COLUMN: September 8, 2016

paperboat
The closest I could get to a picture of Sir Philip Green’s yacht for the money I had

FOR complicated professional reasons I am flying to Portugal for a couple of days later this month. It is about four columns waiting to happen.

Now, I know Portuguese about as well as Jose Mourinho knows humility. And so for the past couple of weeks I have been trying to learn the language, with the result I am currently 15% fluent in Portuguese according to the Duolingo app. This, I suspect, is overstating matters.

Nevertheless, I now know how to say in Portuguese “Where is the tea?”, “My pillow does not speak,” and “There is a cat in my shower”, which should cover all of the issues which might trouble me in a hotel.

One of the aspects of life Duolingo seems particularly keen that I understand is the difference between varieties of lamp. Time after time it ensures I know how to say “the lamp”, “the pendant lamp”, and “the chandelier”, to a degree which makes me worry about how dark Portugal must be.

Combine this constant darkness with the obvious cat problem the Portuguese have in their bathrooms and you understand why Mourinho always looks so miserable. He must have spent his childhood bruised after tripping over Tiddles in the shower and not being able to find the door. That sort of thing changes a man.

It led me to ponder where the Portuguese purchase the lamps they so desperately need.

Do they have, for example, their own version of BHS called Portuguese Home Stores, filled with lamps and shades, like we do?

And then I remembered that not even we have a BHS any more.

I walked past a BHS branch a couple of weeks ago. It was during night of the day it had finally closed, and the lights were still on. Through the mesh of the shutters I looked inside. It was bare, stripped not just of stock, but of fixtures and fittings. I thought of school shirts and lamps – so many lamps – I had bought there. But I was not sad.

We have seen so many household names shut up shop in the past 10 years – Woolworths, Comet, Borders, even Past Times, which allows us now to be nostalgic about a shop which sold nostalgia – and most of us were sad to watch them go. Although if we loved them that much, they would still be in business.

But BHS is different. The closure of BHS should not make you sad, it should make you angry.

Sir Philip Green, the owner of BHS for 15 years, took £400m out of the chain during his ownership. When he finally sold the struggling chain in 2015 – for just £1 – to serial bankrupt Dominic Chappell, a man who had had no retail experience, the company had a £571m hole in its pensions fund. It was the equivalent of selling your house while it is on fire to a man who doesn’t know how to dial 999.

And while 11,000 people were put out of work, Sir Philip holidayed on his £100m yacht. As the former shadow business secretary Angela Eagle said: “It appears this owner extracted hundreds of millions of pounds from the business and walked away to his favourite tax haven, leaving the Pension Protection Scheme to pick up the bill.”

This week, the comedian Lee Nelson plastered a sign on that yacht, emblazoned with the words “BHS Destroyer”. And that is probably the key to this.

A man who owns a £100m yacht and £20m jet plane, and who books Beyonce and Rihanna to play at his private parties, is a man who cares deeply about his reputation.

So they should not just strip him, like the disgraced Fred Goodman of Royal Bank of Scotland, of his knighthood, he should be forced to change the name of his Topman and Topshop stores to “Terribleman” and “Terribleshop” until he pays hundreds of millions into the BHS pension fund.

It would not bother me – the last time I bought anything in Topman UB40 were in the charts – but I cannot imagine many customers enjoying carrying bags with Terribleman written on them. I’m not sure what they could call Burton and Dorothy Perkins. Perhaps “All My Customers Smell” and “Ms All My Customers Smell.”

Maybe this sort of embarrassment would help “Sir” Philip learn to be humble. It would happen a lot sooner than I will learn Portuguese.

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