My near miss with an enraged Sir Philip Green

Always known for his explosive temper, Sir Philip Green is now embroiled in a scandal over his behaviour. One JC journalist recalls an absurd phone call with the Topshop tycoon

October 26, 2018 10:47

As Sir Philip Green is once again at the centre of a scandal, I was reminded of the time he phoned the JC office in June.

‘Who’s that?’ the voice barked. I internally rolled my eyes and repeated myself: “Jack Sommers, head of news, how can I help?”

After the voice asked more questions about who I was to determine whether I was worth talking to, it lost any sense of calm and introduced itself: “It’s Sir Philip Green.”

The day before, the JC had published a book review of Oliver Shah’s less than flattering account of Sir Philip’s role in the demise of BHS, Damaged Goods. Word had reached him and, though he did not appear to have read it, he angrily demanded to know why we felt able to be “rude about me” without giving him right of reply (a practice unheard of for a book review).

The book describes Sir Philip’s explosive temper - but what happened next was so bizarre it made our conversation more farcical than intimidating.

“I will withdraw my support from Jewish Care and Norwood,” he said. “If you don’t take it down and apologise.”

Baffled, I asked what affiliation he thought the JC had with either charity, beyond being Jewish institutions, and why he felt the way to get what he wanted was to speak like that.

I made him angrier and angrier as I repeatedly asked him to confirm he had said it, each time I paused after he ranted and said: “Can I just confirm that you are threatening to withdraw support from Jewish Care and Norwood for something the Jewish Chronicle did?”

His temper got worse. “You’re a smart arse aren’t you?” he asked after I had repeated his words back to him a few times.

Eventually, he seemed to twig what I was getting at: the billionaire owner of Topshop, who routinely rings journalists to swear and rant at them, had forgotten to first ask if our conversation could be off the record.

He urged me to “draw a line” under our conversation and pass on a message to the editor that he wanted a chat about the article and kept urging me to not repeat the details of what he had said. I said only that I’d pass the message on.

Sir Philip’s calls with journalists are, I later learned, legendary. I heard about one journalist who deliberately writes vaguely unflattering minor stories so that, when Sir Philip inevitably rings to rant, he can ask him about what he actually wants to write.

The Guardian reported he once said one of their journalists couldn’t write because he was a “f***ing Irishman”. Mr Shah claims Sir Philip once threatened to throw him out of a window.

My encounter was comparatively mild. But months later I still cannot get over its absurdity.

October 26, 2018 10:47

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