For anyone with more than a passing interest in the architectural gem formerly known as the Hanbury Ballroom, watching the rise and fall of its fortunes has been like seeing a miniature, Brightonian Marks & Spencer in motion.

This former mausoleum, boxing club, high-class gentleman’s hangout and air-raid shelter has become one of the city’s quirkiest and most cherished nightspots over the years, so alarm bells rang out when it was set to change hands for the third time in a year.

Cue the entrance of Alex Proud, the garrulous yet charismatic gallery owner and nightclub impresario who, it transpires, was actually born opposite the Goldstone ground. Funny, open and perpetually sweary, an hour in Proud’s company is a bit like catching up with an old mate from school.

“I was brought up opposite the Evening Argus building,” he explains, as he looks at his former stomping grounds on Google Streetmap from his Camden office.

“It’s looking quite gentrified now, but it used to be a working-class area.”

The Prouds moved up to Mayfield when Alex was a boy, but Brighton figured highly in the family equation because his father owned a stamp shop in the Lanes.

“It’s a jewellery shop now, but it was fantastic as a kid – it was like some weird Harry Potter shop with all these different floors. We’d drop water bombs on tourists from the windows.”

Coming back to launch a club in his home town is a big deal for Alex Proud. He’s only too aware of the responsibility on his shoulders to make the newly-Christened Brighton Ballroom – which combines a supper club, live music and retro club nights – a success, but his determination is fixed firmly in place.

“There’s the pride of being a local boy – there’s no way I’m walking away from this with my tail between my legs,” he says.

It would sound like a platitude on the lips of most, but Proud has made a habit of seeing things through. He set up Proud Galleries in 1998 and his knack for exhibiting some of rock ’n’ roll’s boldest and bravest images made the gallery one of the most visited private photographic galleries in Europe (at least 10,000 paying customers for each exhibition). The reputation of the brand allowed him to move into the notoriously treacherous hospitality industry, where he’s been at his most successful, but none of it happened overnight.

After graduating from a politics degree, Proud found himself at a loose end. All he really knew was that he wanted to work for himself.

“My dad’s stamp shop totally established that. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t want to be anywhere near stamps, but it really gave me that desire to be my own boss.

“In a way it’s a huge lie, because you still work for the taxman and your bank manager – but that romantic illusion that you have control over your own life is occasionally true.”

With this end in mind and a stab at a journalism internship behind him, Proud worked as an antiques dealer and a salesman, picking up work where he could find it. His eye for an opportunity resulted in one of the more bizarre moments of his CV – selling bulletproof Rolls Royces to the Russian Mafia. He’d been seeing a Russian girl when he ran into one of her more colourful friends, who was interested in getting hold of some cars.

“I went and found some of these Rolls Royces, which I sold to them. It was extraordinary, because you’d get these suitcases with the money in. But one of the ones I sold wasn’t very bulletproof. A guy was shot at and was nearly killed. I was told if he’d died, then I would have died. I thought: ‘Maybe this isn’t the business for me’.”

He’d made enough money from the ill-advised enterprise to get the ball rolling on his own projects, one of which would grow to fruition as his photographic gallery. The sheer volume of visitors made Proud the darling of the metropolitan media, with covers, profile pieces and even an invitation to informally advise Charles Kennedy’s Liberal Democrats, the party he’d supported all his life.

“Politics is probably my first love, really. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t Charles Kennedy’s number two or anything – they’d ask me about things and I’d give my opinion on it.”

Proud is still on good terms with Kennedy, but says he’s probably out in the wilderness with the current regime by association.

The gallery may have been in full swing with Proud’s force-ten personality at its centre, but its huge media profile and reputation as the hipster’s destination of choice didn’t translate into profits.

“There’s nothing more lovely than some young kid who’s building a career in the arts saying they were inspired by your gallery when they were 14. But it didn’t make a penny and I was borderline bankrupt for ten years before I really did go self-administrated. We branched out into hospitality to try to pay for it all.”

It’s proved the best decision Proud could have made – the Proud brand now comprises the Proud Camden, Proud Chelsea and Proud Cabaret venues. And the business is growing. So, when he had a phone call from a trusted former employee saying one of Brighton’s kookiest venues might be up for grabs, he did the deal that afternoon without having seen the place.

“I knew it was going to be amazing when I first walked in.

We’ve blown a lot more than we should have done on it already – we should have spent about £20,000 and we’re probably at about £70,000, but I can’t help it. I’ve fallen in love with it.”

The Brighton Ballroom opened in June, and Proud made a conscious decision not to name it Proud Brighton, an extension of the existing brand.

“I don’t want to come in with that very arrogant London perspective, which is why we’ve employed Brightonians for the new venue. Brighton’s a very different place and we want this to be something different.”

The initial refurbishments will give way to a full-blown makeover, masterminded by Danielle Proud, Alex’s wife, who works as a designer and TV interiors expert. How closely will they be working on the project? “I don’t collaborate too much with my wife because we just row like cats and dogs. I really dislike my wife at work, I really dislike the way she works, and she absolutely hates me at work. She has an assistant who we tend to work through.”

Proud’s approach seems to be going well. There has been good feedback from the work so far, and the venue recently launched a supper club at which people can have a meal while enjoying some entertainment. Next up is My Gosh Marvellous on Friday, which aims to be the city’s biggest vintage night yet, with a nine-piece band, DJs and cocktails. Proud’s hope is that the Brighton Ballroom will be a destination for the entire evening, for food, music and dancing, rather than a pit-stop for a pint. He says he expects to lose money for some time, but that the wider business can take the hit until he’s seen it through.

There are also vaulting ambitions for the future of Proud in Brighton, something he admits is inspired in part by his ego getting a bruising when he exhibited here with little fanfare some years ago.

“I thought people would go nuts for the ‘local boy done good’, but nobody covered it. I was ridiculously and arrogantly upset by this.

“But come and see me in six months. We get a feeling about the towns we like, and I definitely want to open something bigger – a 500 or 1,000 capacity venue. Something like we have at Proud Camden, with a photographic gallery, somewhere you can eat and see bands. I want to be the best gig venue in Brighton.”

It’s a bold ambition at a time when there’s less cash kicking around, but you can’t help but feel Proud has the necessary zeal to pull it off.

*My Gosh Marvellous is on Friday from 8pm. For more information about the Brighton Ballroom, visit