Ex-BHS boss 'naïve or ignorant' to try to create victim narrative, PRs say

Two senior corporate PR professionals have criticised Dominic Chappell, the former owner of collapsed retail chain BHS, for his performance in an interview with BBC Newsnight, aired last night.

The former racing driver Chappell acquired BHS for £1 last year from retail magnate Sir Philip Green. The retailer has now gone into administration with the loss of 11,000 jobs and a £500m deficit in its pension fund.

Chappell appeared separately from Green in a parliamentary committee looking into the retailer's demise, and it has been Green who has borne a greater reputational hit over the affair.

In what the BBC says was Chappell's first interview on BHS' demise, he admitted to having little expertise in retail. He said: "I've got the devil on my back of 11,000 people out of work, which plays on me very deeply.

"I unreservedly apologise for what has happened... we tried our very hardest to save that business," he told the BBC's Adam Parsons in the interview, broadcast last night.

He also told Parsons that Green was harder to negotiate with than former Libyan dictator Colonel Gaddafi, whom Chappell had met through his family's oil interests.

Commenting on Chappell's presentation in the interview, Stephanie Bailey, head of corporate at FleishmanHillard Fishburn, said: "Regardless of the discussion of how the Newsnight programme was edited, Chappell at best comes across as naïve and at worst painfully ignorant of his actions, not only on what was one of the great stalwarts of the British high street but more importantly on the hard-working employees of BHS.

"Placing himself as the victim of this is not going to win him any supporters."

Andrew Escott, global corporate practice leader at Cohn & Wolfe, concurred with the view that it was unwise to try to change the way he was being portrayed, comparing it with the way the Phoenix Four – the executives who acquired MG Rover in 2000 before its collapse – dealt with negative headlines.

He said: "The collapse of BHS has some strong parallels with the Phoenix Four and the collapse of MG Rover, just over a decade ago. The difference being that the Phoenix Four did not seek to challenge the established media narrative and have since almost disappeared from public view.

"Chappell, however, perhaps believes he has a reputation worth defending and a 'darkened room' interview is an attempt at putting across his side of the story. However, the timing would appear to be too soon given the substantive business issues that remain to be solved and the likelihood of retaliation."

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