retail

Philip Green: 'from zero to hero – and back again'


Sir Philip Green is most at home in a grey tracksuit pacing the decks of his £100m superyacht Lionheart floating in the tax haven of Monaco shouting into one, two or sometimes even three mobile phones simultaneously.

It is where he is this weekend ahead of what looks the end of the road for his Topshop fashion empire. And it is where the Guardian found the former self-crowned “King of the high street” when the newspaper tracked him down to ask him to reassure his 13,000 staff that he would look out for them the last time his business appeared to be teetering on the brink of collapse last summer.

Then, as now, Green – who has spent most of his career polishing his image with models, pop stars and celebrities – did not want to talk. He threatened reporters with a visit from the Monégasque police and “unpleasant things”.

Green, 68, whose family owns Arcadia Group – which includes Topshop, Burton, Dorothy Perkins and Miss Selfridge – is in crisis talks trying to secure emergency funding to stave off a collapse into administration. Accountants at Deloitte are said to have been lined up to take over as administrators as soon as Monday.

But there has been no word of concern from Green, 68, for his 13,000 staff whose jobs are at risk. Most of the employees are being supported by the taxpayer via the government’s furlough scheme.

While his workers face unemployment at Christmas, Green is reportedly planning a festive break at a luxury resort in the Maldives. Green is said to be booked into the One & Only Reethi Rah resort, where private villas costs up to £30,000-a-night and guests arrive by seaplane.

Other guests to have enjoyed the resort’s 12 pristine white sand beaches and three swimming pools are said to have included Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe, Gordon Ramsay and Chelsea football club owner Roman Abramovich. The Beckhams have also reportedly stayed for Christmas, taking an 11-night break said to have cost £250,000. A spokesman for Arcadia declined to comment when asked about the trip, or the progress of talks this weekend to save the business.

Green, who went to the now defunct private Carmel College, known as “the Jewish Eton”, but left at 16 with no O-levels, has become accustomed to a life of luxury and excess. For a large part of his career he spent weekdays living in a suite at the five-star Dorchester hotel, in Mayfair central London, before flying by private jet to join his family on Lionheart on Friday nights.

Seeking to avoid the coronavirus pandemic, Green has spent most of the past year permanently onboard the 300ft yacht, which features a helipad, pool, 15 crew cabins and room for 12 guests. It is the third yacht that Green has commissioned from Italian shipbuilder Benetti Yachts.

If Green pushes ahead with the trip to the Maldives, local people are likely to remember him from his previous visits. He picked the Indian Ocean archipelago as the location for his 55th birthday party, which lasted five days, and reportedly featured a troupe of topless dancers and performances by George Michael and Jennifer Lopez. It was said to have cost about £20m.

Anna Wintour, Sir Philip Green, Kate Moss and Lottie Moss attend the Topshop Unique show at London Fashion Week AW14 at Tate Modern in 2014.
Anna Wintour, Sir Philip Green, Kate Moss and Lottie Moss attend the Topshop Unique show at London Fashion Week AW14 at Tate Modern in 2014. Photograph: David M Benett/Getty Images

So many of his famous friends – including Kate Moss and the Vogue editor Anna Wintour – arrived by private jet that the local airport authorities refused to allow any more to park. The party for his 60th, billed as PG60, was held at the Rosewood Mayakoba resort in Mexico, with performances from Robbie Williams, Stevie Wonder and the Beach Boys. His presents have included a £7m Gulfstream jet and a £250,000 gold Monopoly set.

Green is not afraid to confront people who challenge him. They include the veteran MP Frank Field and a long list of journalists who questioned his business operations or tax affairs.

“When the king of the high street, Sir Philip Green, appeared before the Commons he said he regarded his workers as part of the family,” Field said this weekend. “The workers now need that family.”

In 2003 Green described the Guardian’s then financial editor Paul Murphy – born in Oldham and raised in Portsmouth – as a “fucking Irishman” who “can’t read English”. In the short conversation with the Guardian, which the newspaper printed in full, he said the words “fuck” or “fucking” 14 times.

Challenged later about his bad language, Green said: “Do I say fuck off? “Yes, if people don’t behave themselves,” according to a profile in Tatler.

Green is, by his own admission, not a modern man. He told Sunday Times journalist Oliver Shah in his unauthorised 2018 biography of Green titled Damaged Goods, that the #MeToo debate had gone too far. “Where’s this all going to end,” Green said. “There’s no stag parties, no hen parties, no more girls parading in the ring at the boxing. So they’re all banned?”

Perhaps it was not a surprise to Arcadia employees that Green was soon caught up in the #MeToo scandal with a string of sexual and racial harassment allegations, including claims he groped a female employee and told a black executive his “problem” was that he was still “throwing spears in the jungle”.

Two other female employees received hundreds of thousands of pounds each after alleging Green had grabbed one woman by the face and put another in a headlock. Green’s lawyers admitted he acted in a “tactile” way and has “prodded and poked individuals”. Green has repeatedly said he “categorically denies any unlawful … sexual behaviour”.

Green will be forever associated with the downfall of BHS. He sold the department store chain to the former bankrupt Dominic Chappell for £1 in March 2015. The company collapsed with the loss of 11,000 jobs 13 months later, leaving a pension deficit of about £571m.

A high-profile parliamentary investigation into BHS’s demise concluded that the owners had systematically plundered the company, and described the hole in the pension fund as “the unacceptable face of capitalism”.

It led to calls for Green to be stripped of his knighthood, awarded by Tony Blair for services to the retail industry in 2006. Green had boasted that he had Blair on speed dial. Blair described Green as “the person who thought up the dream and dreamt the dream into reality”.

More than 100 MPs voted in favour of a motion for his knighthood to be cancelled and annulled by the honours forfeiture committee. It was the first time that MPs had proposed someone be stripped of a knighthood.

The threat was dropped when Green agreed to pay £363m into the BHS pension scheme in 2017. “Once again I would like to apologise to the BHS pensioners for this last year of uncertainty, which was clearly never the intention when the business was sold in March 2015,” he said at the time. “I hope that this solution puts their minds at rest and closes this sorry chapter for them.”

Tina Green, who said she thought her future husband was dreadful when she first met him at a party in 1985, lives in Monaco, where the family own a luxury apartment and Lionheart is often berthed.

She collected a £1.2bn dividend from Arcadia in 2015, the biggest in British corporate history. No tax was paid on the dividend because of her Monaco base. The Greens, who had once amassed a £4.9bn estimated fortune, fell off the UK’s list of billionaires in 2019.

Veteran retail analyst Richard Hyman said: “He’s gone from zero to hero, and now it looks like he’s going back to zero again.”



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