Ma­rina Hyde: the A-list aban­dons Sir Philip Green

The Guardian Weekly - - Inside - Ma­rina Hyde

He re­minds me of one of those guys from the 30s,” Si­mon Cow­ell once re­flected of his friend Philip Green. “Louis Mayer …” Ain’t that the truth. When a cou­ple of thou­sand peo­ple at­tended the Hol­ly­wood fu­neral of one of those other guys from the 30s, Columbia Pic­tures’ Harry Cohn, the co­me­dian Red Skel­ton twin­kled: “It only proves what they al­ways say – give the pub­lic what they want to see and they’ll come out for it.” Sam Gold­wyn made a sim­i­lar com­ment about Mayer’s fu­neral, but that one is thought to be apoc­ryphal. For all his decades of unas­sail­abil­ity, very few peo­ple at­tended the former MGM mogul’s send­off.

I won­der if it will be the same for Sir Phil, whose leg­endary par­ties were once graced by the in­ter­na­tional A-list of his close per­sonal friends: your Leonardo DiCaprios, your Kate Hud­sons, your Gwyneth Pal­trows. Un­til they weren’t. Cer­tainly, it feels that there isn’t a wet eye in the king­dom at news that Green has been named in par­lia­ment as the busi­ness­man de­scribed by the Daily Tele­graph as the sub­ject of mul­ti­ple sex­ual harass­ment and bul­ly­ing al­le­ga­tions.

Though Peter Hain used par­lia­men­tary priv­i­lege to name the Ar­ca­dia re­tail tycoon in the House of Lords, it must be stressed that the orig­i­nal in­junc­tion against the Tele­graph still holds, and these are merely al­le­ga­tions. As for al­le­ga­tions of what, over to the eye-catch­ing re­lease put out by Green him­self last Thurs­day evening.

“To the ex­tent that it is sug­gested that I have been guilty of un­law­ful sex­ual and racist be­hav­iour,” this ran, “I cat­e­gor­i­cally and wholly deny these al­le­ga­tions.” As a shut-it-all-down state­ment, that does rather tend to­ward the in­trigu­ing. The Tele­graph al­leged “im­moral or rep­re­hen­si­ble be­hav­iour by some­one in a po­si­tion of power”. No one said any­thing about “un­law­ful” – not un­til Phil did. Fur­ther­more, to which ad­jec­tives does that “un­law­ful” ap­ply? Clearly he is deny­ing he has been guilty of un­law­ful sex­ual be­hav­iour; but is he deny­ing he has been guilty of just un­law­ful racism, or of all racism, what­ever that may be? We must hope Sir Phil breaks his si­lence again soon to clar­ify. Un­til then, we have only his re­cent ut­ter­ances to go on. “Am I a racist?’ he de­manded rhetor­i­cally this sum­mer. “The fact is that I’ve had a black chauf­feur for the past 12 years.”

Nat­u­rally, Green’s is un­likely to be the only rear­guard ac­tion against the mush­room­ing fall­out. The flighty celebrity class, who took all his hospi­tal­ity, will soon be rush­ing to dis­tance them­selves from their former host.

It was once said that Louis B Mayer was the great­est ac­tor on the MGM lot, and there was al­ways some­thing of the show­man to Green. A former board­ing school boy, his was a riches-to-even-more-riches story, and not the rags-to-riches one his bar­row-boy per­sona ap­peared to im­ply. I am sure he would counter this by say­ing that he built up a great Bri­tish busi­ness. Ex­cept it’s mostly owned by his wife, who lives in Monaco for tax rea­sons.

Peo­ple say pol­i­tics is show­biz for ugly peo­ple; Green treated re­tail as show­biz for peo­ple too ugly for pol­i­tics. A shame­less starstrucker, if you will, he rode the crest of that mid-noughties wave when it seemed the chat­terati’s only sub­ject was celebrity. It now feels as though the 2008 fi­nan­cial crash will be judged the more seis­mic event of its decade than 9/11. But the crash’s im­pact was harder to read, – in­deed, it was mis­read and ig­nored for a long time – and turbo-cap­i­tal­ists such as Green were feted longer than they might oth­er­wise have been. Seem­ingly un­aware he was on bor­rowed time, he be­strode the end of an era like a Hawai­ian-shirted colos­sus. There were the im­pos­si­bly lav­ish par­ties, at which the theme al­ways seemed to be Après moi, le déluge. But it was Green’s de­ci­sion to hire the Kate Moss to de­sign for Top­shop that turned him into one of a hand­ful of house­hold-name busi­ness­man. He drank deeply of his own hype, and soon formed a friend­ship with Si­mon Cow­ell, the lead­ing im­pre­sario of the re­al­ity TV golden age – an age suc­ceeded by one in which the big­gest re­al­ity star sits in the White House. Given the achieve­ments of Don­ald Trump, Green and Cow­ell’s own plans for dom­i­na­tion now seem a timid fail­ure of the imag­i­na­tion. But back then they were talked of as “the new Dis­ney”. There were re­ports they were go­ing to buy ITV. There would be theme parks. They were go­ing to make Las Ve­gas the per­ma­nent global home of The X Fac­tor.

Only the ter­mi­nally shal­low could pos­si­bly have been con­vinced by him – and thus it was that one of David Cameron’s early acts after be­com­ing prime min­is­ter was to make Green his “ef­fi­ciency tsar”. Even as tax pro­test­ers were pre­par­ing to in­vade Green’s Top­shop stores to demon­strate against his tax avoid­ance, Green was fart­ing out his of­fi­cial re­port into gov­ern­ment waste. “If I ran my busi­ness like this,” he scoffed, “the lights would be out.” But for­tune’s wheel was itch­ing to turn. By the time of his 65th birth­day, with BHS sold for a quid to some chancer, and a huge hole in its pen­sion scheme, Philip Green’s once-stel­lar party guestlist had been com­muted down some­what. And that was mostly all we heard from Phil for a while – un­til ear­lier last month, when it seems he spot­ted an agreed pro­mo­tion in his Ox­ford Street Top­shop for an an­thol­ogy of fem­i­nist writ­ing, and or­dered it to be im­me­di­ately torn down. In the light of events, per­haps that sort of lash­ing out would be best glossed by a psy­cho­an­a­lyst. Phil seemed to have had quite enough of the #MeToo move­ment, judg­ing by his com­ments to his unau­tho­rised bi­og­ra­pher Oliver Shah: “Where’s all this go­ing to end?” Dif­fi­cult to say. But if any fu­ture moviemaker wanted a way into so many of the cross­cur­rents of the age, they could do worse than alight on Sir Phil as a cen­tral char­ac­ter •

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