Grace Dent writes:
As public scrutiny of Philip Green grows crosser each day, it’s difficult to know whether the billionaire’s rhino hide has been remotely wounded.
Being described by Frank Field MP as “much worse” than Robert Maxwell has to sting, surely?
And what about the growing demand for Green’s rather jarring knighthood to be removed in light of the 22,000 pensioners who’ve watched their financial security be steadily obliterated while Green threw parties such as his £6m, three-day long, superstar-laden 60th birthday?
Kobe burgers on the barbecue; Stevie Wonder providing the cabaret; Leonardo, Gwynnie and Naomi on the dancefloor.
Green, for a time, really was a very popular man. Avuncular, even.
Rarely seen publicly without Moss or Campbell stuck to his elbow like expensive impetigo.
And he was never as popular as when he had a birthday and whisked all his super-close, completely sincere buddies off for a gigantic, sun-drenched freebie.
One of the small positives of being a “little person” shafted by Green – rather than by a less conspicuous fat-cat – is that one never needs to raise one’s palms skywards howling, “But where did the money all go?” because it’s all there, lovingly documented in the gossip columns and in its bystanders’ breathless memoirs.
Revellers said Green’s 60th in Mexico was even bigger than Green’s 50th in Cyprus and his 55th in the Maldives!
They drank Pol Roger in Mexico in 2012 as your pension was pissed down the drain.
They ate Kobe beef and now you’re making a Lidl basket last three weeks.
So does Green, I wonder, now feel a bit sheepish about this? Probably not.
The scenario reminds me of a wonderful part in the very underrated Nora Ephron movie You’ve Got Mail where lefty, anti-capitalist tub-thumper Frank Navasky meets the corporate mega-boss Joe Fox at a cocktail party.
After accusing Fox – a business Goliath – of a litany of misdoings, Navansky snaps, “Tell me something, really, how do you sleep at night?”, to which Fox’s cold-eyed girlfriend, mistaking the question for non-rhetoric, chirps, “Ah, I use a wonderful over-the-counter drug, Ultradorm. Don't take the whole thing, just half, and you will wake up without even the tiniest hangover.”
Whether Green sleeps fitfully or like a baby is unknown.
But we do know that he has not been left remotely poor by BHS’s downfall.
The estimated £571m needed to plug the black hole in its pension fund could be transferred, I would imagine, via one brisk phone call, made from a sun-lounger, in the time it would take for Green to order a large pre-lunch gin and tonic.
Of course, Green, due to his fabulously slippery business dealings, is not legally culpable for this debt.
My conscience, if I were a disgraced business mogul faced with the truth that many of my ex-workers were in financial ruin, would prompt me to pay up. But that’s just me.
If Green has a cash flow problem preventing him charging in like a white knight to clear up the mess he made centre-stage, can’t his celebrity buddies pitch in, all those who lived high on Green’s hog?
Is it not time for BHS-Aid, a night of charity giving and lavish prize donations?
I’m not certain if Leo and Gwyneth will understand what BHS is, but perhaps their advisers could explain that it was a department store once found on every high street in Britain, selling cheap clothes and umpteen shelves of nicely packaged novelty tat: “World’s Best Dad” tankards, for instance, and stackable biscuit tins with “Love You Gran” on the lid.
BHS sold the sorts of things normal, working-class people get for their birthdays, as opposed to “150 close friends flown to Mexico andHappy Birthday sung by Enrique Iglesias”.
It was staffed by everyday people who got up early and worked hard on busy tills or on shop floors, with sore feet and repetitive strain injuries from scanning three-packs of pop-socks.
The workers paid into a pension scheme which has now curiously and quite bewilderingly vanished. Not stolen, Gwyneth, oh no.
Let’s just say your holiday buddy Philip Green has “consciously uncoupled” these workers from their future security.
Still confused, Leo? Try to think of your hit film Catch Me If You Can,where a slippery sort fooled everyone that he was a pilot, a doctor and a lawyer, but instead, imagine the protagonist fooling people that their monthly pension deduction would prevent them dying in poverty.
As for Moss and Campbell, they know full well what BHS is. You’ve all enjoyed the party. Why don’t you help with the clear-up?