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Top Man: How Philip Green built his High Street Empire
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Top Man: How Philip Green built his High Street Empire [Kindle Edition]

Stewart Lansley
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)

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Product Description


" thorough and well-written, with a linking narrative that makes it a rattling good story".

Frank Kane -- Observer, November 27 2005

About the Author

Andy Forester is a journalist and television producer who has specialised in making business stories accessible to a general audience. His most recent book, The Man Who Saw the Future, is a biography of William Paterson the founder of the Bank of England. Stewart Lansley, formerly an academic economist, is currently an executive producer in the Current Affairs Department of the BBC. His TV and radio work has been nominated for both EMMY and Sony awards and he has written six books, including Poor Britain and After the Gold Rush.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

It was planned with the precision of a military operation. In January 2002, invitations arrived at the homes of around 200 very select guests. Those lucky enough to be on the list were told to prepare themselves for a long week-end in March. Little else was given away. The venue was, intriguingly, to remain an absolute mystery.

There were some clues, but not many. The guests were to come prepared for formal evening events and warm sunny days by the sea. Curiously, the dress code extended to one specific and highly unusual requirement. Each person should bring flesh-coloured (or failing that plain white) underwear for a fancy dress occasion on the Saturday evening.There was no need to pack costumes. They would be supplied by the organisers.All the guests needed to do was rendezvous early on the morning of 14 March 2002 at Luton Airport.

There was one other critical piece of information. They were going to celebrate the 50th birthday of one of Britain's richest nmen, the retail entrepreneur, Philip Green.

The morning of 14 March was distictly chilly and blustery. At the sirport terminal a procession of upmarket cars, many with personalised number plates and darkened windows, disgorged their cargo of party-goers and trim designer suitcases. There was an undoubted sense of drama about the occasion as the well-dresssed and well-heeled occupants slipped into the terminal building, many sheltering their identities behind dark glasses.

There was glamour,too. One person recognised by curious onlookers was Jilly Johnston, a former 'page 3 girl'. Acording to a report in the Daily Mail the following day: 'You didn't have to be blonde, glamorous, and clad in designer casuals yesterday to win a place on Philip Green's birthday jet. But it certainly helped ... Dozens of ladies answering that description descended upon Luton airport to prove that making a great deal of money can buy you the best "close friends" going.'

None of those gathering in the VIP area that morning, exchanging greetings and effecting introductions, had any idea of what lay ahead of them, but all the appearances were that it was not to be a modest affair. Outside on the airport apron sat a large white jet aeroplane - an Airbus 300. On its tail fin, in two metre high letters, had been painted the logo ‘PG50’. It was testimony to the trust they placed in the Greens that nobody had objected to flying off to an unknown destination, carrying flesh-coloured underwear in their bags. Only one invitee - the film-director turned insurance salesman, Michael Winner â€" is known to have declined the invitation. He stated that it was simply because he hated being a guest.

Although the build-up had all the hallmarks of a Philip-style event, it was in fact being masterminded not by him but by his wife, Tina, who had herself passed her half-century a couple of years before. Philip had been kept very much in the dark on the details. The concept of a lavish and expensive party held in some exotic foreign location had already had a dry run. The year before the entrepreneur Tom Hunter, the richest man in Scotland, and a close friend of Philip’s had celebrated his fortieth birthday in the French Riviera resort of Saint Jean Cap Ferrat, just East of Nice. Tom’s wife Marion had hired a London-based events firm called Banana Split to organise the party - a lavish fancy dress ball built around the theme of Hollywood movies. Two giant ‘Oscar’ statuettes had been shipped in to frame a stage fully wired for lighting and sound. Tom himself, at 40 already prematurely balding, had chosen to come dressed up as Yul Brynner in The King and I while Sir Richard Branson had come along as Darth Vader.

Entertainment had been provided by two of Tom’s favourite musical acts, the American funk group Kool and the Gang, followed even more spectacularly by Tom’s great hero, the blind American superstar and motown legend, Stevie Wonder. The stars - and the large entourage that supports them - had been shipped over from the States especially for the occasion. All of this had, as intended, taken Tom completely by surprise. As Hunter mingled with the dressed-up party-goers, and received their congratulations, he bumped into his family bank manager. He found himself asking just how much this had all cost. The banker replied with a good-natured grin: ‘You don’t want to know’. The bill for the party in fact came in at around £750,000.

The Greens were among the guests, and were much taken by the idea. It seems that the decision to celebrate Philip’s half-century in a similar but even more spectacular way was taken shortly afterwards. Certainly Tina had engaged the same Banana Split team to plan the whole thing and to come up with ideas on how to surprise both the birthday boy and the guests. Banana Split, already known for the scale and ambition of its parties, had pulled out all the stops and come up with a scheme that meant the transport of sets and set-designers, caterers and catering equipment, lighting men and sound riggers, and a mass of paraphernalia, thousands of miles across land and sea.

That the Greens could afford to splash out was not open to question. Philip Green had recently made it into the billionaire camp. Over the previous year his wealth had jumped sixfold from some £200 million to a staggering £1.2 billion, due to his acquisition of British Home Stores and his remarkable success in turning the business aroun. The contract Tina had signed with Banana Split was the biggest the company had ever won, with a budget that eventually was to add up to some £5 million.

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