This is not a spoof:
This is uncanny. I'm washing my hands in a toilet in Chelsea and Margaret Thatcher is lecturing me. At least, I think it's her. I can't see her face, but her shrill voice echoes eerily around the urinals.
"We also had to deal," she harangues me as I turn the tap, "with the problem of trade union power, made worse by successive Labour governments and exploited by the confidence of militants who had risen to key positions in the trade union movement. Positions which they ruthlessly exploited."
As Thatcher's words waft improbably over a hubbub of moneyed Sloanes and flushing latrines, I feel like I might be trapped inside one of those surreal audio-scapes from Chris Morris's Blue Jam. But really the truth is far weirder. I'm at Maggie's, a new Margaret Thatcher-themed nightclub. Yes, you did read that right. A club inspired by the Iron Lady.
Located on the border between Tory Chelsea and blue-blooded Fulham, it's hard not to imagine Maggie's as some kind of political statement. After all, the first thing you see when you enter the club is a wall of photos featuring Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. Hanging over the stairs is a picture of Thatcher flashing a two-fingered salute. And, as we now know all too well, toilet-goers are serenaded with the audiobook of Thatcher's diaries.
So, I ask the club's co-owner, Charlie Gilkes, is this the nocturnal equivalent of a neo-liberal manifesto? No, no, no, argues the Old Etonian, who opened Maggie's with his business partner Duncan Stirling earlier this year. "It's not a Tory club," he says carefully, but rather a tribute to the 80s – a bit of "childhood nostalgia for the decade of our birth". The reference to Britain's most divisive politician, he says, is tongue-in-cheek. "I know she's divisive, but I do admire her. She's a leader."
In this 80s, Thatcher-era themed club, bottles of champagne signed by the Iron Lady go for £5,000, but I make do with a Ferris Bueller Fizz, priced £10.50. A Super Mario mural adorns another facade and every table in sight has been made to look like a giant Rubik's cube, while a Neil Kinnock figurine takes pride of place next to Gilkes's own childhood collection of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
While Gilkes would love Thatcher herself to visit sometime – despite conceding "her nightclubbing days are probably over" – he says he turns down requests from Tory groups to hire the club. Gilkes is keen to emphasise his clientele aren't all true blues. Lots of clubbers "don't like Margaret – someone even punched in the speaker in the loos" – although one suspects the £250 fee for a table, on top of the £15 entry price, may put off most clients before they even reach the bathroom. "Adam Ant's down quite a lot," he says, while parts of Spandau Ballet frontman Tony Hadley's signature are still visible on a poster by the door, despite a cleaner's efforts to wipe it clean. Indeed, on the night I drop by, the dancefloor is rammed with a group out on an annual public school reunion. None will own up to being a fully-fledged Thatcher-lover, though the most convivial, Matt, says his family were fans. "My father was a Thatcherite, and my mother was persuaded because she felt that [a tax rate of] 98 pence to the pound was not the most effective use of my father's money." Thatcher, he concludes, "gave us something we all need a little of: capitalism."
Back in the toilets, Thatcher warbles on. "A firm financial strategy was needed to provide economic reforms, tax cuts and deregulation of industry," she explains to a new bunch of urinating clubbers. But as we enter another winter of discontent, I'm not sure any of them get the irony.