Tony Pike: 1934-2019
The legend who can never check out
‘You can check in, but you can never check out’ is the phrase emblazoned on a rustic, whitewashed storage building in the car park of Pikes and never has it seemed more apt than in these past few days; after receiving news that the hotel’s founder Tony Pike had passed away peacefully in his sleep here in Ibiza. While Tony’s body may have left the building, there’s absolutely no question that the spirit of the first man to ever (metaphorically) check-in to Pikes will remain in his eponymously named hotel till the end of time.
The words legend and iconic are bandied around quite liberally these days and yet no one in Ibiza – quite possibly even the world – embodied both terms more than Anthony John Pike. Over the course of his lifetime, Tony would be called many more things – playboy, entrepreneur, hedonist, storyteller, raconteur, entertainer, lovable rogue, gentleman, businessman, lover, ‘the Hugh Hefner of Ibiza’ (thank you Boy George) and even ‘the ringmaster for 30 years of celebrity debauchery’ (courtesy of The Guardian). These were among the more flattering descriptions; as for the others, well, as Tony was known to say – you can’t always be everyone’s cup of tea.
Born in Hertfordshire in 1934, Tony’s childhood was troubled – he documents some of his experiences in his memoir Mr Pikes. Seeing the Second World War through a child’s eyes meant he grew up much faster than any youngster should have to. “We managed to get through life,” he recalled. “We didn’t have much but what we did have, we made the most of.” His natural affinity with the ladies first showed its face at the tender age of six, when he lovingly recalled meeting his first ‘girlfriend’, while his sharp wit and aptitude for learning were established as a pre-teen. A go-getter from the outset, Tony took on a job as a stable hand at 12 years old, while maintaining his studies and soon after, he fulfilled his dream of becoming a professional jockey. “I felt like I’d arrived,” he said.
Visions of travelling the world swam around young Tony’s head, and just one year later, he joined the Royal Navy, an experience that is also well-documented in Mr Pikes. It was a time of his life that Tony described as brutal and draconian. “It gave me stamina and determination,” he wrote. “And a form of courage I never thought I’d be able to find.” At the age of 15, he was able to jump ship, quite literally, transferring to the Merchant Navy – where he experienced arduous hard labour, eye-opening violence and zero compassion. But Tony was dreaming of the bigger picture and during this time, he first visited Australia – the country which he would go onto adopt as his homeland.
In 1951, Tony left the navy with dreams of emigrating to Australia. His strong work ethic saw him take on all types of work within the building trade – which would go on to serve him well when building Pikes in the late 70s – and after a year of saving, he found himself on a ship bound for Sydney; this time as a passenger rather than crew. It’s worth noting that his renowned exploits as a ladies’ man began at this point; despite much bragging about his experience with women prior to the journey, it was during a stopover in Yemen on that fateful trip that Tony finally declared himself “a man”. His work life in Australia was varied – he began working in millinery (where he met his first wife and the mother of his firstborn son), had a stint in the Australian Army, alongside labouring jobs and sales work. With his natural-born gift of the gab, selling was something Tony excelled at.
At the age of 30, Tony was given a medical examination that revealed he had a major heart issue – a double aorta – that would one day require surgery. “Better live life to the full in the meantime,” he thought. In between opening an art gallery, “shagging lots of birds” and having loads of parties (not to mention a divorce, a second marriage, a second child and finally a second divorce), Tony also acquired a boat – the vessel that would take him back out onto the water and back out into the great wide world. “It was my dream to sail around the world,” he said. “To be free of any responsibilities.” His rogue-ish good looks saw him become a model for a two-year period, as the face of Winston cigarettes in South East Asia; he travelled back and forth between the UK, Singapore and Sydney and then one day, he “decided to buy an island” just off Papua New Guinea – which he promptly sold after discovering it was known for cannibalism!
Another boat investment followed, plus another tour through the Caribbean, many more broken hearts, torrid affairs, crazy stories and a shipwreck off the Bermuda Triangle (on which he wed his third wife!) among many other adventures. In 1975, Tony decided it was time to return to Europe. A period running a busy marina in the South of France saw him rub shoulders with actors and A-listers – a crowd he declared “the playboy set”. Speaking of playboys, he indeed identified as one himself – after all, when you’re hanging out on yachts with Roger Moore and canoodling with Shirley Bassey, it’s easy to see yourself as 007. Ultimately, Tony grew tired of the lifestyle – as hard as that may seem to believe, given his predilections for fun, fabulousness and females – and when a visiting Australian friend told him he was going to Ibiza, Tony decided to go with him on a whim. And oh, what a wonderful whim that was – one that would influence and change the lives of many people in the future.
The story of Tony’s arrival on the white isle has been told many times, and no better than when the man himself would tell it, poolside at Pikes, over dinner in Room 39 or in his memoir, Mr Pikes. As he arrived to Ibiza on the ferry from Barcelona, on June 1, 1978, desperate to find a bed and get to sleep, he was instead coerced into hitting the party trail in search of a female companion. Find one he did; his first long-term island love, Lynn. While waiting for some paperwork to be finalised on an apartment he wanted to buy in Santa Eulalia, Tony’s spotted a run-down, ramshackle 500-year old finca for sale in the hills of San Antonio – the property had no electricity, no running water and was completely uninhabitable. And yet despite all its shortcomings, Tony – who was looking for a new kind of lifestyle in the sun – knew he’d come home, especially when he found out the house was called ‘Can Pep Toniet’ which translates roughly to ‘the house of little Tony’.
Months of hard slog, including many 14-hour days were to follow, as Tony used his bare hands and his varied labouring skills to bring the finca back to life – from wiring up thick rock walls with electricity and chopping down Sabina trees in the forest then carting them up the hill to use as roof beams, all the way down to making the cushion covers and curtains himself. He was a man with a vision, and no lack of plumbing, missing telephone lines or even a non-functioning kitchen was going to stop him.
July 4, 1980 was the ‘official’ opening date of Pikes. Over the years, Tony would continue its transformation in the off-seasons, adding more and more rooms, turning old stables into the reception area, adding the swimming pool that would go on to become emblematic of the hotel and the freedom it stood for. Finally, he put in a tennis court that was rarely used – except by Pike and his favourite tennis partner, Freddie Mercury. He’s been credited as creating the original blueprint for the ‘boutique hotel’ trend, prior to Ian Schrager staking claim to the title. But knowing Tony, he wouldn’t have cared less for a title. “I didn’t see myself as an interior designer but somehow I ended up being both,” he once said.
The basis was there for Pikes to become a playboy’s playground; all that was missing were the playboys themselves. In keeping with the ‘if you build it, they will come’ ethos he had been operating on, Tony called on his French connections and soon enough, the rich, famous and influential began to arrive on Pikes’ doorstep. They’d be greeted by Ibiza’s number one host with the most, in every sense of the word. Tony Pike’s big personality was perhaps the biggest part of the hotel’s charm. Drink, drugs, parties, girls, glamour; Tony would promise (and deliver) it all to those who wanted to partake. Of course, given that one of the aforementioned things happened to be illegal, he ended up in hot water with Ibiza’s police chief, earning a two-day stint in Ibiza’s prison as a warning. Word had certainly gotten out that Pikes was the place to be for a good time.
The hotel was ticking along nicely into the 80s, when a fateful visit from a visiting pop manager in 1983 changed everything for Tony. Simon Napier-Bell was location scouting for a film clip for one of his acts: Wham! The rest, as they say, was history. A young, buffed George Michael and Andrew Ridgeley arrived at the hotel, alongside backing singers Shirley and Pepsi. George insisted Tony play a cameo in the video – you’ll see him tipping his big straw hat as the bartender – which in turn scored Tony his very own groupies. Tony always credited George Michael as putting Pikes on the map, in addition to putting some of his personal demons to rest. The two became intimate over the course of the shoot and remained fast friends in the years to come and Tony expressed great sadness at the former pop star’s death in 2016.
Tony continued travelling the world in his pursuit of happiness, women and greater business opportunities, always returning to his spiritual home of Pikes in the summer months to hold court with the guests. That’s how he would describe himself, sitting by the bar, by the pool or on his Pikes Sunseeker yacht, regaling guests with tales of his adventures (and misadventures) until the early hours. He’d also be the first person awake in the mornings to greet guests over breakfast. Many of his celebrity guests became hotel regulars and lifelong friends; Julio Iglesias and Freddie Mercury being the most notable – the former being the person who helped Tony get back in favour with the police chief and the latter a person Tony described as a “kindred spirit”. Freddie went on to throw an outlandish party for his 41st birthday bash at Pikes in 1987; a flamboyant three-day event that certainly went down in history as one of the greatest Pikes parties of all time.
The roll call of Pikes hotel guests reads like a magazine gossip column at times: Mike Oldfield (who stole Tony’s girlfriend at the time), Joan Baez, Frank Zappa, Boy George, Kylie Minogue, Spandau Ballet, Brigitte Nielsen, Robert Plant, Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Kenny Everett, the English football team, Bon Jovi and even Tony Curtis (who Tony Pike refused to lend his car to!). There were the iconic songstresses he famously romanced, Sade and Grace Jones, (this gentleman did indeed kiss and tell in his memoir) and the many superstar DJs of the world who passed through the island as Ibiza cemented its reputation as the clubbing capital of the world. In between romancing his glamorous guests over the years, Tony also committed to two more marriages, which in turn produced two more children.
Life was not all smooth sailing for Tony; in between the parties, the boats, the fun and the love affairs, he experienced his fair share of tragedy. In 1995, Tony was diagnosed with HIV – after losing many friends, including Freddie Mercury, to AIDS, the news was devastating and he was given five years to live. Thankfully, with the advancements of modern medicine, Tony was able to manage the illness until it became dormant and continued living life to the fullest; albeit a little more safely when it came to his ongoing sexual escapades (he numbered his conquests at over 3000). Business took a downturn in the late 90s and Tony began to think about selling the hotel, negotiating a deal which sadly led to the murder of his son Dale in Miami in 1998 – a shock which Tony was never truly able to come to terms with
In 2010, Tony had reached the point where he no longer wanted to run the business side of the hotel (“I wasn’t getting any younger.”) and he was approached by Dawn Hindle and Andy McKay of the Ibiza Rocks Group, who saw the potential to revive the hotel while respecting its hard-partying history. “We wanted Pikes to stay magical,” explains Andy of their idea to take over the hotel and fill it with the famous bands they were bringing to the island on a weekly basis. “To stay Pikes.” Their business relationship began with a five-year lease followed by the option to buy, which they did – a deal which included Tony being allowed to live on the premises for life. He remembered being offered any room he wanted, yet the former owner opted for one of the more humble rooms at the rear of the hotel; letting his business mind guide his decision.
In 2017, Tony’s memoir, Mr Pikes: The story behind the Ibiza legend, ghost written by Matt Trollope, was finally published, after the two shared a five-year experience recounting and reliving his memories and recording them for the world to read. Towards the end of the book, as he looked back over his life, Tony described it as “magical” and said that he felt very privileged, for someone who came from an underprivileged background. A true tell-all, it is at once shocking and surprising, hilarious and touching, fascinating and fabulous. Within its pages is enough fodder to make a Hollywood film or a binge-worthy television series – and yet it’s a completely true story.
This leads us to the Pikes of 2018; a place where you were just as likely to find Tony partying on the dance floor late at night (“I’m the oldest one there but I have my moments,” he said in recent years) or quietly having a moment with one of his two beloved cats, Pikey and Blossom in the garden. A place where Tony continued to hold court with guests by the pool or over his favourite breakfast. “Like everyone else who makes the mistake of getting older, I begin each day with coffee and obituaries,” he was cheekily quoted as saying on social media recently. He loved the staff of the hotel dearly, all of whom treated Tony like a family member and said he believed the hotel was in the perfect hands, knowing Dawn and Andy would respect his wish to preserve the heritage of Pikes.
“We were honoured to have a close relationship with Tony that started when we we first arrived in Ibiza in 1994,” said Dawn Hindle. “When we bought Pikes, Tony was part of the package. Even at the age of 85 he was amazing – full of energy and with a zest for life of someone of much younger years. I do feel it is the end of an era. Tony was part of a generation of characters, trail-blazers and adventure-seekers who arrived in Ibiza over 40 years ago. We will make sure Tony’s dreams and his incredible legacy live on.”
As an octogenarian, doctors had called Tony a walking miracle. In recent years, years, Tony had been quietly battling cancer and was hospitalised with pneumonia just a little over a week ago. He cited the medical treatment he received throughout his life as amazing, and while doctors and nurses would continually tell him to slow down, Tony would insist on living his life to the fullest – even in his 80s, he was known to jump off the roof of Room 39 into the pool. “I’m an old man, but I don’t feel it,” he said of his behaviour. When recalling Freddie Mercury’s death, Tony once said: “Freddie was a very brave man. He partied to the end and he entertained to the end.” He could have easily been describing about himself.
Tony Pike passed away in Ibiza on February 24, 2019 just three days after his 85th birthday, leaving behind five ex-wives, three surviving children and countless friends, fans and followers around the globe. As his good friend Freddie Mercury once famously sang, ‘The show must go on’, and as we prepare to open Pikes for the 2019 season, not a day will go by at without a glass being held high in Tony’s honour. His unique and unforgettable character is steeped in the walls (oh, if they could talk!), as Dawn Hindle referenced in a tribute on social media. “He was a true legend, a ladies’ man, a cheeky monkey, an island institution, but most of all a true one-off. His spirit lives on in the bricks and mortar of the hotel and as in life, in death you will be a larger than life character and never forgotten.”
Obituary based on stories and anecdotes from Tony Pikes: The story behind the Ibiza legend – to get the true grit and Tony’s firsthand account of his life’s story, buy the book!