PROFILE: Club class - James Palumbo, founder Ministry of Sound

James Palumbo is a living enigma. A man of many contradictions.

James Palumbo is a living enigma. A man of many contradictions.

He loves classical music, but is the founder of the Ministry of Sound


He lends Peter Mandelson a chauffeured car during the election, while at

the same time lending his support to the local Southwark & Bermondsey

Liberal Democrat MP Simon Hughes.

He is the millionaire, Eton-educated son of a property developer,

inhabiting a world a far cry from the people he is in the business of


In fact, the only thing certain about Palumbo is that he has the Midas

touch. He has turned a derelict south London warehouse into arguably the

world’s most successful nightclub.

Since it opened its doors for business in 1991, the Ministry of Sound

has grown from its south London roots into a worldwide empire, giving

birth to a number of lucrative spin-offs, including a record company

with one million sales annually and a clothing brand.

Now, the Ministry business is said to be worth pounds 20m, and its

founder Palumbo has aspirations to take the brand with its distinctive

globe logo to greater heights.

This week, he launches a magazine, Ministry, which aims to be the ’first

magazine in Britain to reflect all aspects of clubbing life’, according

to the PR blurb. It might be just another magazine but it is a measure

of the confidence that Palumbo has in the power of the Ministry


It is hard to believe that only six years ago after he had sunk pounds

250,000 of his own money into the venture it was on the brink of

collapse. Within weeks of opening the club - which is modelled on a New

York gay club called the Paradise Garage - it had become a haven for

drug dealers. Pilfering and drug dealing by staff and security was

slowly draining away the fund, and slowly but surely, Palumbo saw his

investment dwindle to nothing.

Instead of closing up and counting his losses he decided to reinvest and

make a go of the business by himself.

After months of searching, he found the right people to staff the club

and recruited a team of young marketers to promote it. Given the

shelf-life of anything in the fashion world it is remarkable the concept

has remained so fresh. But by changing the look of the club every six

weeks Palumbo ensured the Ministry always appeared to be new and


’By changing the way it looks, we sort of changed some of the rules,’ he


Posters and flyers constantly flow from the marketing department and a

slick, if low-key, PR campaign maintains the Ministry’s presence among

fickle club-goers.

Again, being an outsider, Palumbo felt comfortable in changing the

rules; he brought discipline to an industry not exactly noted for its

business acumen.

It is this business sense that has led brands, such as Absolut Vodka and

Sega, to knock at the Ministry’s doors to expose their brand to the

music industry.

But his notoriety also derives from the long-running battle between him

and his estranged father, the former Arts Council chairman and

property-developer millionaire, Lord Palumbo, which has been widely

aired in the press.

He has not spoken to Lord Palumbo in over a decade and recently went

through the courts to wrest his trust-fund off his father - an

experience that has left him thoroughly bored of talking about the whole

affair to the media.

Instead, the 34-year-old Palumbo, who on leaving Oxford went into the

City and worked as a merchant banker, has poured his energies into the

Ministry. He has serious ambitions for the brand. An illuminated sign on

the wall reads: ’We are building a global entertainment business based

on a strong aspirational brand respected for its creativity and quality.

The Ministry of Sound team will be more professional, hard working and

innovative than any other on the planet.’

As mission statements go it beats the sort of notice one expects to read

at nightclubs, which normally absolve the management of any

responsibility for one’s personal welfare once you pass through its


It’s clear that Palumbo’s sights are set on his future profile as a

businessman, entrepreneur and politician.

The club ran an advertising campaign using explicit shots, such as a

urinal daubed with the words ’Piss on Niggers’ and a picture of a man

carrying the placard ’Praise God for Aids’. Underneath ran the line ’Use

your vote. You know he’ll use his.’

Palumbo was recently appointed by the government to bring new teeth to

the Citizen’s Charter. But politics is unlikely to seriously divert his

attention from the business of running the Ministry.

After all, a man who has been used to wielding unaccountable power and

influence is unlikely to be happy in Parliament.



Oxford University


Various positions in the City of London at Morgan Grenfell, Hambro

Magan, Merrill Lynch

1991-the present

Founder and owner, Ministry of Sound