Let the good times roll
Seventies rink Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace was legendary in LA. Now it’s had a UK reboot by the daughter of Flipper himself – and it’s the wheel deal, says Charlotte Cripps
“Mummy, I want a roller disco.” I never thought I would hear those words. It’s like a breath of fresh air: gold sequined shorts, shiny bright leggings and flashing roller skate wheels. Even better is sending out the kids’ party invitations with “Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace” on them – rather than a local church hall.
Liberty Ross – the English model – has just opened London’s only dedicated roller rink: a grade II-listed building in Westfield,
White City, with pop star Usher. It’s a relaxed and effortlessly cool venue for anybody who wants to roller skate, or even just hang out. It’s open all week until late with live DJ nights and an American diner, “Hotdogs and Caviar” – and soon-to-be live concerts. It’s also where my daughter Lola is having her seventh birthday party.
It makes a change; after all, how many party entertainers, bouncy castles and soft play areas can a parent hire? With its sleek black rink and strobe lights, and a VIP “Lizard Lounge” for 100 people overlooking the rink, Ross – who was born nearby in London’s Ladbroke Grove – says it’s “the sexiest rink in the world”.
She is talking to me from her Beverly Hills home – where she turned her garage into a prototype version of Flipper’s during the pandemic so she could continue to skate. When Usher popped over for a skate at the house she shares with her music mogul husband Jimmy Iovine, who co-founded Interscope Records, Ross and Usher realised they shared the same dream: to reinvent the roller rink experience, and build a state-of-theart version of 1950s American rinks.
“We want to spread the gospel of skating because it is such a positive, wholesome, unifying, joyful thing,” says Ross, with her jet back hair, piercingly beautiful blue eyes and a green T-shirt with “Flipper’s” emblazoned across it.
“I felt like the world really needed this unifying space where everybody becomes equal, especially after Covid, where we were all so separated and sucked down our screens.” She adds: “You know, roller skating is so freeing – and it connects people.”
Ross and Usher first opened Flipper’s Roller Boogie Place at the Rink at Rockefeller Center in New York last year (it runs April to October before returning to ice for winter months) – and then launched it in London a few months ago.
The inspiration behind Flipper’s was her dad – Ian “Flipper” Ross – who managed Flipper’s Roller Boogie Palace in Hollywood 40 years earlier. The original club, named after him (he had an injury to his leg that meant his foot had similarities to a flipper) and dubbed Studio 54 on wheels, is fondly remembered as a hedonistic and wild celebrity hotspot.
We want to encourage kids to come in, get in their bodies, feel the wind in their hair, feel the music in their soul and connect with the people around them
down by police. Ross was just nine months old and pushed around the rink in a pram when her dad moved the whole family out to LA from west London. He went there with his wife Roxanna “Bunty” Ross and five kids, including Liberty’s older brother Atticus – now an Oscar-winning soundtrack composer in partnership with Trent Reznor.
To say it was an eccentric plan is an understatement. Ross’s dad thought that “skating was going to save the world”, she says, after seeing the skating scenes in a B-movie called Drive-in.
It was when Ross moved to LA with her own family 18 years ago that she started to hear about the original Flipper’s – she had been too young to remember it herself – and how it had cult status.
“Nile Rodgers used to skate down from Sunset Boulevard straight into Flipper’s on La Cienega,” says Ross, 44, who is fronting the new 2023 Burberry campaign. “Everyone was talking to me about it, they’re like, so blown away that my dad is Flipper. God, that place was incredible,” she says about what inspired this “entire journey”. “What was this place? Why do people still talk about it 40 years later?”
Ross spent three years making the book, Flipper’s Roller Booǀe
Palace – full of the history and photos she gathered from an Instagram feed where people would send her photos for her project – before deciding to open her own Flipper’s. “My parents had only about five photos – my dad forgot to bring them home with him when we moved back to London! My mum’s never forgiven him for that,” laughs Ross, sitting against a backdrop of teal wallpaper patterned with cute gold monkeys in her living room.
The original Flipper’s was where Tori Spelling had her eighth birthday party – a cake was brought out to match her pink and white skates. Elton John had a phallic birthday cake at his. Now I’m watching Lola blow out her candles on a three-tier chocolate cake with disco balls. We’ve got a private booth by the side of the rink, where the kids and parents can sit or skate – and eat sumptuous pizza and perfect fries. It’s £25 per child for a party. It’s also a hassle-free experience – with no effort on my part apart from deciding whether or not to skate.
You can hire blue suede skates and frames for little kids and beginners to hold onto while learning the basics. There are skate
stewards on hand to help – and Lola, who has been practicing at home by holding onto the bunk beds, is now gliding past me disco dancing on wheels in a skate skirt with flashing lights (backwards, no less). There is not – and will never be – a better kid’s party than this. It’s our new playground and resolves holiday boredom forever. Sessions are two hours long (kids skate from £9.50, adults from £12.50).
“We have a mantra at Flipper’s: ‘less scroll, more roll’. We want to encourage kids to come in, get in their bodies, feel the wind in their hair, feel the music in their soul and connect with the people around them,” says Ross – whose positive vibes spill into Flipper’s. “One of the many things I love about skate culture is that it's generational. I skate with my mum and my daughter. I think that’s such a lovely thing. And although Europe isn’t as kind of immersed into the rink culture in the way that America is – they’ve grown up with rinks for 100 years – I really want push that as much as I can in London because I think it’s such a healthy, fun family activity.”
The 1970s Flipper’s was referred to as “the best babysitter in Beverly Hills” back in the day, recalls Ross, “because you could drop your kids off, you knew that they were doing something wholesome”. The trouble is with Lola’s party is that none of the kids’ parents want to leave. It’s just such a fun sport to watch –
but it doesn’t matter. We can fall into the VIP Lizard Lounge with a bird’s eye view of the rink and decked out with palm trees and fairy lights – a nod to the original Flipper’s, which was designed to look like a tropical lagoon with a central stage and palm trees you could skate under.
Ross, who only started skating in her forties, says: “No matter if you are exceptionally talented at skating, or a beginner, you have an equally as brilliant a time. I always say you can’t put on a pair of skates without smiling. And it’s so true. It’s just like, you get this feeling of freedom and kind of self-expression – it’s just the most amazing kind of sensation.”
I sneak out and get a pair of skates – and give it a whirl. I instantly fall in love with skating. I see Lola’s face as she whizzes by with her friends – she is ecstatic. I can see her life has changed – she’s not just seven. She’s a roller girl. This trip isn’t a one-off. It’s a new way of life. I might come along for a roller fitness session – Ross is also setting up colour and sound therapy on screens to look at as you skate. As she says: “Roller rinks are healing.” I can see her point.
We are still on a high the day after the party – and I’m already thinking: “Mmm yes, Saturday afternoon I’m going to book the kids and me back in.” It sure makes a change from walking the dog.
Q Have you ever been to Montana and would you recommend it? If so, how would you suggest organising a fly-drive trip?
A Montana, the northernmost of the Rocky Mountain states, is a joy: a convergence of rock and snow, forest and flowers beneath a vast sky. It is 18 times the size of Wales but with fewer than 1 million inhabitants. The only skyscrapers are the jagged mountains that fill every horizon. In winter it is a hardcore ski
destination but a road trip is far more practical and rewarding in summer. But the “Treasure State” (so named for the gold and silver mined here during the 19th century) is best visited as part of a wider road trip through the northwestern US, taking in several more states.
I would fly from London Heathrow to Salt Lake City; Delta is resuming flights this summer. Pick up a car and aim north – stopping at the welcoming town of Jackson en route to Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. Then cross into Montana, pausing at Big Sky, and reaching Bozeman. Glance back tens of million years at the world-class Museum of the Rockies, with a fine collection of dinosaur fossils, and perhaps hike in the nearby mountains.
Go northwest through the peaks to Butte, then Missoula, the closest Montana gets to counter-culture – as well as home to the all-American Oxford Saloon and Café, where an interesting night out is guaranteed.
Briefly cut across the Idaho panhandle (which points north to Canada) and cross into Spokane – de facto capital of eastern Washington and a good place to pause. Then wind past canyons and across yet another mountain range before descending to Seattle, a great place to spend 48 hours before your flight home on Virgin Atlantic – partner of Delta, and therefore a sound bet for a decent fare on an “open jaw” trip from and to Heathrow.
1770: Daniel Lambert was born in Leicester – his adult weight was 739lb and his waist measured 102 inches. When he died it took 20 men to lower his coffin into the grave.
1781: Astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet Uranus.
1884: Novelist Sir Hugh Walpole was born in Auckland, New Zealand.
1894: The first professional striptease took place at the Divan Fayonau Music Hall in Paris. Le Coucher d’Yvette, as the act was billed, showed a woman undressing to go to bed.
1900: British forces under General Roberts captured Bloemfontein in the second Anglo-Boer War.
1927: The lance ceased to be an official weapon in the British Army.
1938: Hitler invaded Austria, which was made a German Reich province named Ostmark.
1947: The government announced a midweek ban on sport to try to boost productivity.
1963: Chinese leader Mao Zedong invited Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev for talks to try to heal relations.
1985: Russian leader Konstantin Chernenko was buried in Red Square as Mikhail Gorbachev became the youngest member of the ruling Politburo at 54.
1996: Day of the Dunblane Massacre, when lone gunman Thomas Hamilton shot dead 16 children and their teacher in the local primary school before turning the gun on himself.
On this day last year: The Power of the Dog won top honours at the Bafta film awards, where sci-fi blockbuster Dune also collected a string of gongs.
Neil Sedaka, singer-songwriter, 84; Joe Bugner, former boxer, 73; William H Macy, actor, 73; Linda Robson, actor, 65; Adam Clayton, rock musician (U2), 63; Annabeth Gish, actor, 52; Lonnie Rashid Lynn, better known as rapper Common, 51; Stephen Maguire, snooker player, 42; Noel Fisher, actor, 39; Tristan Thompson, basketball player, 32; Jack Harlow, rapper, 25.