John Aspinall is a well-known figure in the gambling market.
At a time in his life he was a successful bookmaker while also
being surrounded by controversy with the law. Even though he is
now associated with many questionable dealings, he was a great
entrepreneur in the bookmaking business and a successful zoo
owner later on in his life. Below we have covered the details of
his personal life and his business dealings.
John Victor Aspinall was born in Dehli, India in 1926 to Mary
Grace Horn of West Sussex. His alleged father was Colonel Robert
Stavali Aspinal who was a surgeon for the British Army. It
wasn’t until later in life that John discovered that his real
father was Captain George Bruce. It is said that his mother had
fooled around with George during a Regimental ball prior to her
marriage to Robert.
While Aspinall was still young, his parents divorced leaving
him under the care of his mother. In 1938, she got remarried to
Sir John Francis Osborne. Aspinall’s new stepfather wanted
little to do with him and was quick to send him away to a
private boarding school in Rugby, Warwickshire.
Aspinall, also called “Aspers,” by his friends was tossed out
of boarding school because of inattention. He later went to
Jesus College where he was known to fake illnesses to get out of
He even skipped his final exams to attend the Ascot Gold Cup.
It was there that he won a substantial amount of money betting
on horses. That day was the end of Aspinall’s academic career;
he never finished school or received a degree.
Aspinall signed up to be in the Royal Marines after school,
but his behavior didn’t meet their standards so he never got
A Career in the Making
It was after his trial with the Royal Marines that Aspinall
decided to become a bookmaker. Unfortunately though,
bookmaking for Aspinall wasn’t everything he had hoped it would
be, so he instead turned to gambling as a form of entertainment
During this time in the UK, gambling was only legal at
racecourses and dog tracks. British law defined “illegal
gambling houses,” to be any place where gambling occurred more
than three times. Aspinall, the clever person that he was, would
get around this law by renting houses for his gambling parties
to use them precisely three times before moving on to a new
location. Alongside him was his friend and accountant, John
He would send out embossed invitations to the local
Aristocracy to inform them of where his next parties would take
place. The main game played at Aspinall’s gambling parties was
Chemin de Fer.
Aspinall would receive a 5% cut from all the bets during the
party which would sometimes rake him in up to ₤250,000 in a
In 1958, one of his parties was raided which landed him in
court not much long after that. He won the court case, which is
why in part that the UK established the Betting and Gambling Act
of 1960. This act legitimized “social gaming,” as long as it was
conducted in private clubs for members only.
This inspired Aspinall to open up the Clermont Club in 1962.
This club was named after the famous gambler, Lord Clermont, who
was the previous owner of the building in Mayfair’s Berkeley
The Clermont Club was London’s first Casino. John was able to
legally open it after he received a gaming license under the new
laws and regulations. The Clermont club was known for being very
tasteful and extravagant.
The Club’s original members included a variety of prestigious
people including two cabinet ministers, five dukes, five
marquesses, and nearly twenty earls.
John sold the Clermont Club in 1972, so he could focus on the
development of his zoos.
Aspinall is known for the infamous gambling con named, “The
Big Edge.” Both John Burke, who was the financial director at
the Clermont Club during this time and John Mckew, an associate
of the gangster Billy Hill, claim that Aspinall and Hill worked
together to cheat millions of pounds of money from the wealthy
members of the club.
They did this by hiring criminals to cheat the players,
marking the cards, and skimming their profits. It’s believed
that “The Big Edge” scandal went on for at least two years
before Aspinall walked away.
Aspinall is also suspected to have had contact with Lord
Lucan, a member of the Clermont Club, after his mysterious
disappearance and supposed suicide. Lord Lucan disappeared after
being suspected of murder.
Aspinall’s ex-secretary came forth and shared that Aspinall
and James Goldsmith would have private meetings to discuss Lucan
after his disappearance. On two occasions, Aspinall had
instructed her to book trips to Africa for Lucan’s children. She
believed this was so Lucan could watch his children from afar.
Calling Aspinall an animal lover would definitely be an
understatement. His passion for animals inspired him to own his
own zoo. He ran his zoo under the belief that zoos should be
used to pamper animals rather than to simply exhibit them.
Aspinall used his proceeds from the Clermont Club to purchase
Howletts Country house and estate, which was located outside of
Canterbury, Kent. He lived in the house and set up a private zoo
on the grounds.
In 1975, Aspinall finally opened Howletts to the public. Only
a year later, Aspinall opened his second zoo: Port Lympne
Reserve. Both of Aspinall’s zoos are notorious for breeding rare
and endangered animals.
To support the financial needs of his zoos, Aspinall opened
several other gambling clubs in London later in life. They were
located mainly in Mayfair and Knightsbridge.
Aspinall also wrote a book called, “The Best of Friends,”
which was published in 1976 to bring in a little extra revenue.
This book brought awareness to his readers about the unique
personalities of animals and the value of having relationships
Aspinall started, “The John Aspinall Foundation,” which works
to promote wildlife conservation. This foundation supports both
of Aspinall’s zoos: Howletts Wild Animal Park and Port Lympne
Reserve. It also funds many overseas conservation projects as
In 1956, Aspinall married his first wife Jane Gordon
Hastings. They had one son together, Damian Aspinall, and were
married for ten years. In the same year as their divorce,
Aspinall got remarried to Belinda Mary Musker. Not much longer
after that in 1972, they got a divorce.
Aspinall later married Lady Sarah-Marguerite Curzon, a widow
who was previously married to the famous racecar driver, Piers
Raymond Courage. They had a son named Bassa, and stayed together
until his death.
Three years before Aspinall died in 1997, he ran for
parliament under the Referendum party with Goldsmith as his
candidate. His campaign was unsuccessful.
Aspinall died of cancer in 2000 at the age of 74. He left
behind a wife, two sons(Damian and Bassa), a daughter (Amanda),
and two step sons(Jason and Amos).
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