As Sir Philip Green climbed the steps of his private jet last week to fly to London from his Arizona weight-loss facility after completing his self-declared attempt to shed nine pounds, a particular detail troubled me.
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In an interview with The Mail on Sunday, he described the past days as a “horror story” and “the worst week of my life”.
“Sort this out,” said Blackhurst. On the way back to the office I pondered an apology on the cringeworthy side of grovelling, but in the end didn’t need one. My answer phone was flashing. On it, a message from Sir Philip: “Simon. Try not to be such a twat.” Fair point well made.
Hain has been criticised by some lawyers and legal experts for what they say was an abuse of parliamentary privilege, but many MPs have backed him.
Thereafter, as Shah’s book details, Green concentrated on what he was good at: buying up ailing retail businesses, stripping their assets, paying himself and his family vast dividends, funnelling the money into accounts in the tax haven Monaco, before offloading the stripped carcass on to some sucker.
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At the time, though, the Guardian’s financial editor Paul Murphy was among journalists who studied BHS’s finances and questioned its valuation. Green, typically, went on the offensive with proto-Trumpian bluster, saying of Murphy: “He can’t read English. Mind you, he is a fucking Irishman.” The Guardian published the racist rant on the front page, prompting Green to do that rare thing, apologise – to the Irish.
Shah, the Sunday Times business editor, starts his book with Green threatening to chuck him out of the window, and recalls throughout how he menaced rivals with threats of visits from tasty geezers from south of the river. Only 299 pages later does Shah allow him to back-pedal on his threats. “If I had any boys in south London, they’d have been around to see you long before now,” Green tells Shah in one of their last conversations. Typical Green: all mouth and dodgy trousers.
The only small criticism I could have is you don’t get much of the funny side of Green. Reading the accounts of him abusing hacks, journalists and other business folk, it’s hard to escape the notion that he’s a bully.
The shares jumped, and he sold. A million quid might be neither here nor there to him, but it was a nifty bit of trading. I was facing a tight deadline when news of the sale broke and left Green a message, hoping to provoke a quick reply.
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Lord Hain said he was unaware that the firm, Gordon Dadds, was involved in the case when he spoke and dismissed Sir Philip’s allegation as a “malevolent diversion”.
But is Green merely greedy? Shah concludes not: he approvingly cites Clore’s biographer: “If there is one common trait in every entrepreneur it is that he’s a thoroughly insecure animal whose main drive is vanity and whose main passion is a worship for prestige.” Hence, perhaps, Green’s fetish for big yachts, which looks like compensation for some shortcoming, be it psychic or physical. Hence too his three-day 50th birthday party in Cyprus at which Tom Jones, Rod Stewart and Earth Wind and Fire performed and where he received gifts including a solid gold Monopoly game from Asprey, a red Ferrari Spider and a Harley Davidson with licence plate PG50. On the third day of those anniversary revels, togas were supplied to all – enabling Green to disport himself as Emperor Nero.
The last time I had to speak to him — and if that turns out to be the last time ever, neither of us will mind — Green was musing on whether it was I or Blackhurst who had our head stuffed furthest up our own arse, concluding it was me. That’s very flattering, I told him.
No, the detail that struck me was Sir Philip’s jeans. Was this really the one-time most fearsome predator in the retail jungle, the former king of the British high street who invited Kate Moss to design clothes for Topshop, and who launched Beyoncé’s Ivy Park range of athleisure? Was this the guy who so effectively wooed prime ministers that he was knighted by Tony Blair and made a special adviser by David Cameron? Green’s mullet has long been bad enough, but what were those things at the other end of his body? Jeans with freshly pressed creases?
Sir Philip, who is staying at a health resort in Tucson, Arizona, said: “I’m very, very upset. I’m being used as target practice.
“It’s injuring my business, all the people potentially working in the business, and it’s injuring me and my family.”
Sir Philip Green, the owner of Topshop, has denied sexual harassment and racist abuse of staff, insisting he was only indulging in banter.
By the early 1970s Green was a job buyer, astutely picking up excess stock from badly run retailers and selling it on to independent stores or market stall holders. He was, from the first, looking out for the underperformers to take down so he could make his fortune. During his years on the rise, his hero was the financier Charles Clore, whose Lithuanian ancestors had fled pogroms to settle in London’s East End, and who became the pioneer of the hostile takeover in Britain. Above his desk, Green had a signed picture of Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko with the slogan “Greed is good”, savvy enough to appreciate the irony that the point of Oliver Stone’s film Wall Street was to argue that greed was bad. And shameless enough, too.
“It’s a horror story. Somebody can say whatever they like and people just follow you around, chasing you and harassing you. I’ve been in business for more than 40 years. There has obviously from time to time been some banter and a bit of humour, but as far as I’m concerned there was never any intent to be offensive.”
“I stand resolutely by what I’ve said and neither retract nor apologise for standing up for human rights,” Lord Hain said.
Green has said he intends to lodge a formal complaint with the House of Lords authorities about Lord Hain for failing to declare he was a paid adviser to the law firm representing the Telegraph when he made his intervention.
‘It’s just bollocks!” Sir Philip Green shouted. It was a Tuesday in March. A few hours earlier I had emailed over a list of questions to the Topshop billionaire’s office, seeking responses to allegations I planned to include in my upcoming critical biography, Damaged Goods. Among them were claims that he had bullied employees and used racist language towards a black member of staff, Wesley Taylor, whom he had paid off.
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In November 2008, Sir Philip Green bought into, and rapidly out of Moss Bros, making a quick £1 million in the process. The Top Shop man bought a 28.5% stake and talked of making a bid for the whole business. He was going to work his magic on a struggling outfit.
On the other hand, maybe we don’t need to be that delicate. Green’s approach was patter, it was for effect. Sometimes you got the impression that the swearing was a holding device while he reached for other words. He liked to accuse journalists of trying to be clever, perhaps masking the insecure feeling that at some level he was not.
But Green’s scapegoating for me resembles how Harvey Weinstein sometimes gets treated as if he invented sexual predation, rather than being a particularly gaudy exponent of something to which patriarchal societies have long been prone. To name Green as the unacceptable face of capitalism, as a Commons report did two years ago, is to obscure the truth that ugliness is endemic to the system: short-termism and business predation did not start with Sir Philip – nor will they end with him.
Funniest Philip Green
Business journalist Alex Brummer wrote in the Jewish Chronicle a couple of years ago that Green’s behaviour had “cast a pall over the reputation of the ethics of Jews in business”. Is there antisemitism behind some attacks on Green? Doubtless. Jews were hated in Germany before the war, argued Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer in Dialectic of Enlightenment, because they were made projections of what non-Jews wanted to be. Jews, antisemites supposed, had “happiness without power, wages without work, a home without frontiers, religion without myth”. Something similarly unfair, I suspect, explains why Green is such a hate figure: if there’s one thing the antisemitic have-nots can’t abide, after all, it’s the have-yachts, especially if they’re Jews revelling in their wealth.
The Arcadia boss also said he would be “happy to apologise” if anything he had said had “caused offence” after being named as the leading businessman at the centre of Britain’s #MeToo scandal.
Oliver Shah’s new book on Green, Damaged Goods*, is superb. It manages to be both forensic and pacey. It’s penetrating, but it’s not unfair. If there is a benefit of doubt to be given, Shah gives it.
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“You’ve got one,” said Blackhurst. Green had pulled the top prize from that year’s Evening Standard Christmas appeal, a trip to New York including shopping with himself and Kate Moss.
Topshop boss rejects abuse claims and says he is being used as ‘target practice’
“How so?” he asked. Because you seemed to have spent a lot of time thinking about it, I said. “Oh yeah,” said the king of the High Street. “I’ve done the maths son.”
Green’s comments were his first response beyond an initial statement denying “unlawful sexual or racist behaviour” since the story broke on Thursday, when Peter Hain revealed that Green was the unnamed businessman behind a high court injunction preventing the Daily Telegraph from publishing “confidential information” from five employees.
Green didn’t come back in time, and I wrote the story up as best I could.
“I’ve been in business for more than 40 years,” Sir Philip said. “There has obviously, from time to time, been some banter. But, as far as I’m concerned, that’s never been offensive.
So I could guess who was on the line when “No caller ID” popped up on my iPhone. Green holds PR advisers and lawyers in contempt, preferring to ring journalists himself and convey his unambiguous displeasure. There had been the odd fractious call during my three-month sabbatical writing the book — but now publication day…
All mouth and dodgy trousers … how the king of high street retail became the unacceptable face of capitalism