30 May, 2020 @ 14:00
3 mins read

Glitz, glamour and a seething Ronnie Corbett – Giles Brown chronicles his misspent youth as Marbella’s Puerto Banus turns 50

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YOU can easily dismiss ‘The Port’ as full of the wannabes, the It girls, and the has-beens as well as the brash, blinged, blasted and frequently botoxed, but it has been an integral part of my life for decades.

Although the anniversary was lost in the lockdown, Puerto Banus celebrated its 50th birthday in May.

The project was the brainchild of Catalan construction magnate Jose Banus Masdeu, a close friend of Spain’s leader General Franco and known as ‘the regime’s builder’.

Marbella was already a fashionable and exclusive retreat for the rich and titled old families of Europe. 

Banus wanted something different: a resort not for ‘the wealthy few, but for the wealthy many’.

The crowning achievement was Puerto Banus, a yacht harbour on a scale never seen before, with a Mediterranean-style village attached.

puerto banus sale
HAPPY 50TH: To Marbella’s Puerto Banus

The project was called ‘crazy’ and ‘stupid’ when the plans were announced, but he enlisted the services of Beverly Hills architect Noldi Schreck, whose first job was to meet Jose Banus and convince him that Puerto Banus was not a suitable place to build huge skyscrapers.

He drew an artist’s vision of Puerto Banus as a sophisticated Andalucian village and marina, and then superimposed stark soulless skyscrapers behind them.

This convinced Jose, and Puerto Banus became the first marina to be constructed by a single architect.

Puerto Banus officially opened on May 17, 1970. Marbella had never had an event like it.

The 1,700 guests included Prince Rainier and Princess Grace of Monaco, future Spanish King Juan Carlos and Princess Sofia of Greece, film director Roman Polanski, the Aga Khan, Playboy owner Hugh Heffner (who flew in on the Playboy Jet) and most of the European Jet Set.

Entertainment was provided by a young Spanish singer called Julio Iglesias, who was contracted to sing for the guests for the sum of 125,000 pesetas.

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EL GUAPO: A young Giles dressed to the nines for a night out in Banus

In all the party cost Banus eight million pesetas, which included hiring an army of 300 waiters from Sevilla as they couldn’t find enough waiters on the coast.

Puerto Banus had arrived.

The 70s and 80s underlined Puerto Banus’ reputation as a playground for the rich and famous. Formula 1 world champion and Guadalmina resident James Hunt would be seen playing backgammon in Sinatra Bar.

Sean Connery, whose beachfront villa, Malibu, was less than 10 minute’s walk from Puerto Banus, was also a regular.

I started to visit Puerto Banus on family holidays and, when we moved to Nueva Andalucia in 1985 the Jet-Set marina became my regular haunt.

Being a 17-year-old cashless student at the time meant that I was hardly rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous at Menchu’s, so we used to buy beers at the small supermarket and hang out on two benches behind the Hollywood Bar that we christened ‘The Slabs’.

Imagine a prototype botellon, with 80s fashions and 125cc motorcycles  – I drove a Mobylette that I painted reggae colours – and you will get the general idea.

Puerto Banus was completely different in the 80s.

Before the advent of mobile phones, meeting up with friends was a hit and miss affair, but as The Port was less developed, you knew the places your crowd would be.

Salduba, Sinatra, Zelius, Mel’s, the Russian Bar or the legendary Joe’s Bar – where grabbing a space on a sofa was like finding gold dust –  and Comedia.

Late nights turned into early mornings at Webster’s bar with its legendary lock-ins.

With no social media, any passing celebrity was more likely to be friendly too – apart from Sean Connery who famously told us where to go in the old cinema in Puerto Banus, after we all hummed the James Bond theme tune as he walked in.

I spent an (admittedly hazy) evening with actor John Hurt in Sinatra’s, had an even more hazy night with Danny Dyer and Tamer Hassan when we celebrated the end of filming of their movie The Business, frequently spotted Rod Stewart enjoying a hassle-free dinner at a front-line restaurant, and was famously with my friend who was dating Ronnie Corbett’s daughter.

She had broken her curfew and was dancing with us in Joe’s Bar when the curtain by the front door flew open and a very, VERY angry five foot nothing comedian burst in and grabbed his daughter.

When we foolishly tried to interject, we were greeted with a stream of invective that owed more to Quentin Tarantino than the Two Ronnies.

The Puerto Banus of my ‘terrible teens’ may be long gone, and most of the characters too, but every time I find myself walking past the old Hollywood Bar – now a restaurant – I always duck down the narrow walkway to the place where ‘The Slabs’ once stood, pause, and allow myself a little smile.

Giles Brown

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