Chinawhite, the legendary London nightspot, opens its doors in Dubai, at Grand Hyatt, this weekend, becoming the latest big name brand to launch in the region. But, as What’s On found out when we were given exclusive access to meet the co-founder of the original venue, Rory Keegan, Chinawhite doesn’t follow the crowd.

Fittingly, for a superstar club that is often a more recognised name than some of the celebrities who pack its booths, our interview with Rory Keegan takes place on a gleaming yacht in the Dubai Marina.

Before boarding,  shoes had to be removed. We clambered on deck and perched on a sofa with the eccentric-looking Keegan, long well-maintained grey hair and beard to match, stylish reading glasses and an ample tan, all wrapped in white linen. The sun was out, the attention was on him, and he was going to enjoy the afternoon.

Before our interview could begin, we were interrupted, not by a pushy PR person instructing us to avoid specific topics of conversation or an urgent call from a movie star demanding VIP access to Chinawhite in London that night, but by a cushion. A sequined cushion, to be precise.

“Oh gosh, the sequins are going everywhere,” he gasps, frantically sweeping them away. “Don’t worry – it’s not your fault. We won’t be having this sort of thing in Chinawhite.”

As the soft furnishings drama is swiftly dealt with, Keegan relaxes and begins to explain his vision for the latest outpost of Chinawhite. Renowned for seeing celebrities, footballers, and Royals, both minor and major, skip through its doors in London, we ask if Chinawhite Dubai will have a similarly A-list clientele.

“If celebrities want to come, we’ll welcome them with open arms,” he says. “But don’t expect a press release at the end of the night saying who’s been up to what – that’s not how we work.

“And we certainly won’t be pulling out our phonebook to see who’s available either. If someone calls us to say they’re on their way with an entourage of paparazzi, we would suggest they go elsewhere; that’s not what this club is about.

“I want to bring back the essence of the original Chinawhite when, in the 1960s, people could go out and enjoy themselves and still feel like they had some privacy – when they weren’t worried about what magazine they would appear in the next day – no offence.” None taken.

Nightclubs, like most property-based matters, rely on location. Chinawhite is housed inside the Grand Hyatt near Healthcare City. Keegan smiles, “Of course, we love that it’s ‘Grand’ so where else would we be? Did you know the hotel has given us a back door for an entrance? We are ostensibly the fire exit for the hotel. A glamorous fire exit, but still, I love it. When we started out in London we didn’t even have our own door, we shared a back entrance, so this is perfect; it feels like we’re getting back to our roots.”

The topic of music comes up. What kind of DJs and artists will play at Chinawhite? “Artists?” spits Rory. “Artists? Monet and Mondrian are artists. Are DJs artists? Hardly. I respect what they do, but they are not artists. Chinawhite isn’t about the music. We don’t need a list of celebrity DJs to create an atmosphere – the clients do that for us just by being there. When you put together groups of people who are interesting, you don’t have to rely on music. The music will adapt to Chinawhite’s aesthetic, not the other way around.”

Keegan chose to bring Chinawhite to Dubai because he sensed a shift and a new maturity in the city. “I think Dubai has reached the point where it can cope with a Chinawhite,” he explains. “Dubai is a serious city; it’s an international city. These days, if you’re going to do anything in the Middle East, it has to be here. Dubai has class and people value privacy here. I hope people will embrace that – and our presence – and appreciate how we do things. I think Dubai has grown up.”

Words by Rebekah Thompson