your host - john bellamy
by christopher ferrari
Your host at Hamilton Hall is John Bellamy, who originates from Bournemouth although moved away at the age of 16 and spent the first 8 years living on Guernsey in the Channel Isles with his first lover who was considerably older than John. They owned and ran a large and popular hotel and tea room on the island.
After over 8 years together, they split and John was left penniless, yet as John always had the ability to 'fall on his feet, it was not long before he was living with his next lover in the United States of America with extended periods on various Hawaiian Islands or in Mexico and travelled extensively during that period with his second partner.
Psychology - Body Energies and Massage Techniques / Bereavement & Addictions Therapy and an assortment of courses followed and enjoyed in order to grow as a human being and as John had interests in many things, and continues to this day to have an ' enquiring mind. '
His relationship with his partner in the USA came to an abrupt end and he found himself broke, homeless and almost destitute. This being John, he picked himself up, got himself organised and joined an escort agency as he knew he could make some good money quickly. Assuming it to be a temporary thing, John soon became a leading light in the London escort scene and as London was, and still is, the centre of the escort scene in Europe, John quickly rose to become one of the best sex workers for men in Europe.
During his time as a sex worker in London - 15 years in all, he was involved in all sorts of weird and wonderful things, saw thousands of clients and remained negative to all STD's throughout, which is testemant to how well he ran his business. Safely.
He also created an escort agency called 30PLUS - employing hundreds of escorts OVER the age of 30 - 'men not boys' - as he would say, and this proved to be hugely popular and busy.
Going from destitute to prostitute, - renting a flat he eventually bought off the landlord , he eventually bought a 4 bedroom 2 bathroom terrace house in Hammersmith and he was doing, and did, very well indeed. He was always legal as he paid tax, had an accountant and everything.
It was around this time that we first met and became originally a client ( yes I was one of his clients ) and we soon became friends and over the years - close friends. I was right impressed at his professionalism and his abiulity to create a wonderful atmosphhere of peace and calm and to make people feel very welcome.
As a volunteer - he also hosted and ran The London Gay Naturist group for over 2 years hosting dozens of events and writing and editing their newsmazing.
AS a volunteer again, he was the editor of 'STRETCH' magazine for a non profit organisation and provided 'BUDDY WORK' for guys with HIV who needed an extra hand, a lift in the car and whatever he could do to help others who were in need.
Always 'putting something back' into a community that John felt lacked some soul.
He was a voluntary Bereavement Therapist with the Lesbian & Gay Bereavement Project for 3 years.
Then he started his own GAY SPIRITUAL GROUP and this proved hugely popular with hundreds of members, scores of events at his house and eventually culminated in him renting the London University Students Building, twice, in 1998 and 1999 to host CONNECTIONS - 2 massive spiritual workshop days for up to 300 people with 28 different workshops provided by an assortment of world class facilitators, and with a lunch and everything, these were the beginning of gay spirituality coming ' out of the closet'.
He produced ' The Pink Path' monthly newsletter for GSG members.
Eventually a new calling beckoned and he sold his London home, closed his escort business down, returned to Bournemouth where he grew up, and after a great and long journey, full of the usual stresses of selling and buying property, he bought Hamilton Hall Retirement Home and converted it into an hotel, much as we see today, and opened in July 2000 after a 4 month renovation and refurbishing of the entire venue.
Opening as a Spiritual retreat for the gay world, it has changed and evolved over the years and as he says - 'SEXUAL, SPIRITUAL AND SELF DEVELOPMENT OF MIND, BODY AND SOUL OF MEN' and as a Not For Profit Venue and where he has only ever received expences and not a regular wage, Hamilton Hall has proven to be a bit like Marmite, you either love it - or hate it - or more to the point, everyone loves Hamilton Hall - it is John who admits to being the one you either love or hate, and as he says, it really is up to others what they feel and not him to adapt and be what others want him to be as if they have a problem with him, they can own it.
Having written and published numerous newsletters and magazines as a volunteer, he also produced a quarterly magazine with 10,000 copies called ' The Vine' - on spiritual issues up and down the south coast, and having been on many charity boards and helped run various self help groups and been on several committees, he decided that Hamilton Hall was to be run by a Benign Dictator, - himself naturally,- as it was far easier than working with others who slow things down and where many who have nothing to add, just want to add something to hear their own voice and all it does is annoy, slow proceedings down and create havoc, so John works alone and it suits him and it seems to suit his business.
The gay community is not a very supportive place and much good work is destroyed and venues closed because of those who do not help, their cup is always 'half empty' and they seem only to be able to find fault all the time - rather than constructive critisism which is from a 'half full' perspective and is unhelpful, and this was a painful lesson - and here we are many years later and Hamilton Hall, under Johns guidance, has become one of the most talked about gay venues on the UK scene.
The LGBT Community as a whole is not very supportive of its own. Small groups help each other but the cohesion between groups is almost non existant and every time John tried working with other organisations, be it the Elton John Foundation - Terrence Higgins Trust, and several others over the years, the level of incompetance offered and the level of complete and utter disrespect offered to a volunteer offering masses to the community for free, has been an eye opener for John and brought to light the warnings given to him by friends who had decades ago ran gay venues. Bryan Derbyshire - publisher and gay rights campaigner - who was loved and hated - much as John is and for much the same reasons, as John does not stand fools lightly and when incompetance and disrespect are thrown by those who are incompetant and disrespectful, then John does not hold his tongue and will push and try and show a better way forward and there are always those who resent - are jealous - envious and bitter because their own lives have not been as open and as free - and this is common within the LGBT community, and hard to take when it is those offering nothing at all - who are bitching those who work hard for no wage - and it does create disharmony.
Appearing in Channel 4's ' THREE IN A BED' won many new fans, actually over 4 million watched the initial broadcast and he received tens of thousands of e mails from all over praising how he had dealt with the homophobic bully who shared the programme with him, and how well he handled himself in front of the camera, and put this man in his place with kindness and thought.
Hamilton Hall has gone from strength to strength and he has facilitated hundreds of workshops on all sorts of themes and unlike anywhere else in Europe, has offered the Largest Diary of Events for gay and bisexual men, than any other gay venue in Europe.
With some changes in store for the future, I watch with anticipation and excitement, as nothing John has ever done has been boring and has always included those who wished to be a part of this amazing mans world.
Hamilton Hall is to change in the next few years into the UK's first Community Living Space for gay men and I am sure it will be a huge success.
I wish him and his endeavours well.
A lot has happened over the last 19 years and since Christopher wrote the piece above. Like so many of our gay friends, he died of HIV some time ago and shall always be remembered.
Hamilton Hall has proven over the years to be a very popular and much respected venue and I am always very thankful when we get a good review on Trip Advisor and when we do not, it is usually a fake report. We do get them.
Hamilton Hall has also been Number One in Google for the last 10 years.
A regular customer was on a cruise for 3,500 passengers off Tahiti when the ship announced an LGBT evening in one of the bars, and as his wife was okay with him being gay, she suggested he attend.
There was about 150 people in the bar and my customer got chatting to a random passenger - an American - who said ' Oh I have been to England. London and a town called Bournemouth.'
and when my customer said he knew Bournemouth and where did you stay -
'Oh a place called Hamilton House ( Hamilton Hall ) and that John Hamilton ( actually John Bellamy ) he is quite a charachter huh ?'
On a cruise ship the other side of the world.....??? Astounding, but then, after 20 years and as the only such venue quite like it anywhere, it's not surprising and there are many such stories to share.
After an extended period of ill health John reduced the amount of workshops and events planned for the year ahead - 2024 - to make life a little easier on himself - having been diagnosed with cancer and as he approached 70, and wants to take it a little easier. Still open all year and still offering wonderful B&B with dinners optional, Hamilton Hall is here for a few more years yet and John will probably be taken out of here feet first one day.