Top Man, by Stewart Lansley & Andy Forrester

Biography of a retail billionaire that fails to wow the consumer
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The Independent Culture

Philip Green's life is already the stuff of legend. From nowhere, the colourful retailer has become a household name thanks to his love of lavish living, making money and shopping for, well, shops. His colourful attempt to swallow Marks & Spencer last summer was pure theatre: confrontations on the pavement one day; allegations of spying and insider dealing the next.

The owner of Bhs and Arcadia, which includes the phenomenally successful Topshop group, is easily the most powerful man on the high street. And he has the deepest pockets, following the record £1.2bn dividend he paid himself from Arcadia in October. In today's get-rich-quick society, the story of how someone managed to bank the fastest billion in British history should be dynamite. Yet this first biography of the billionaire falls short of expectations.

Top Man details Green's rise to power and his accumulation of the fifth biggest fortune in Britain. It depicts him as a deal-hungry chancer, desperate for fame and fortune. Rather than telling the inside story on how the entrepreneur came to control an empire of 2,500 shops, Lansley and Forrester depict a man with an eye for a bargain who is adept at wheeling and dealing. He is not a shoo-in for the retail pantheon of greats, the duo concludes.

There is colour aplenty: from the opening chapter about the £5m toga party Green's wife, Tina, threw to mark his 50th birthday, to the legendary rows sparked by his fiery temper. He once had to apologise to the Irish nation for implying they were all stupid.

But there is a crucial lack of juicy detail when it comes to some of the defining moments of Green's life: such as the deal to buy Olympus Sports that he helped his great friend, Sir Tom Hunter, to pull off. Or the takeover and break-up of the retail empire Sears, which made his fortune. The reason is that Green refused to co-operate with Lansley and Forrester, who, in turn, failed to speak to his City advisers. Forced to rely on media cuttings, the writers paint a two-dimensional picture of Green. Everything is black or white (mostly black); there are no shades of grey.

It's hardly surprising the book lacks the qualities of some unauthorised biographies. Money brings power and unswerving loyalty. Even Green's detractors are afraid of upsetting him. So until he relents, or decides to commission his own biography, his deepest secrets will remain well and truly hidden.