Within minutes of Michelle Mone and her husband Doug Barrowman beginning to speak on Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg, the phrase “Prince Andrew” was trending on social media. This was not a sign that things had gone well.
By the time they had finished an interview which the baroness said would be the “beginning (of) our fightback” and would “clear my name”, the viewer longed for the preposterous excuses of the prince who can’t sweat. All Mone and Barrowman had to offer were wide-eyed assurances that no wrongdoing or profiteering had taken place, while also admitting lying and making vast sums. It was enough to make you nostalgic for Pizza Express Woking.
“I wasn’t trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes,” said Mone, having willingly admitted lying to journalists – including those from the New European, which she threatened to sue – for three years over whether she stood to benefit from tens of millions of pounds of personal protective equipment (PPE) sold to the government by a startup called PPE Medpro during the pandemic.
The couple’s arrogance was astounding – because what we saw on display must surely have been arrogance. The alternative is that Mone and Barrowman had taken expensive legal advice to come up with the lame, contradictory guff they spouted. If so, they have wasted some of their millions.
“The public think we were trying to keep it a secret that I was involved,” moaned Mone, who spent three years doing just that. She believed she only had to declare an interest in PPE Medpro to the House of Lords, she said, “if I was financially benefiting.” Minutes later, Barrowman was admitting that his wife “was always going to benefit, and my family will benefit in due course… her family benefit, my family benefit. That’s what you do when you are in a privileged position of making money.”
Yet Mone, brass-necked as you like, went on to suggest that she would not benefit at all from the PPE Medpro money if “God forbid, we get divorced after this show”. This would make her possibly the first divorcee in history who would not take a fair share of joint earnings while married.
When it came to the controversial yacht, which featured on the New European’s “Stop This Boat” front page, Barrowman chuckled at the very idea that some of the £60m might have been used to buy it, despite the fact that the yacht was bought once Barrowman had the security of an extra £60m in the bank. “It’s not my yacht,” said Mone. Nope, it’s nothing to do with her at all – and purely coincidence that the yacht is called the Lady M.
Mone said it was “appalling” that she had been discussed by Rishi Sunak and Keir Stamer at Prime Minister’s Questions “when they don’t know the facts”. Yet not all the facts were known because of the obfuscation of Mone and Barrowman. This was desperate stuff.
Barrowman was equally shameless. Having admitted making £60m in profit from the PPE deals, he claimed it was OK because the price of PPE had gone up during the pandemic – presumably as a result of profiteering like his. He rambled that by being able to “cut out the middle people” he had saved the government money – apart from his enormous wedge, naturally. It was OK, he said, because everyone else was doing it.
Arguably the most accurate thing Mone said was that she lied to the press because she “did not want the press intrusion”. She claimed this was “for my family… (who) have gone through hell with the media over my career, and I didn’t want another big hoo-ha”. Others might think that Mone did not want press intrusion because what the press would find was that she and her husband had profited to a huge extent during a global emergency, and once this was disseminated to a suffering public, revulsion would ensue.
“I don’t honestly see there is a case to answer,” she said. “We’ve only done one thing, which was lie to the press.” The couple of self-confessed liars then described themselves as “upfront, straight-up people.”
A couple of dead cats were thrown onto the table. Barrowman claimed a government official had suggested he stump up a large amount of money to “call off the dogs”. Mone, laughably, painted herself as a warrior against PPE waste, saying: “It’s appalling that over £9.1 billion was over-ordered, five years of stock, of PPE, when it only has a shelf life of two years. And all I will say, right now, is why are we not holding (the Department of Health) to account?”
Before the interview, many of us will have had sympathy with the idea that the BBC should not have been sitting down for a chat with a couple recently interviewed under police caution over allegations of bribery and fraud. The jaw-dropping nature of what followed proved otherwise.
Kuenssberg clearly knew this, and followed the principle of giving Mone and Barrowman just enough rope. Yes, she might have challenged Mone more over her use of her family as a shield to explain her lies. And she might have probed more on the tax-friendly ownership structure of PPE Medpro. But to describe this as softball, client journalism as some have done is nonsense. If Kuenssberg seemed friendly at times, it was only because she knew that Mone and Barrowman were their own worst enemies.
“I can’t see what we have done wrong,” moaned Mone. “This interview” is evidently only part of the answer.