By Chrissy Iley
Joe Fournier is the cracklingly charismatic 32-year-old multimillionaire behind the Bonbonniere brand with clubs in London, Miami, Mykonos, and Beirut. He was born in London but grew up in Monaco until his parents’ acrimonious divorce and moved to Hounslow, a rough suburb where he swapped a chauffeur-driven car to being bullied on the bus.
“When I first came to London from Monaco I was only four and I didn’t notice so much that I’d swapped luxury for something tough but when I got to secondary school I realised my life was hard.”
He always was fiercely competitive with enormous drive. He became a basketball star despite the fact he’s not tall and everyone told him he couldn’t do it. That only encouraged him. He had smashed up his leg at football practice when he was 10 and after four operations he had a huge scar. To cover it he wore long shorts. The only shorts that were long were silky football shorts, “So I was nicknamed Silky Pants and was told I’d always have a limp. It was horrible and I’d been in hospital for such a long time, I only had a few mates. I supposed it made me stronger.”
Being alone gave him focus; he did not get depressed. His school had a really good sports teacher. Mo Farah, the British gold medalist in the 5000 and 10000 metres, was in his class and they are still great friends. It was a school of extremes; people excelled and became sport stars or they went to the dark side and became drug dealers and ended up in jail. He and Mo were on the light side. “Mo was always a champion. He was always fast. He could out-lap anyone. “
“I loved basketball and when I was doing well, I was still a teenager, I went back to Monaco. I went to a restaurant called Zebra Square where I paid €150 for a steak, which they refused to cook medium rare – it was blue. When I asked for it to be cooked more the chef told me to go to McDonald’s. The whole restaurant was sniggering at me and I was there with my girlfriend, so I vowed something like that would never happen again. This time when I go back it’s different. I can eat where I want and how I want.”
“As a teenager I went to the casino with €200 and they gave me only two chips. There are no lower stakes tables. It was lost within minutes. Recently I won £7,000.”
He played basketball for Britain. His school, though in a rough area, had excellent sports facilities. His international basketball career ended in a shoulder injury. He was depressed for the first time in his life and didn’t know what to do. He stayed in the pub a lot. Then he fell into personal training and before long he wasn’t just a trainer, he was the trainer. He worked with Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and on various blockbusters like Casino Royale. He refuses to be drawn on their various personalities but says: “I respect them all because they’re determined. Whether my personality clicks with theirs or not, it doesn’t matter. They’re there at 5.45am before 16 hours of filming, not many people on earth would do that.”
The first clubs he owned were health clubs, not nightclubs. He bought the equipment off eBay and called up everyone in the area pretending to be Steve the marketing guy. It paid off. He was running clubs and training on movies and hanging out with Jamie Foxx and Jimmy Butler and Paris Hilton with whom he was said to be romantically linked. He says they were “just good friends.”
Most recently he has been linked to former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger. He invited her to his club in Mykonos to get over her split with Formula 1 racing driver Lewis Hamilton who he knows from the Monte Carlo racing set. “He is a very talented driver and she is a wonderful woman but we are just good friends. It was very difficult for her having just broken up with a high profile partner. I’m not sure I was ready to get involved but I do want to settle down, really I do,” he insists rather playfully. In the meantime, he has other challenges.
His nightclubs he likes to call aspirational. “It started because I helped out a friend with a nightclub (Whisky Mist) and realised I liked the world. I got a taste for it. I knew a lot of celebrities; they always helped. I’d been to clubs in Monte Carlo and St Tropez a lot, I knew that they had to be an interesting mix of people and people who were aspirational, people who you’d want to be. I suppose I was lucky.”
Actually, luck has very little to do with it, it’s his drive. He’ll drink an espresso martini to stay up late but he’s never done any drugs. He’s seen what’s happened to his friends who he grew up with. “One is serving life and the other hung herself in jail.”
“Whisky Mist ended up being one of the most successful clubs of the last decade so that’s how I knew I could do more. I’ve even got one in Beirut because I used to play basketball there.” Does he think his love of nightclubs comes from growing up in an area of extravagance and luxury?
“Yes, perhaps. I love going to the Sass Café. It’s a restaurant that can turn into a club. Great food, outdoor terrace. I liked the Nikki Beach because they’re really busy and cool. The one in Monaco is low-key. I’ve got some mates who finish trading around 2am who come and meet me for a beer. Jimmy’s is the oldest club in Monaco. I remember first going there as a teenager and paying €50 for a Coca Cola and that’s when I thought: Hmm, there’s something in this!”
When he was 20 he had his first Ferrari. Ferraris were everywhere in Monte Carlo. It was a vintage one (f355 Spider bought in Monaco and driven back to London) but now he uses Uber. I love them but having a sports car creates a lot of negativity towards you. I still rent one if I go to Monaco.
“Growing up in Monaco where everybody is wealthy made me imagine it was achievable. I also love watches. This is a Hublot watch. It is a Formula 1 edition, there are only 250 in the world. They’ve made it look like the break disc of a car. Watches are huge for me and I am a fanatic. This all came from being in Monaco and seeing all the watches. It’s the watch capital city of the world.”
Joe has an incredible energy and charm; he is easy company, you can see his absolute drive within minutes of meeting him. He is the kind of person for whom the world knows “don’t do that” is only encouragement. He has been in training to box professionally. He has a headache from the shiner on his forehead. He needs to drop 20 pounds to make his weight for the fight. No drinking or eating protein. He loves to eat but he does not complain as he tucks into his blueberry yoghurt. I marvel how can he be fight-ready for October 27th? Why would he put himself through the torture of being beaten up in the ring? He does not need the money; does he need the challenge?
“I want to raise money for the Joe Fournier Foundation. It is a sport foundation. I was lucky to go to a school where sport facilities helped us so much. We could all so easily have gone the other way. So I would like a foundation that help more kids get into sports and do well.” You want to tell him don’t do the fight but that will only encourage him. His passion is something that is non-negotiable and that is how he is, who he is.
It’s hard to pinpoint his exact drive. Was it because he lost his wealthy lifestyle, he wanted to win it back? “It’s to do with my father, I haven’t spoken to him for 20 years or so. He walked away from my family and it was very messy. I wanted to prove a point to my father that he shouldn’t have walked away, that I was better than that. It’s made me determined that I will be a great father, not like him. It also makes me believe in taking risks. When everybody tells me not to do something, I do it. For instance, I am now training as a professional boxer to fight (October 27) in the Dominican Republic. I have to lose 20lbs to make the weight. I’ve got a headache from being beaten around the head everyday but I am going to do it.”
But why? He doesn’t need the money.
“Because I want to give back to my sports foundation. Sport is a way out for so many kids and I want to give them those opportunities.”