Tributes have been paid to a giant of Worthing's nightlife and hospitality industry who died earlier this month.
When Chris Chapman took over his father’s Worthing pub with his wife Delia, they thought it would be for a year.
But it was the start of a rags to riches story which saw the couple build a hospitality empire across England.
Chris, 65, died on May 10 from septicaemia at Worthing Hospital, and tributes were paid by the thousands he employed and served in his career. Delia, 60, of Water Lane, Angmering, thanked them all.
She said: “The names I forgot over the last 40 years just come flooding back – it is unbelievable.
“Chris absolutely loved whatever he did. He said ‘I have no regrets whatsoever’.How many people can say that? He did it his way.”
His son Dean, 38, added that no-one had made the same impression on Worthing's hospitality industry as his late father.
The son of ex-Worthing mayor Frederick ‘Sammy’ Chapman, Chris was born above The Montague pub in Montague Street, Worthing – the very pub he would take the reins of when his father died in 1975, giving up a burgeoning career as a toolmaker with Metal Box in Shoreham.
Having met Delia at a Tuesday soul night at Scamps nightclub in Sutton, the pair got married in Wimbledon on November 12, 1977 and ran the pub together, making the then 18-year-old the youngest landlady in the country.
Their soul nights were so popular that people would climb in the toilet window with ladders to get in – but Chris never turned away a paying customer, his son Chris, 34, said: “He loved people. The first thing he wanted to do was make them laugh and smile.”
In 1983, Chris set his sights on a new challenge: the Central Hotel, opposite Worthing station. With two young boys, taking it on was a ‘massive risk’, Delia said, but Chris put aside his fears and transformed the condemned building into Chapmans hotel and Bensons nightclub.
The latter was renowned in its heyday for its 999 nights for the emergency services on Mondays, with 80p drinks and 80p admission attracting 1,000 customers at a time.
In 1987, the sale of the popular Wine Lodge in Marine Parade and a further sale of part of the business in 1995 allowed the company to expand as far as Somerset. Other notable local purchases included the church that is now Bar Ten in High Street, Café Central bar in Chapel Road and Sterns rave club on Highdown Hill, which became the Mansion House long before it was the Highdown Hotel.
One of Chris’ wackier ideas was to shine a beacon through its roof into the sky to advertise it, before the aviation authority intervened.
Despite another partial company sale in 2016, Chris’ love for his job meant he could not stop, right up until the end. He saw the refurbishment of the Coach and Horses pub on the A27 finished before he passed away.
The family business will be run by his sons Sam, 39, Dean, Chris and Shea, 24. He is also survived by two grand-daughters.
Chris’ funeral will be held on Friday at 11.30am, at St Mary’s Church in Broadwater; members of the public are welcome.