Elizabeth Green came late to the business world, starting her own restaurant five years ago, aged 67. It limped through much of the pandemic, but she has just shut up shop for good, admitting defeat.
‘I met a businessman and showed him the figures and he said ‘What are you doing?’ and I said ‘Yes, what am I doing?’ So I stopped.’
Dare we say it, she sounds a little green about business, which is odd, considering.
‘I’m learning about it now from somebody and it’s interesting. Some is hard to learn but some seems such a big fuss about nothing. These businessmen who think they are God’s gift. Well, I don’t know. I’m not so sure.’
Exactly who is teaching her about business, though? There is one obvious candidate.
‘Oh no, it’s just a friend,’ she insists. ‘Definitely not my brother. He never included me. It’s only now, learning from someone else, that I’m thinking: ‘Wow, is this what it would have been like if Philip had bothered to include me, and show me stuff?’ He never did.’
Elizabeth Green’s little brother (pictured together) is, in fact, Sir Philip Green, billionaire businessman, former owner of BHS and Top Shop, one-time titan of the British High Street
Elizabeth’s little brother is, in fact, Sir Philip Green, billionaire businessman, former owner of BHS and Top Shop, one-time titan of the High Street. ‘Known, and probably hated, by many,’ as his big sis, three years his senior, puts it.
If they had a better relationship Elizabeth and Sir Philip would be able to commiserate on how it feels to lose everything: her a vegan restaurant and him some of the UK’s most famous retail outlets.
Over the decades there have been many words written about Sir Philip and many, many photos of him: with supermodels, on his yacht, hosting bacchanalian parties.
But while there are a gazillion images of Sir Philip with Kate Moss and Naomi Campbell, there are rather fewer of him with his sister, who calls herself the family ‘black sheep’.
It will come as a surprise to many that he even has a sister. She certainly feels airbrushed from his life story.
It turns out she’s never been on his £100million super-yacht Lionheart. What?! But everyone-who-is-anyone has been on it, haven’t they?
She rolls her eyes. ‘Do you have a brother? Can you imagine having a fight with him and not speaking to him for months and him not having time for you. Then you see him show Michael Jackson round Top Shop at midnight? Or you see pictures in a paper and think: ‘Oh look he’s having a party and Beyonce is there.’
‘That’s what it was like for me for a long time. Even when I was at his parties, it felt like I wasn’t, if you know what I mean. I’d be the one sitting by the toilets.’
Actually she does remember being on the yacht on one occasion. ‘He didn’t invite me. He wasn’t there. It was a party for our mother.’
So what was it like? She pulls a face. ‘What can I say? I mean it was very nice. Who wouldn’t like to have a big boat like that, a floating hotel, but he never wanted me to be part of it. Now my attitude is: ‘Well, it’s Philip who has lost out. He could have had a sister. I’m over it.’ ‘
Elizabeth’s living arrangements, are in stark contrast to those of her brother. She has a one-bedroom rented apartment, albeit on New York’s Upper West Side, which would fit into Lionheart many times over. Certainly no private jets for her, either, or even cabs. She says she always uses the subway, and with her pensioner’s discount, too.
Now Elizabeth Green has written a memoir, which lays bare the (dysfunctional) relationship she has had not just with her brother, but with her whole family. Published last autumn, the failure of her restaurant surely makes successful sales more important.
The biggest barbs are aimed at their mother Alma, a chain-smoking, money-obsessed ‘tough cookie’, who owned launderettes and petrol stations, worshipped her only son and (Elizabeth believes) despised her.
Elizabeth says she was raised in ‘middle-class neglect’, with a big house, private school and string of nannies, but with a mother who didn’t do mothering.
‘Typical Jewish family, she wanted a boy and got me. When she did get her little prince, he could do nothing wrong.
Elizabeth says she was raised in ‘middle-class neglect’, with a big house, private school and string of nannies, but with a mother who didn’t do mothering. Pictured, with their parents
‘Whenever he did anything, it went on the wall, which turned into a shrine.
‘By the time Philip got his knighthood, her whole flat was a shrine to him. She used to hold court in the cafe in BHS. Me? I was the dirt on her shoe.’
The writing of a book, even one she has self-published, gives Elizabeth a particular satisfaction because, from the age of 18, she wanted to be a writer. ‘My mother never thought I had it in me.’
Elizabeth did eventually have some pieces, about her attempts at online dating, published in The Jewish Chronicle, and thought this might be her chance to get a coveted place on this wall.
‘My mother used to say: ‘You’ll get on the wall when you do something to warrant it,’ so when I got my first piece published, I had it framed.
‘I was convinced she would hang it near the toilet, and I was right. It was actually above the toilet door, so high you couldn’t read it.’
Like her brother, Elizabeth was born in Croydon, but the family moved to Hampstead Garden Suburb, in North London, when she was eight.
Their father Simon Green was a successful property developer and electrical goods retailer, but he died when Elizabeth was 15. She says he had the ‘Green gene’, which meant he struggled with his weight (‘as my brother does, and I do’). A compulsive eater, ‘self-medicating with morphine’, he collapsed in the kitchen late at night, while reaching for the Corn Flakes.
Elizabeth said she lost an ally, and more. ‘I did ask my mother, years later, if Dad had left me any money, and she said no, he hadn’t. I’m not sure I believed that.’
Although Philip left school at 15, with no O-levels (‘that private education was a waste of money,’ says Elizabeth), he worked for a shoe importer. By 20 he was shipping over jeans from the Far East. There was a family loan, backed by his mother, it seems.
Elizabeth doesn’t quibble with his business acumen, but seems to have a real issue that he didn’t give her a leg up too.
Maybe she just needed her own life ambitions?
She insists she tried. ‘At about 18 or 19 I went to live in a squat. Then I went to college. I got a job as a teacher. I was really excited to get it. My mother said: ‘Oh yes, but it’s a shame. It’s not a good school, is it?’ ‘ And she didn’t last long working there.
It turns out she’s never been on his £100million super-yacht Lionheart. What?! But everyone-who-is-anyone has been on it, haven’t they? She rolls her eyes. ‘Do you have a brother? Can you imagine having a fight with him and not speaking to him for months and him not having time for you’ (file image)
By now her brother was making serious money, while she was drifting. Elizabeth, who calls herself ‘an old hippy’, took herself off to India.
She found herself in Poona, embracing the teachings of so called ‘sex-guru’ Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh. Her mother was appalled. Elizabeth, 72, reveals she has a toyboy half her age and tells me she only dates black men these days. ‘My mother would have a fit. I did see a black guy when I was 19 and she wouldn’t let him in the house.’
She adds mischievously that she tried a dating website for Jewish men her own age, ‘but I don’t like them. Too saggy’.
While her family might have made her feel like an outcast emotionally, there is no evidence they cast her out financially.
There are several references to Sir Philip being generous, supporting her at various points in her rather chaotic life. He certainly stepped in when — having married in 1983, had three children and an affair with a family friend — she ended up divorced in 2006.
‘Yes, he did,’ she says. ‘There was an agreement with David (her ex) that he wouldn’t pay me, but Philip would give me an allowance. It wasn’t millions. He has supported me.’ And we are not just talking in the dim and distant past either. Her brother bankrolled her vegan restaurant, to some degree.
Yet she doesn’t seem all that grateful?
Max Irons, Cara Delevingne and Sir Philip Green at the Topshop Topman 5th Avenue store opening in New York in November 2014
‘I call it ‘hush money’,’ she says. ‘It’s like, you know, you look after somebody, you pay for them, you support them, and you nail their left foot to the floor.
‘And my mother would say ‘When are you going to make something of yourself?’ and I’d say ‘Well, I’m trying, but my foot is nailed to the floor’.
‘I suppose the money slightly kept me there. I never turned around and said: ‘Screw you all.’ ‘
Mostly, she was on the periphery of her brother’s glamorous life, left off the invite list for his many parties. Sometimes she wouldn’t even know he was having a bash, ‘until I read about it in the papers, or my mother delighted in telling me where they had been’.
Yet sometimes she did go. At his famous 50th toga party in Cyprus, she and her children were flown there by private jet. Guests included George Benson, Tom Jones and Rod Stewart. There was champagne on tap.
But on the Saturday night, there was a This Is Your Life-type presentation, organised by Sir Philp’s wife Tina (‘she got Michael Aspel to do it, but he was carrying a blue book rather than a red one’).
At the front were two rows of chairs, for close family and friends, and Elizabeth made her way up to her mother, who was holding a sheaf of papers that made up the script. ‘I asked ‘Where do I sit?’ and she said ‘Oh you are not in the script’.’
This gave her the title of her book, so all is not lost, but at the time it was agony. ‘It did hurt, yes,’ she says. ‘The thing is my children were included. They were asked to record a birthday message. I had one conversation with my brother over the whole four days.
‘I asked if he was going to introduce me to anyone and he said: ‘If you behave’ — and that was it.’
Did she regularly misbehave? What does that even mean? She can’t, or won’t, elaborate.
She documents one hideous Christmas dinner at the Dorchester in the early 2000s. She says her brother gave her a Gucci bag, and flew into a rage when she gave him a book. ‘It was from a Jewish comedian. I thought he would like it.
‘He started shouting at me — ‘After all I do for you’ — in front of everyone. I don’t think any present would have been good enough.
‘That was Philip all over. You just get to a point where you don’t want to be screamed at any more.’
Anna Wintour and Philip Green at the Topshop Brompton Road Store Opening in London in May 2010
Yet she denies that there has been any definitive falling-out with her brother. ‘I did always get on with Tina. Actually I communicated more with her than him. She tried to smooth things between us, but… you can only do so much.’
She seems to like Tina. ‘She’s a tough lady. She’d have to be, married to him.’
We get onto the subject of her brother’s fall from grace. His sale of BHS, for £1, and his handling of the black-hole pensions debacle was roundly criticised.
Only after MP Frank Field called for his knighthood to be removed did Philip Green dip into his personal funds, to the tune of £363million. Yet his sister feels it was her sibling who was unfairly treated.
Today she says: ‘My brother became the horrible face of capitalism, let’s face it, but he didn’t do anything that was illegal. It was distasteful, it was not nice, it hurt people but it wasn’t illegal.
‘Look, I know zip about business, but I thought it was unfair to argue that because he had a boat [that was costly to run] he couldn’t afford to pay the pensions. The two weren’t linked. Completely separate!’
In recent years there have been a slew of accusations of sexist behaviour, bullying, racism, mostly from women — all of which her brother has denied. Again, she defends him. Sort of.
‘The thing about women is that Philip is very old school. I think he just possibly thought women didn’t count as much as men. That’s not an excuse, it’s just how it looked to me. All this stuff about grabbing people. It doesn’t ring… I don’t know. I didn’t see that.
‘He had nicknames for the women in the family that weren’t always flattering. He thought he was being funny. Sometimes he was, and sometimes he wasn’t.’
What sort of nicknames? ‘I can’t say. But the point is that’s just Philip.’
Can she understand that people have felt bullied by him? ‘Yes, and I apologise that he treated people like that. I think he had good intentions, but in the heat of the moment… he was a product of our childhood too. I think he always had something to prove.’
Sir Philip Green and Lady Cristina Green at Scott’s Restaurant in London in November 2017
Her children, oddly, have a good relationship with their cousins, or did when younger. ‘Oh yes, they got to go on the boat. I think it was just me who wasn’t welcome.’
Alma Green died in 2016, aged 96, which could have been a moment of rapprochement for the siblings, but wasn’t.
‘At the funeral, Philip pulled his chair so it was a foot from mine. I asked my cousin: ‘Did I imagine that?’ She said I hadn’t.
‘We’ve barely spoken since. I did find out he was going to be in New York a few years ago, and I went to Top Shop, where he was. I gave him a hug. ‘How are you, Philip?’ all that. Then I asked if he wanted to come to my restaurant. He said: ‘Why would I want to do that?’ ‘
That door is now closed. In the wider sense, are other doors closed, too? I can’t imagine Philip Green is thrilled at his sister’s memoir.
She looks genuinely surprised at this. ‘Oh a friend read it and said: ‘I thought it would be more nasty than that.’ But why? ‘He’s still my brother.’
- Not In The Script: The Black Sheep In The Billionaire’s Family, by Elizabeth Green.
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