide reputation. It’s been a long, long road and it hasn’t been easy. People say I’m lucky, but I’m not lucky, I’m fortunate and I’ve worked my arse off.

A washed-up speedboat found a few metres from Pike’s Hotel

You said you were very introverted when you were young, what changed you?

I felt success. The island is kind. If you work hard you can make it. This is the countryside, there’s no water, no electricity, no road and no facilities but I had this vision that one day I’d make it like it is now. This took me twenty years. But I wasn’t in a hurry because when you’re young, then you don’t feel you’re ever going to get old. But you do get old.

How old are you now?

I’m 80.

You look well for 80.

I feel very well. My doctor said I’m a walking medical miracle. He said, “I know you take a lot of blow up the nose and copious quantities of alcohol but I’d trade my internal organs for yours tomorrow — you should be dead.

I’m doing everything I shouldn’t do but I’m 80 and I feel great. I’ve been married five times and I’m engaged to my sixth wife. We were going to get married last year on the 35th anniversary of the hotel, but she rang me up from Vienna and said, “Tony why did you lie to me?”

She said, “I’ve been speaking to two friends of yours and they said she couldn’t marry me because I was already married.”

I said, “Oh bullshit, what would they know about it?”

So I phoned my wife in Dubai and said, “Are we still married?”

“Baby, you know we are. We went to get divorced, we got everything ready for it but when we got to the bank you didn’t have any money and I wanted two and a half million euros.”

I said, “You’re worth every penny.” I was with her for 14 years — she was a good wife. So I sold the hotel to get the money, which is a shame. But now they’re saying they want me to say. I’ve got a room for life here.

A fox’s head on the wall in one of Tony’s rooms

After all these years is there any night here that particularly stands out?

There are a lot of them. I guess Freddie Mercury’s party. He called me into his room one day that used to be called Julio’s room. He said, “Why’s it called Julio’s room?”

I said, “It’s named after Julio Iglesias, the international singer.”

“What about me?” he said. “Where’s the Freddie room?”

I said, “You keep singing and one day maybe you’ll get your room.”
I was being facetious but I had a great rapport with him.

His birthday was the biggest private party on the island. But all the parties have been good. This life is different. I live in utopia.

What about the days when you need to go to the supermarket or sort your bills out?

No, I don’t do that. That’s mundane stuff. I live life to the full every day. It’s what keeps me young.

Have you got any regrets in life?

Nope, no regrets.

Being an 80 years old man living in utopia, what would your advice be to someone slightly younger?

In my opinion the only way you can make it is to work your arse off. I started without a penny and no education but I know how to work. When I started this place with my girlfriend we used to go down to San Antonio early in the morning, pick up all the derelicts sleeping on the beach and I’d line them up like Lee Marvin in the Dirty Dozen and say, “Listen, you’ve got the job. I’ll pay you 150 pesetas an hour and if you do your work you’ve got the job. Work half as much as me and I’ll pay you.”

Most of them by noon were finished. They’d all gone across the fields. It was very, very difficult to get the place built. And then you’ve got planning coming up and asking you if we’ve got permission and they’d try and shut you down.

I’ve been put in prison here. I was put in a pit. You go down there and the police are four stories above you with rifles and you’re in a dirt pit looking up. Now one guy there spoke English. He said, “Tony, you’re a nice man. They’re going to lock the stalls later on so you make sure you get one by yourself or you’ll get raped all night long and there’s nothing you can do about it ‘cause the guys don’t listen.”

Now the Spanish law is that you can’t do more than 72 hours inside without a charge so I thought all I had to do was 72 hours then I’d be out, but this blond headed guy said he’d been there a month.

“But what about the law?” I said.

“There is no law,” he said. “The law is those coppers up there with the rifles and they can do as they wish.”

Custom bedsheets featuring Tony and his mates

Was there a lot of this sort of thing when you first started? Was there a feeling of animosity from the locals for starting this place?

I never walked around being big headed, but I gradually became very well known. It’s a good business but it’s never made any profit as I wasn’t in it for money — I was in it for lifestyle.

I got the greatest compliment ever one day when I walked in to the restaurant one day and Julio Iglesias was having lunch and he said, “Tony, I envy you.”

I said, “Mate, you’ve got a 41 million dollar airport and I’ve got a fucking bicycle. How come you envy me?”

“I’m not talking about riches, I’m talking about lifestyle.”

I walked out of the bar with tears in my eyes. Here was the nicest man in show business saying that he envied me. I’d made it. I’d done it.

Do you reckon you’ve cracked life?

Most people don’t have the tenacity to keep going. It doesn’t come easy. I’ve achieved a lifestyle second to none. I’ve got Julio saying he envies me. Ron Rice, the founder of Hawaiian Tropic is a multi-millionaire with two 747s and he says he envies me. I’m doing something right.

Why do you think you’re still here?

I love life and I love women. I should have been a lesbian. I don’t want it to end. I want to live a few more years.

What’s going on tonight then?

I don’t know. I never plan. If you make plans they all come unstuck. I just go along with the flow.

Howard Marks is knocking around here at the moment making a book with you. You said they were going to make a film too. What’s that going to be about?

They’ve already made a film about me. But it didn’t get finished. I was going to be played by that good looking man from Hollywood. What’s he called?

I don’t know… Robert Redford likes to think he’s good looking.

No, before him — a very good looking man. I had dinner with him once. Anyway, they had him talking to this blonde, who was an actress. And the camera was moving around — camera work is always important. She’s talking to him and the camera goes down his body to his fly. You see a hand go across and open the fly. The camera goes to her face and she goes, “WOW.” You don’t have to say anything — that says it all. And then I die. But it was nicely done, it wasn’t morbid.

And with that sleazy-yet-poignant image, I leave Tony Pikes sat on the edge of a sun lounger as he finally submits to the power of sleep.