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Prince Harry's nightclub boss friend wins High Court fight with TV weather presenter

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A nightclub boss pal of Prince Harry has won a High Court fight with a former TV weathergirl over a £4m luxury hotel in the Isle of Wight.

Howard Spooner, 52, who describes himself as a ‘nightclub entrepreneur, racing driver and racehorse owner,’ has been locked in a legal battle with former Carlton TV weather presenter Sally Johnson over control of the 17th century George Hotel in Yarmouth, after the pair went into business together in 2019.

They planned to transform the 17-bed boutique hotel, where rooms go for up to £465, into a celebrity retreat for the Isle of Wight yachting crowd, with Mrs Johnson, 57, – now a designer – bringing her creative touch to the interiors and gardens.

The revamp was partly bankrolled by Mrs Johnson’s millionaire polo-playing husband, Charles ‘Brook’ Johnson, 75, and it was hoped they could bring in a well-heeled crowd to the George, including ‘old rockers’, yachtsmen, polo players and ‘many powerful Americans’ who were contacts of Mr Johnson, London’s High Court heard.

But Mr Spooner and Mrs Johnson fell out over spending, with Mr Spooner accusing the couple of failing to supply the stream of wealthy clients he says they promised.

In July 2020, Mr Spooner agreed to pay her £133,000 to give up her 50% stake in the hotel, but Mrs Johnson later sued him, claiming that agreement had never been reached.

Howard Spooner and Lucy Spooner attend the Launch of DNA London, in Clapham, London

Howard Spooner and Lucy Spooner attend the Launch of DNA London, in Clapham, London

Brook Johnson with His Wife Sally at Cartier Queens Cup Polo at Smiths Lawn Windsor in 2012

Brook Johnson with His Wife Sally at Cartier Queens Cup Polo at Smiths Lawn Windsor in 2012

But now Judge Sebastian Prentis has resolved the fight in Mr Spooner’s favour, handing full control of the hotel to him.

The court heard that the couple first heard about Mr Spooner’s hotel venture while Mr Johnson was pheasant shooting in Hampshire in early 2019.

The couple were elated by the scheme to go into business with Mr Spooner – who had run a string of posh London nightclubs with Guy Pelly, another friend of the Duke of Sussex – Judge Prentis told the court, with Mr Johnson thinking it would ‘give his wife, who did interiors and gardens, something to sink her teeth into’.

Mr Spooner and his wife already knew the Johnsons, as both families lived near Marlborough, Wilts, and told them he had taken on a lease of the George from its owner, Dame Dianne Thompson, chief executive of Camelot.

By July 2019, Mrs Johnson had stamped her creative mark on the hotel, capping it off by splashing thousands on plants for the hotel’s Mediterranean style garden, the High Court heard.

The judge said Mr Johnson had told Mr Spooner of ‘all the people he knew’ who would come to the hotel if they were involved: ‘old rockers’, yachtsmen, polo players and ‘many powerful Americans’, adding that ‘Mrs Johnson said she had political friends who would come, from her previous marriage to Tory MP David Faber’.

The legal row was over the control of the 17th century George Hotel in Yarmouth they shared

The legal row was over the control of the 17th century George Hotel in Yarmouth they shared

‘The prospect of high-profile and high-spending guests was attractive to Mr Spooner, and it was doubtless the failure of any of them ever to materialise which was a factor in the swift breakdown (of relations),’ he added.

Mr Spooner said he’d agreed to give Sally Johnson a 50% share in the George on the basis that she paid £65,000 up front and £85,000 investment into the hotel, but later claimed the investment portion was never properly accounted for.

Tensions were cranked up by Sally Johnson’s anxiety about the personal furniture she had installed in the hotel, which Mr Spooner said she viewed ‘like her babies’.

‘By the beginning of the next season relations had fallen apart,’ the judge commented.

But Mr Spooner said the Johnsons ‘kept fobbing him off’ when it came to accounting for their £85,000 investment, claiming he ‘quickly realised there was no transparency in items Sally was purchasing’.

And the Johnsons had their own grievance with Mr Spooner over his failure to consult with them and his alleged ‘personal use of the hotel without accounting for it’.

Tensions came to a head in September 2019 when Mr Johnson asked Mr Spooner to ‘buy out’ his wife, triggering a long-drawn out phase of negotiation.

Eventually Mr Spooner and Mrs Johnson struck a deal in July 2020 when he agreed to pay her £133,000 to give up her stake.

Mrs Johnson, however, insisted that the July meeting was simply part of the negotiation process about a possible buy-out and that no conclusive deal was ever struck.

But the judge backed Mr Spooner’s account, holding that Mrs Johnson had agreed to sell her share to Mr Spooner on July 2 as the financial impact of Covid 19 began to bite.

She and her husband had later become ‘reluctant to sell’ as the hotel’s fortunes picked up again with the loosening of Covid rules.

‘It came about because of the sighting of money on the horizon,’ the judge concluded.

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