FRIENDS OF the late John Aspinall are reeling from the publication of a book portraying him as a con artist and cheat. The Hustlers, by Douglas Thompson, describes how "Aspers" ran a highly lucrative scam at his glamorous casino The Clermont Club, above Annabel's nightclub oh Berkeley Square, netting him thousands of pounds from unsuspecting gamblers.
Aspinall founded the Clermont in the 1960s and it was frequented by Glaus von Bulow, Lord Lucan and Sir Jimmy Goldsmith. Lady Annabel Goldsmith, Sir Jimmy's ex-wife, refuses to accept the story. "I have glanced through the book," she tells me, "and it doesn't make much sense to me. There is no way it could be true. It's impossible that no one wouldn't have noticed."
Much of the book is based on the testimony of a former employee of the Clermont, John Burke, who describes Aspinall as "pathologically dishonest". Lady Annabel adds: "This man John Burke was an employee I think, and he claims he resigned.
"I simply don't think his story is true."
According to the book, Aspers was an "arriviste", a "wide boy on the make" , and a "world-class shit". The Duke of Devonshire is said to have described him as "amoral".
The timing couldn't be worse for Aspinall's son Damian, worth £42 million, who is busy setting up a chain of casinos called "Aspers", following the success of his first one in Newcastle. He doesn't return my calls.
Another friend of Aspers is unequivo-"cal when I ask if Aspinall was a cheat.
"Absolutely They even had a machine that used to bend the cards. One poor chap, called Henry Vyner, lost every single penny he owned in one night, including his family estate in Yorkshire, which had been in his family since the 13th century.
"Mark Birley and Aspers started off as great friends but Mark was hardly on speaking terms with Aspers by the end, because he was robbing all of his friends.
"But Annabel's had been Aspers' idea in the first place. He wanted a fashionable discotheque in the basement of the Clermont, and that's how Annabel's came about.
"There used to be an internal staircase joining the Clermont to Annabel's but once they had fallen out, Mark closed it. Aspers had more charm than anyone I have ever known, and was funny too. But underneath he was the toughest person I have ever met, he was completely ruthless."
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