Gino D’Acampo teams up with timeshare scandal director Simon Clarke 

Gino D’Acampo has joined forces with a businessman once caught up in a major timeshare scandal to launch his latest restaurant venture.

The 45-year-old celebrity chef has linked up with Simon Clarke at the Gino D’Acampo Hotels & Leisure business.

The company – in which Clarke has a 72 per cent stake and D’Acampo 10 per cent – was established to run Italian restaurants in upmarket Melia Hotels.

Recipe for success? Celebrity chef Gino D’Acampo (pictured) has linked up with Simon Clarke at the new Gino D’Acampo Hotels and Leisure business

Three restaurants have been opened so far – at Melia’s Innside hotels in Liverpool, Manchester and Newcastle.

There is also a 17th floor Sky Bar at the Liverpool site offering ‘an extensive selection of premium international wines & cocktails, Cicchetti light bites & unrivalled panoramic views of the city’.

According to Sky Bar’s website, the venue promises to be one of the city’s most desirable locations, where hotel guests, local residents and visitors to the city can relax and unwind to an upbeat soundtrack of local DJs playing day to night.

It marks a bold new venture for D’Acampo who is reeling from the collapse of his debt-laden pasta shops.

The My Pasta Bar chain – run through another company, The Pasta Bar Specialists, and which offered freshly-cooked pasta meals to go – did not reopen its two branches in the City of London after the pandemic.

It was put into liquidation last month owing £5million.

Another of D’Acampo’s restaurant businesses – his Worldwide Restaurants group, which has eight lavishly-furnished branches in the UK – lost £7.6m over four years to 2020.

He will be hoping for a change of fortunes with his venture. As will his business partner Clarke.

In the 1990s, the 54-year-old was caught up in the collapse of Britain’s biggest timeshare holiday company, Club Riviera, which had 20,000 customers. 

The company, where Clarke was a director, became notorious for its use of the ‘buy-sell scam’.

Existing timeshare owners were told that if they bought a new Club Riviera apartment, their existing unit would be sold for them at a profit.

In fact, the sales never materialised, meaning that victims were left paying for two apartments while Club Riviera cashed in.

Bad taste: In the Nineties, Clarke (pictured in 1999) was caught up in the collapse of Britain's biggest timeshare holiday company, Club Riviera, which had 20,000 customers

Bad taste: In the Nineties, Clarke (pictured in 1999) was caught up in the collapse of Britain’s biggest timeshare holiday company, Club Riviera, which had 20,000 customers

The company’s behaviour was lambasted by MPs with more than 40 signing an Early Day Motion condemning its behaviour.

In more recent years, Clarke has been involved in North West-based restaurant businesses and has two investment firms registered with Companies House.

It is through one of these companies – a business called Leisure Invest Limited – that Clarke holds his 72 per cent stake in Gino D’Acampo Hotels & Leisure.

Asked about the venture, Clarke – who recently sold his Robert Adam-style Cheshire mansion for £15million – said: ‘I’m not going to comment.’

Companies House records show ties between Clarke and figures involved in D’Acampo’s existing businesses.

Between 2013 and 2018, Clarke was a director of Manchester-based Casual Restaurants Group. 

That was run from the same office as Individual Restaurants which is now controlled by supermarket chain Iceland’s founder and executive chairman Sir Malcolm Walker and managing director Tarsem Dhaliwal.

Individual Restaurants – best known for the Piccolino chain and whose managing director Steven Walker was a director of Casual Restaurants with Clarke – lent Gino D’Acampo Worldwide Restaurants £12.9million in 2019-2020. Steven Walker and Dhaliwal are also directors of Worldwide Restaurants.

Vernon Lord, a former director of Casual Restaurants with Clarke, is now a co-director of D’Acampo’s restaurant chain’s operating company, along with Individual Restaurants.

Between 2013 and 2017, Clarke – with Lord and Steven Walker – were also directors of a smaller Liverpool pub-restaurant business, Flying Pig and Lobster, involving another celebrity chef, Simon Rimmer. That firm continues to trade with two branches.

D’Acampo has come a long way since he was jailed for two years for burglary and handling stolen goods after guitars worth £4,000 and a platinum record were taken from the London home of 1980s singer-songwriter Paul Young in 1998. 

The Italian has admitted he was in a bad place at that time, when he was a struggling waiter who had recently moved to Britain from Naples, and even later apologised to Young over the phone in 2009.

The chef has described his imprisonment as ‘a dreadful experience’, but added: ‘In life I’ve learned to make good come out of everything.’

Not everything since has been plain sailing, however.

His 2009 victory on reality TV series I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here was marred in controversy after he and a fellow contestant killed and ate a rat while on air, having been left without meat.

The makers of the ITV show had to pay £3,000 in a fine and costs after being prosecuted by the Australian RSPCA for animal cruelty.

D’Acampo was unavailable for comment.