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Infamous upper class fraudster “Fast Eddie” Davenport recounts tales of his time in Wandsworth Prison.
Google image search “Edward Davenport” and you’ll see a mosaic of celebrity selfies featuring everyone from the Prince of Monaco to 50 Cent. “Welcome to the website of Edward Davenport,” the website of Edward Davenport proclaims, “one of London’s most flamboyant and best-known entrepreneurs, as well as a true English gentleman from an established British family.”
But this public persona – that of the aristocratic socialite – is Eddie’s trick. It’s how, in the past, he gained people’s trust and got what he wanted. The man behind that selfie smile – the subject of the new VICE documentary Wolf of the West End – has bankrupted business partners and made an estimated £34.5 million through fraudulent activity, according to the Serious Fraud Office (Davenport says the figure wasn’t anywhere near that much).
The 2000s were good to Eddie. After buying Sierra Leone’s London embassy – the Central London mansion, 33 Portland Place – for just £50,000 in 1999, he turned it into an arena for decadent sex parties, spending the next ten years entertaining celebrities and aristocracy. However, in 2011, “Fast Eddie” was convicted of engineering a multi-million pound fraud and sentenced to nearly eight years in prison, before being released in 2014 as an “act of mercy” because of ill health due to one of his kidneys failing.
So what was it like to go from a life of luxury to a South London cell? How would a serial partier cope with life between the sexless walls of Wandsworth Prison? What’s life in jail like for a wealthy white-collar criminal? I spent a fair amount of time with Eddie during the filming of Wolf of the West End, so got back in touch to find out.
VICE: What’s your worst memory from prison?
Edward Davenport: There were occasions where there was a staff shortage or things would get cancelled. So when you normally play badminton on, you know, a Saturday afternoon or something, and then suddenly it gets cancelled due to staff shortages, it’s not like you’ve got a lot of other things you can arrange at short notice.
So your worst memory from being in prison was having to reschedule badminton?
[Laughs] I’ve been raided in the middle of the night before.
Why did they raid you?
I think they were looking for illegal contraband items.
What about, like, the solitary nature of it – the boredom and the lack of intimate company. Did that not get to you?
Well, it was a bit like being a virgin again when I got out. I think I had plenty of women before I went in. I mean, maybe if you’ve been into prison and you haven’t done anything before with your life, but I had a bloody busy 45 years where I had had, you know, I suppose you could say, more than anyone could ever dream of and ever want. I had been out most nights – I’d done everything, you know.
The staff are almost up to the standards of politeness and friendliness and professional-ness as hotels. They call you by your name, you know.
Okay, but there must have been some bad bits about prison.
Well, having a kidney transplant wasn’t exactly ideal. This is supposed to be a very civilised country, a very sophisticated country, yet here I am for a white-collar crime being taken to do dialysis and, during the whole of the dialysis, left in handcuffs.
The kidney story does sound quite bad, but what about the rest of it? I mean, prison can really get to some people. Are you telling me you experienced none of that?
I’ve seen none of that. I think you might have been doing articles on prisons in different countries.
Okay. In that case, what was good about prison?
Well, I became quite good at badminton. There wasn’t much else there except playing badminton that was quite good.
Is the rumour true that you used to somehow get the prison guards to give you lobster for dinner?
Well, of course, I’d have my own food, yeah.
How did you manage to sort that out?
This is a very official conversation, and I know it’s being recorded. You’re right about the rumour, you’re right about that being publicised somewhere, but I’m just giving you a kind of slightly tongue-in-cheek answer for it, if you like. Between your door, you get a menu every week. And I don’t know why, but on my menu they used to have lobster on it. Regularly. So I would just tick the box.
[The Ministry of Justice does not comment on the cases of individual inmates, but a spokesperson said lobster has never been served to prisoners at HMP Wandsworth.]
I see. What was your social circle like in prison?
When I was in prison in London it was like a celebrity hangout. People would take a picture of somebody like Chris Huhne [the former Lib Dem MP who served a 62-day sentence for perverting the course of justice] and then use the prison payphone to try and sell it to The Sun. I think there was one picture that some crazy lifer took of me with the Credit Suisse rogue trader, Kweku Adoboli. Even I was like, “You’ve gotta delete that.” You’ve got two high profile prisoners, an illegal mobile phone in a prison, I was on a laptop… I mean, it was just a crazy picture. And so I think that got deleted.
I met Chris Huhne, who was a politician, I met Lord Taylor, another politician. I guess people socially stick together, so the group of people who are well-known – who might be a bit more wealthy or vulnerable – tend to kind of congregate in one area and have their coffee, and the other people who are into another type of game, like drug dealing, might hang out in another corner.
I think Max Clifford was pretty much segregated from day one because, one: he’s well known, and two: his offence is too delicate for any of the other prisoners to accept. If you go there for [sex offences] people will pick on you, take the piss out of you and give you a hard time.
Were you in a clique with these other well-to-do people in prison?
No, not at all. I used to play badminton with this complete nutter who I absolutely saw as an amazing fellow, [an armed robber] called John Slavin. In fact, he was even acting as my secretary at some stage, which I think is quite funny, because he would sound so convincing and charming to everyone he’d talk to. You’d get people saying, “Oh my god, you’re so lucky to have that guy working for you or picking up your phone.”
He was a great person if you wanted to hog the badminton court; he knew how to get his way. In prison, he who shouts loudest can book the badminton court.
I met a lot of interesting characters. I suppose, you know, probably the people I thought were really interesting were the guys who were from a hacking group, Anonymous. And I met another hacker, he was called Black Dragon. And I think now he’s actually doing quite well for himself: he’s out of prison, and he stayed in touch.
Do you think your experience of prison differed from the majority of other prisoners because you’re a white-collar criminal and a member of the upper class?
Well, in theory, being a member of the upper class and the fact I have a very smart – or, I hope, a smart – English accent would make the experience of prison worse, not better.
Were you intimidated by the other prisoners?
Well, the Wolf of the West End is not going to be afraid of an intimidating, violent criminal, is he? [Laughs] Wolves, we can protect ourselves, you know?
I know you have influence and power in the outside world, but surely it’s a whole different ball game in prison?
When I went in there, they took me aside and said, “Look, you’re obviously from a very privileged background, your case is going to get a lot of publicity and the amount of money you’re talking about [that Eddie defrauded investors of] is astronomical, especially to a lot of the people in here, so perhaps you should go on the more vulnerable side.” Which is basically for MPs and politicians. And I think it took me less than ten seconds to think ‘Mmm, OK, well, I’m here, I’ll just go in the deep end – it’ll be more fun.’
But, knowing you, I would have thought you’d have wanted to hang around and work on your sphere of influence among the affluent.
Yeah, but if you go on that side it’s – you don’t get, like, leather furnishing, in which case I might have thought about it. I think also you’re going to have a lot of sex offenders there.
Would you say that having money makes prison a lot better?
Having money generally anywhere in the world makes life better. But you still have to be fundamentally happy underneath. And prison is no exception to that rule.
So, prison: overall not that bad, then.
Well, actually, it’s just an experience. Not the best one and not the worst one.