Have a bit of respect,’ growled the familiar voice on the end of the phone. ‘I’m in the US. It’s three in the morning here.’
Sir Philip Green did sound groggy when I spoke to him this week. Perhaps it was the unsocial hour that accounted for his apparent confusion when I asked him about his role in the British #MeToo scandal.
The day before he was outed in the House of Lords, I’d heard the tycoon was the businessman at the heart of the row. The City was agog with rumours he was the unnamed man who had taken out gagging orders to stop the media printing allegations from former staff of sexual harassment and racist abuse at his hands.
Pictured, TIna Green, Sir Philip Green and Chloe Green attend the Fashion for Relief event during the 70th annual Cannes Film Festival at Aeroport Cannes Mandelieu on May 21, 2017 in Cannes, France
But, of course, this episode is different. Why? Because it has the potential to alienate his wife Tina, and crucially it is she who actually owns his retail empire and much else, including their £100million superyacht, Lionheart
So was it you, I asked. ‘I haven’t seen the story. I don’t know what you’re talking about,’ he replied.
But had he sexually harassed or racially abused any employees? ‘No.’
And had he taken out any injunctions? ‘I’m not aware of it. I’ll have to speak to my office. I’ll call you back.’
I’m still waiting.
Before I spoke to Green, I was sceptical that he was the mystery businessman who had taken out injunctions against the Daily Telegraph, despite the gossip. It didn’t seem quite his usual style. Although he is a bully who attacks, intimidates and insults opponents, and who often blusters about suing people, he rarely carries out his threats.
Rather than spend large sums on legal fees, he usually just erupts – which costs nothing – then moves on to the next row.
But, of course, this episode is different. Why? Because it has the potential to alienate his wife Tina, and crucially it is she who actually owns his retail empire and much else, including their £100million superyacht, Lionheart.
The pair of them spent the summer of 2016 cruising the Med on her yacht while thousands of BHS pensioners feared for their nest eggs. So far, Lady Green has stuck by him throughout his travails, including the black hole in the BHS pension fund that turned him into a national hate figure who was dubbed Sir Shifty by the Mail.
She has been stalwart, even though that episode had a big effect on her life, including having to take on a bodyguard for fear of attacks.
‘I’ve had to get her security when she’s in London,’ Green told me earlier this year when we met.
He had invited me to his glossy offices near Oxford Street in central London, designed by Tina. In the room was a large ceremonial sword given to him by colleagues to celebrate his knighthood.
Pictured, Sir Philip and his wife Tina Green on a boat in Eden Roc during the 2014 Cannes Film Festival
So far, Lady Green has stuck by him throughout his travails, including the black hole in the BHS pension fund that turned him into a national hate figure who was dubbed Sir Shifty by the Mail
These allegations of sexual harassment also have the potential to be highly damaging to his fashion business, whose whole existence depends on its appeal to teenage girls and their mums.
The vast bulk of his fortune – estimated at £2billion by the Sunday Times Rich List – has come from the young women who buy Topshop jeans and sparkly tops. In today’s climate of zero-tolerance for aggression from powerful men, there is a very real risk they might turn away from the brand in protest.
The scandal over injunctions also comes at a time when Green’s boutiques are struggling. The days – now more than a decade ago – when pansy-print dresses promoted by Kate Moss flew off the rails are long gone. Topshop, along with Green’s other brands, including Wallis and Dorothy Perkins, are feeling the chill winds blowing down the high street.
She has been stalwart, even though that episode had a big effect on her life, including having to take on a bodyguard for fear of attacks
The businesses are ultimately owned by a company called Taveta, registered in Jersey and owned by Lady Green. The corporate empire also features Arcadia, the parent company of Topshop. There has recently been speculation in the City over the future of Arcadia, with suggestions Green might be trying to offload it. There were rumours – vehemently denied – he was negotiating to sell it to the Chinese.
Be that as it may, even Topshop, the most successful company in the stable, has taken a battering.
It made a £10.9m loss in the year to August 2017, the latest figures available, compared with £59.4million profit the year before. As for Taveta, its profit fell to £124million from £215million the previous year.
All in all, a bit of a blow to Lady Green’s bank balance – not that her husband admits to knowing anything about her wealth.
‘I don’t even know where she keeps her money,’ he told me in the spring. ‘I’ve never been to her lawyer’s office, I’ve never been to her bank. It’s not something I like talking about because everybody is too f*****g jealous.’
A measure of how much Green cares what Tina thinks came after the interview was published, and he phoned me to say she was distressed by his swearing.
Green came to be seen as the unacceptable face of capitalism after he sold BHS for £1 in 2015 to a multiple bankrupt with no retail experience. A year later, it collapsed with the loss of 11,000 jobs, leaving a black hole in the pension scheme. At the height of the furore, Green was sailing the Mediterranean on his wife’s yacht, hotly pursued by the press and TV crews.
Whatever his troubles, Philip and Tina Green give every appearance of being a very close couple. They spend much of their time on the yacht in the tax haven of Monaco
Sir Philip Green’s new super yacht, Lionheart arriving In Valletta Malta
He eventually paid £363million to plug a gap that could have left 22,000 pensioners out of pocket when they retired. Had he not done so, he ran a serious risk of being stripped of his knighthood – which could now be in jeopardy for a second time if any serious allegations against him are proved.
Whatever his troubles, Philip and Tina Green give every appearance of being a very close couple. They spend much of their time on the yacht in the tax haven of Monaco. They have two children, Brandon, 25, and Chloe, 27, who earlier this year had her first child, Jayden, with her boyfriend Jeremy Meeks, 34, a convict-turned-model known as the ‘hot felon’.
Tina has been Green’s ardent defender, telling me: ‘It is beyond horrendous the way my husband has been treated.’ She confided how angry she is that he has ‘done the right thing’ for BHS pensioners, but is still portrayed as the bad guy.
Green brushes aside the idea he is afraid of upsetting her because she holds the purse strings. When asked if he is worried she might find a new husband, he barked back: ‘She won’t.’ But even he must be a little concerned that this could be the last straw.