‘The Club’: The murder mystery inspired by Soho House – by someone who used to work there
Read an extract from Ellery Lloyd’s novel set in an exclusive members’ club called ‘Home’
Sunday 22 May 2022 By Anastasiia Fedorova
The book’s author, Ellery Lloyd, is a pen name for the husband-and-wife duo of London-based writers Collette Lyons and Paul Vlitos. Their 2021 crime novel, People Like Her, explored the world of social media influencers and the dark drive behind the economy of likes and appearances. The Club continues this trajectory – but also draws on Lyons’ first-hand experience of working at Soho House as an editorial director. ‘I worked at Soho House during the period that Soho Farmhouse was launching, and it struck me that a private members’ club, especially one in a remote location, would be the most incredible setting for a murder mystery, And Then There Were None-style,’ she explains.
The Club is, of course, a work of fiction – but any member would find it entertaining trying to match locations and characters to familiar Houses and faces. But as they say, ‘any similarity to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental’ – so you didn’t hear it from us.
Read an extract from The Club below.
All around the country, all over the world, people watched and rewatched as news channels replayed the same footage: blurry drone shots of the incident tent amidst the trees; the forensics team in their ghostly hooded jumpsuits; the same short video clip over and over of Ned Groom, shot a few years earlier for GQ’s Men of the Year awards, demonstrating how to mix the perfect Old Fashioned (‘This is what I get all my guys to make before I hire them – Home’s barman test . . . so you get your sugar, bitters, whisky and an orange slice . . .’), talking to camera about what made a great party (‘It’s about making people feel welcome, creating an environment where you can kick back and be completely yourself – we are called Home, after all . . .’).
That jerky footage of the first boats arriving back on the mainland, the first partygoers huddled against the cold spray of the waves, the shell-shocked expressions of those being helped up onto the dock. People swaddled in foil blankets on the harbourfront. People crying. The weirdness of spotting, amongst those tearstained, anxious faces, one that you recognized, someone famous, then another, then another. That actress. That singer. And having to force your brain to understand that this was not a movie, that this was really happening, and happening now.
All around the world, people who, a few days earlier, had barely heard of Home, sat glued to their phones, strangely unsettled, oddly excited, waiting for the identities of the deceased to be confirmed.
It didn’t take long for the online sleuths to spring into action and the conspiracy theories to start and spread. Confident claims appeared almost instantly on Reddit about who was on the island. Wild assertions circulated on 4chan about who was in the sunken vehicle. YouTubers pored over leaked autopsy reports, scrutinizing new footage for evidence of fakery. Unsubstantiated stories emerged about unmarked helicopters sighted approaching the island, leaving it. People thousands of miles away were pre-emptively furious that there was going to be a cover-up. Suddenly everyone on Twitter was well-versed on the safety features of the Defender 2020 Electric Land Rover, everyone on Facebook was an expert on the Blackwater Estuary’s currents and tides. Several actors felt compelled to announce publicly, via social media, that they were still alive. In several cases they were asked immediately by hundreds of people
to prove it.
Even now, six months later, many of the party guests pictured shivering on the dock in that first grainy footage still can’t post anything online – a picture of themselves on the red carpet at some premiere, say, or hiking in the Hollywood Hills – without being immediately bombarded by questions about what they saw on the island that weekend, what they told the police, messages demanding they clarify this or that supposed incongruity in the official version of events.
‘They can get a bit upsetting, the Instagram comments. I posted a picture of my daughter Lyra’s eighth birthday party last week and instantly someone was ranting underneath about a paedophile ring, demanding to know what really went on at Island Home. Like I would have the first clue!’ Kyra Highway shakes her head at the ridiculousness of the suggestion. ‘The thing is,’ she points out, ‘I wasn’t even meant to be there. I’m a member, sure, but I was never going to be on the list for a launch like that, not any more. I think the last one I went to was Venice Home, and when would that have been? Early 2014?’ The singer shrugs.
Anyone with a memory for celebrity scandal will recall that 2014 was not a good year for singer Kyra Highway. She had only recently married footballer Keiran James – Hello! spent a seven-figure sum securing the print exclusive on their lavish wedding, where their one-year-old daughter Lyra was an adorable flower girl in a pink glitter tutu – when their family life imploded. The News of the World ran a front-page story on Kyra’s affair with James’s best friend and teammate, Sean Nicholl, and it turned into a months-long tabloid feeding frenzy, each headline more sensational and intrusive than the last. Their subsequent divorce played out publicly and bitterly, her music career in the UK never quite recovering from the fall-out, with her break-up single ‘Free Again’ stalling at number 41 in the charts (although it was a top-ten hit in Germany and number one in the Philippines for a week.
Freddie, of course, is Freddie Hunter, the angelic all-American former choirboy who found early fame back home Stateside in chart-topping pop trio Sideways (you may recall the coordinated denim outfits, the gelled spiky hair), before walking out on the band at the height of their success and moving to the UK to escape the spotlight. Now, of course, anglophile Freddie is best known as the top-rated late-night talk-show host in the US– a gig landed after several stints in rehab and a good few years bouncing around his adopted home, presenting British prime-time TV (hence the occasional cockney inflection to his Californian accent).
Famously fun, faultlessly charming, unfailingly flattering to his talk show guests, Freddie was the one who hatched the plan to smuggle his old friend onto Island Home in the helicopter he keeps at his Surrey mansion (one of several palatial properties he owns around the world), the same make and model as the one he keeps at his Montecito house and pilots (or pretends to pilot, for insurance reasons) while singing with guests in the Mile-High Duets segment of his show.
‘Home clubs are like that,’ Kyra explains. ‘Even if you’re nipping in for a quick drink on a Tuesday night, it feels like a house party where you know everyone. Anyway, Freddie and me have been friends forever,’ she continues, pointing to a framed photo on the sideboard of them both, obviously in their teens, on stage at Madison Square Garden. ‘That was back when I was trying to break out in the USA.’ She laughs and shakes her head. ‘That never happened, did it? Anyway, Freddie and I got on like a house on fire from the first time we met, and when he quit the band and moved over here, we had an absolute riot. Possibly too much fun actually . . .’ She winks.
‘We’ve had this tradition since he moved back to the US for his show, that once a year we go away somewhere to just hang out.’ She gives her trademark cackle. ‘Clubbing in Ibiza, a week in the Maldives if we’re feeling flush. We’ve done Vegas, a detox retreat in Hawaii– we lasted two nights on a juice fast there before we escaped to drink pina coladas. . .’ She points to another framed photo of them grinning, clutching bucket-sized cocktails in a beach bar, flushed with rum and sunburn.
‘Anyway, that night, after a drink or three, we did a few songs on the piano in the upstairs bar, and then we had a few more drinks. And he said he was going to Island Home on Thursday, he was flying himself down. Because we hadn’t had our trip yet that year and it was already October, he said that I should come.’ She gives a little shrug. ‘I didn’t have anything on, so I said yes. We didn’t really think it through, I guess.’
For someone who, if this five-floor north London townhouse is any indicator, made serious money during her recording career, with three UK number ones, two top ten UK albums and sell-out stadium shows across Europe under her belt, Kyra Highway is astonishingly modest. So self-effacing that it’s easy to overlook the scale of her success, how big a star she actually was at the peak of her career. Given her composure, it is also easy to forget how far she has come – how much she has overcome to get here, something she details with brutal honesty in her best-selling autobiography My Way, the Highway. The abusive teenage boyfriend. The bullying at school. The sudden ascent to pop fame aged fourteen. All those jokes on Never Mind the Buzzcocks about her Birmingham accent. The paparazzi harassment. The tabloid stings. That divorce. When you think how long ago she had her first hit, how solid a presence she has been in the public consciousness since, it is hard to believe the singer is still only in her mid-thirties.
‘I did briefly question if they’d actually want me there, but Freddie was adamant Annie Spark would be thrilled – or at least if she wasn’t, then she wouldn’t cause a scene,’ Kyra recalls. ‘And he was right about that. You should have seen their faces, though, as they walked up the lawn to meet us and it wasn’t just Freddie standing there waving. My God, their expressions. The panic. Especially after they realized I’d brought Lyra too, when she hopped out of the chopper behind me.’ She half smiles at the memory, then shakes her head, grows thoughtful.
‘You know,’ she says, quietly, ‘when I think about what happened, the decision I regret most in my entire life – and if you’ve read my memoir or the newspapers you’ll know I have made some really bad ones in my time – is bringing my little girl with me. My second biggest regret is not leaving sooner. It was chaos, that Sunday morning. Really scary. Drones circling. Everybody attempting to get off the island, trying to work out who was missing, desperate to get their phones back – squeezing their way through the crowd into The Boathouse, shoving, shouting – to call their agents, their PAs, their publicists, their mums. I’ll never forget it. Wandering around the island with my daughter – the only child in the whole place – clinging to my hand and crying, people pushing past us, the two of us trying to find anyone in a position of authority, to tell them what Lyra had told me. What Lyra had seen.’