Through the side door: The art of reciprocal club membership

The 'secret tunnels' that will gain you entry into the world's most impenetrable private members' clubs

Closed waiting lists, clandestine application processes, exorbitant joining fees — becoming a card-carrying member of the world’s smartest private clubs has never been tougher.

But there is a nifty shortcut — and it involves the legion of reciprocal and affiliate clubs around the globe that allow their members privileges and entry at a whole host of upper echelon establishments. 

A membership at the Royal Bachelor’s Club of Sweden, for example, is said to gain you clandestine entry to the impenetrable Boodle’s of St James’. Belonging to the Edinburgh Arts Club (a soft-ish touch when it comes to entry requirements) would happily sneak you in at the altogether more stringent Chelsea Arts Club. And so on, and so forth. This is membership by proxy; acceptance by stealth. And it’s a subterfuge we at Gentleman’s Journal are more than happy to indulge.

There’s a great range of potential configurations to this clever little ploy (many clubs have international affiliates in the dozens). But the following are some of our favourite secret tunnels into the world’s most demanding private institutions. See you on the inside. 

To get into the Hurlingham Club...

The Hurlingham — that grand, sprawling, white-pillared idyll of chinny privilege down in darkest Fulham — used to have a thirty year waiting list. But now, demand is so high (and the elder members clinging on so defiantly to life) that they’ve shut the list completely, to be re-opened at some unknown date in the distant future. 

Even then, it’ll still be pretty tricky to climb aboard — the children of existing members will be given priority over new applicants, and you have to have a proposer and a seconder ready and willing to personally vouch for your good character. (Spouses get automatic membership, by the way, so there is something to be said for a green card marriage just to get your foot in the door.)

Hurlingham members are so fiercely protective of their club that when billionaire oligarch Roman Abramovich attempted, apparently, to purchase the place for £1 billion (and pay off each of the existing 13,000 members with £1 million each) he was swiftly laughed out of town. 

...Join the Caledonian Club

The Caledonian Club, a rather smart Belgravia townhouse that sells itself as “a little bit of Scotland in the heart of London”, is worthy of membership in its own right. But it’s also a happy side door into Fortress Hurlingham. Annual subscription rates for the over 30s are £1,345 with no upfront payment — and the application process is significantly more welcoming than its Fulham counterpart. 

Caledonian Club members may visit the Hurlingham 14 times in a calendar year — which is about as many Saturdays on the rosé-sprinkled lawn as one should sensibly take. 

To get into the New York Yacht Club...

The shared living room of America’s ultra-preppy East Coast set, the New York Yacht Club, down on Manhattan’s 44th Street, is said to be “more English than the English” in its old world opulence, entrenched classism, and obsession with the done thing. 

The Model Room here — a double-height atrium whose powder blue walls are studded with thousands of ornate boat models — is one of the great eccentricities of New York City, and speaks to the boyish, boat-y preoccupations of the club’s oofy membership. The front of house staff here are especially stringent, and the membership process is shrouded in ancient ritual and mystery. 

The easiest way to become a member of the New York Yacht Club? Invent a time machine, go back 170 years, and convince your great, great grandfather to set up the New York Yacht Club. Unless…

...Join the Royal Thames Yacht Club

Again, the RTYC is worth joining in its own right, if that sort of thing, well, floats your boat. One of the most prestigious yacht clubs in the world, it nonetheless lacks the established snootiness of, say, the Royal Yacht Squadron down in Cowes (which very rarely admits new members and is quite literally a castle on a spit — a visual metaphor for its wider impenetrability). 

By contrast, the Royal Thames says it is  “glad to welcome new members”, and is altogether friendlier in its approach (though it does still require the usual proposer/seconder nexus to get you through the door). Members here can expect a warm welcome over at the NYYC, which is very, very selective about its reciprocal clubs. 

To get into the Garrick…

The Garrick Club “has lost a great many members”, a source says

The Garrick Club “has lost a great many members”, a source says

The Garrick, one of London’s oldest and most esteemed gentleman’s clubs, has a distinctive artistic and literary lean — previous members include Charles Dickens, Kingsley Amis, John Gielgud, H.G. Wells, J.M. Barrie and Laurence Olivier. It is also incredibly hard to get into.

All new candidates over at Garrick Street must be proposed by an existing member before election in a secret ballot, with the thinking that “it would be better that ten unobjectionable men should be excluded than one terrible bore should be admitted”. Jeremy Paxman was famously blackballed in 1993 (though later admitted), and many other notable people have been left in the cold during the clandestine committee meetings. 

...Join the New Club

The New Club, based in Edinburgh, is a significantly easier pitch. Though still a smart and prestigious club in its own right, it suffers from none of the Garrick’s blackball tendencies — and membership can be achieved via a simple proposer/seconder ploy and an annual fee of between £880 and £1100, depending on what you plump for. For that, you are permitted to a month’s entrance annually to the Garrick, which should suffice. Anything more might seem a little louche. 

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