Retail tycoon Sir Philip Green has defended his behaviour over the collapse of the BHS chain, describing his decision to sell the retailer to a serial bankrupt as “the worst mistake of my life”.
The billionaire owner of Topshop and Miss Selfridge said he was “sad” that he had not received recognition for paying £363m into the BHS pension scheme last year, in a move that headed off the threat of him losing his knighthood. Asked in an interview with the Mail on Sunday if any of the BHS furore was his fault, he said: “No. Zero. Nothing.”
Green owned BHS for 15 years before selling it to serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell for £1 in 2015 – a year before the retailer collapsed with the loss of 11,000 jobs. Green and other investors were paid £586m in dividends, rent and interest during their ownership of the retailer.
Referring to BHS, Green added: “We didn’t go as a vulture and bankrupt it, try to keep it all to ourselves. That was the stupidity. Trying to do it the correct way turned out to be a disaster.”
Claiming that he spent £35m on the legal bill alone for dealing with the BHS collapse, he said: “My family lost millions on BHS.”
He added: “I and our board were wholly misled by everyone involved with [Chappell]. Was it the worst mistake of my life? Yes, it was. Horrible. Ugly.”
Following a parliamentary investigation into the BHS collapse, the businessman was labelled by MPs the “unacceptable face of capitalism” and accused of the “systematic plunder” of the company, along with Chappell and their “hangers-on”.
Under pressure from the Pensions Regulator, Green agreed to pay £363m into the BHS pension scheme in February 2017 to help plug its £571m black hole. He feels he deserves more credit for this.
“I wrote a cheque for £363m,” he told the Mail on Sunday. “But nobody has ever said, this man behaved like a gentleman, his family behaved properly. I’m not doing this as an act for you because you know it’s not my style – but I’m sad that there’s no acceptance of that.”
He added: “Fortunately, we were able to pay and rectify it. I was pleased we were able to resolve it.”
Green questioned whether antisemitism played a role in the accusations. “Do I think the viciousness has anything to do with the fact that I am a Jewish businessman? Well, I’m not going to say. The answer is I don’t want to get into it.”
He came under fire for cruising the Mediterranean in his wife Tina’s £100m yacht Lionheart in the summer after the BHS collapse while BHS pensioners worried about their future. His wife is also the legal owner of Green’s business empire (since 2004). The couple’s lavish lifestyle has frequently drawn criticism.
Green defended his lifestyle, saying it was the result of his business successes. “I feel like I’ve got to justify I had the ability to pay, that my family has got a yacht, that I’m living a nice lifestyle. Thank goodness, along my journey, I was very successful and therefore I was able to pay.”
He did not accept the yacht was extravagant. “I don’t think it’s grand living [on the yacht], I’m sorry. You’re saying I have been successful and I should have to apologise for that?”
Green also accused Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions committee that led the investigation into BHS, of a personal vendetta. The Pensions Regulator’s report showed he had made a number of earlier offers before a final deal was reached, but Green’s view is that Field “harassed the Pension Regulator” and that this delayed the payment, according to the Mail on Sunday.
The collapse of BHS in April 2016 was one of Britain’s biggest business scandals and led to calls from MPs that Green should be stripped of his knighthood.
Unlike Chappell, Green escaped a ban from serving as a company director by the Insolvency Service last month.