Revenge is a dish best served cold, and for freelance photographer Jake Walters this was certainly the case when he decided to resurrect an extremely unflattering six-year-old snap of Sir Philip Green.
“My portrait of Sir Philip Greed, sorry Green, taken on his Arcadia office balcony on Oxford Street,” said Jake Walters in an Instagram post.
In it, the usually diminutive businessman stands tall with his arms folded, looking down against a backdrop of blue sky. At Sir Philip’s feet are two round, plump bushes. It is difficult to miss the visual similarity of Sir Philip’s erect form to a penis, framed by leafy green testicles.
Walters, who was on a shoot for The Guardian at the time, told HuffPost UK: “He was sweary, very abrupt and unnecessarily rude. He was objectionable to me and my assistant from the very start. So I decided right then, if I get a chance I’m going to do you.
“I went on his balcony and I saw a long row of those topiary balls and I had the idea. My assistant was saying: ‘Jake, I can’t believe you’re going to do this, they’re going to see,’ but I thought I’d risk it.”
Polaroids of Sir Philip, standing proud between his perfectly-manicured bushes, were handed to his press team for approval. There were complaints that the mogul’s suit was creased and requests for it to be smoothed, but apparently no one else noticed anything amiss.
Walters recalled: “My assistant had to walk away covering his face. We were both thinking, at any minute someone is going to say: ‘Hold on a minute, doesn’t he look like a cock?’ But no one did.
“I’m always very polite because I want the best results, even when I was making him look like a prick, I was still being very polite to him.”
Sadly, the picture was not used at the time, with Walters admitting: “The Guardian bottled it,” but happily it has now received an airing.
It is not the first time Sir Philip’s unique demeanour has been remarked upon. In 2018, after the Telegraph reported that staff were accusing an unnamed businessman, later identified in Parliament as Sir Philip, of sexual harassment and racial abuse.
Sir Philip’s lawyers said their client “categorically denies any unlawful racist or sexual behaviour.”
The newspaper said “dozens” more people who have alleged they were “subjected to verbal abuse, bullying and intimidation or witnessed similar incidents” contacted it after Green’s identity was revealed.
Lawyers representing Green told the Telegraph that he was a “passionate businessman, who can at times be over-exuberant and hot-headed”. They said he can be “perceived at times as aggressive with senior and trusted staff”.
They added: “It is further denied that any of Sir Philip’s conduct towards employees amounted to any type of crime, or anything that would amount to gross misconduct, or a serious risk to health and safety.”
Thousands of jobs are on the line after Sir Philip’s collapsed Topshop retail empire plunged into administration.
One of the country’s richest men, Sir Philip’s rough-around-the-edges, no-nonsense attitude had once won him many friends in the press, but after a series of scandals Sir Philip is now persona non grata.
Many of Arcadia’s staff found out the company was on the brink from the press before hearing from their own employer.
The firm’s response was to email employees the same dismissive statement about “media speculation” it had also sent to the press, despite the fact the “speculation” almost immediately turned out to be true.
“I think the worst thing is that it was on the news before we were told anything,” one worker told HuffPost UK. “It’s been all over the work WhatsApp all morning. Some staff members saw it before even management did. That email doesn’t really tell us much either. People are certainly panicking.”
They added: “It would be a nightmare [if thousands of people lost their jobs] there won’t be enough jobs to go round, a lot of the shops in this town have closed as well, I have already started looking and jobs in fashion retail just aren’t there. I think a lot of people will look at supermarkets instead.”
Walters, who has been taking photographs for 20 years, has snapped greats including Morgan Freeman and Dennis Hopper, rates Sir Philip – who once told this journalist to “fuck off” – as one of his top three most unpleasant clients to work with.
The others include the late Michael Winner, who suggested Walters might steal something from his Holland Park home, and self-appointed “special one” football coach Jose Mourinho.
Sir Philip’s office has been approached about Walters’ claims.