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the Noble Interviews / "Sir" Philip Green
We meet at a City of London McDonalds, with its special offers of super-sized burgers served with super-sized burgers. The tanned, healthy, chubby man striding purposefully through the glittering glass doors is Sir Philip Green, the subject of my interview today.
He shakes my hand firmly and, without first going to the counter to be served, sits down next to me. We are sitting on one of those plastic benches tilted slightly forward to discourage fast food eaters from lingering any longer than is absolutely necessary. There is an air of cultured, privately educated certainty, confidence, and authority about him.
DM: Hello Sir Green. May I call you Philip?
PG: Of course Deacon. My pleasure.
DM: You don't want coffee Philly?
There is a moment's hesitation as he pantomimes looking for his wallet.
PG: Actually, I rather assumed you would be buying.
DM: Of course, of course, how silly of me. I suffered this same lapse at my last interview. Wealthy people don't buy rounds do they?
PG: (chuckling) No, no, of course not. I don't actually carry cash in fact.
There is a pause as I go up to queue at the garishly illustrated counter for a takeaway latte (small).
PG: Ta. Thanks.
DM: (resuming my seat) I gather you're one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the UK with a string of amazing investments which have simply grown and grown and grown.
Phil gathering Moss
PG: Absolutely. Top Shop is one of the High Street's most respected brands, as was British Home Stores before it was taken over by those incompetents I sold it to for £1.
DM: Ah yes, I was going to ask you about that. That was very generous. Did the recipients not appreciate your generosity.
PG: Well, now, of course, they're complaining that I hadn't told them about the deficit in the pension fund, but I did. I told them. I said, "It's just possible that there may be a deficit in the fund, but you shouldn't worry about it."
DM: They should have done their "due diligence" anyway.
PG: Exactly. They were friends but one doesn't have to spell out the whole deal for them. I mean, they got it for £1 for heaven's sake.
DM: And of course they knew you'd taken out £400 million in dividends even though the pension fund was in "substantial deficit" - to the tune of £571 million?
PG: Naturally. Or at least it was there for all to see, if they'd taken the trouble to look through the accounts of a string of off shore shell companies but, hey, these are adults.
DM: And they had no knowledge of retail?
PG: No, but neither do I. I'm a capital person. I know how to shuffle money around the globe, but I'm no more qualified to run a shop than you are.
DM: And the pensioners? They presumably knew what they were getting into.
PG: Of course. Ever since Robert Maxwell so successfully raided the old Mirror Group pension fund back in the old days, everybody knew that pitching your pensions in to a company pension scheme was a high risk strategy. Of course we're going to raid it if it seems like a good idea - and paying dividends to myself and my lovely Monocan wife (and £400 million isn't as much as you might think when you look at my/our cost of living) certainly seems like a good idea to me. It's just good executive-level business sense.
DM: You have significant domestic overheads?
PG: Yes. For starters there's my boat. And boats have to have crew. Boats don't run themselves. And living in Monaco for enough days of the year to avoid UK tax doesn't come cheap.
DM: I was surprised that your good mate Sir John Collins (who headed the Whitehall honours committee which proposed Phil's knighthood) said that the story of the collapse of BHS was 'not a good one' and that you should give the knighthood back.
PG: Oh he's an absolute c**t. He does these things (raiding pension funds) all the time himself. He should mind his own f*****g business.
DM: And weren't there some ghastly misinterpretations of your status as a tax exile?
PG: Well of course, that goes without saying. Nobody likes paying taxes. People on wages have to because there is no escape from the PAYE scheme. But the rest of us manage our affairs through off shore companies and trust funds. Technically I live in Monaco, but the bulk of my mansions and vast acreages are here in the UK where I create employment for peasants.
DM: Philly me old toad, it's been a pleasure, but I've got to go.
PG: Me too. See you on the Med.
© 2016 Deacon Martin