Many (well, several) of you asked me what happened to George, the supermarket chairman who was the anti-hero of my Christmas fable last year. So I tracked him down, somewhere in the provinces, to bring you another episode…
‘Five minutes, Sir George,’ said a young man in black. ‘New boobs OK?’ George nodded, adjusted his embonpoint, and looked at himself in the full-length mirror. How the hell had it come to this?
Actually 2016 had begun well. Readers may recall last December’s ‘Free Turkey’ incident, in which a boardroom invasion by carol-singing Santas, led by George’s student son Simon, coerced the supermarket group into giving Christmas fare to the poor in the spirit of King Wenceslas. It had turned out unexpectedly well for the company’s share price and like-for-like seasonal footfall, as well as George’s media profile.
Despite Simon’s promise not to release footage of George flanked by topless female Santas, the video went viral and brought him rockstar status from Slovenia to South Korea. And happily it did not derail his impending knighthood — the Queen whispering ‘Philip loved the YouTube clip’ as she tapped his shoulder.
But cautious institutional shareholders were concerned the Yuletide giveaway might have to be repeated annually, and a coup led by the Dutch chief executive whose name no one could pronounce forced George to advance his retirement date. As soon as he caught a whiff of the plot, however, George was on the phone to his tame headhunter, Damian — who owed him big-time, having placed a dozen deadbeats on George’s boards over the years.
‘Have I got the gig for you,’ Damian responded silkily, ‘And we’re talking serious offshore spondulicks.’ A week later, George found himself at a boutique hotel in Shoreditch for a secret meeting with JayZee Kaycey, youthful billionaire American founder of GoodZilla, the world’s largest online household retailer. Having first offered George a wheatgrass smoothie, a copy of Donald Trump’s How To Get Rich (‘It’s, like, totally my Bible’) and a joint, Jay-Zee also offered him the job of GoodZilla’s president for Europe: ‘I mean, you Brits are, like, staying in Europe, right?’
‘Oh yes indeed,’ George spluttered, trying not to inhale, ‘Take my word for it. As the UK’s top shopkeeper I like to think I’m in tune with ordinary hard-working families, JayZee, and I can assure you they won’t vote to leave. Oh no, certainly no need to put your investment here on hold.’
‘Quite right,’ Damian nodded, over lunch at Brooks’s the next day. ‘Ever see yourself in ermine, by the way?’ ‘You mean…’ George whispered, ‘the red benches?’ ‘Of course. That great communicator Stuart Rose who used to run Marks & Spencer is looking for business celebs to join his brilliant Britain Stronger in Europe team, facing down Farage and the Leave loonies. You’re just the man — maybe your Santa girls could join the battlebus. A cheque for campaign funds would help, of course. But it’ll be an easy win and peerages all round the morning after, that’s what I’m hearing.’
Shortly before his departure from the supermarket group, George wrote to its workers pointing out that their jobs would be swept away by instant economic cataclysm if they voted Leave. That didn’t go down well — but not as badly as his Question Time appearance, seated between a Ukip headbanger and a Corbynista lesbian stand-up. ‘Take your tie off,’ hissed Remain’s spin doctor, but George kept it on and took a pasting. Soon the battlebus was leaving without him.
And then came the referendum result. Moments after David Dimbleby called it, George had a text from JayZee in LA. It said simply ‘WTF?’ and George had to ring Simon — who was DJ-ing at a Leave victory party — to ask what it meant.
‘Digital post-Brexit UK = global opportunity + massive tax breaks,’ George texted back hurriedly, but relations with his new boss were never quite the same. And they got a lot worse after his appearance before a Commons select committee.
How was George to know — he complained afterwards to anyone who would listen — that GoodZilla’s delivery drivers were self-employed on piecework rates that equated to half the minimum wage? As for being asked by that gorgon of a committee chair what his own remuneration equated to, he could only bluster helplessly when she said it looked like £1,000 an hour to her and that was before the fat ‘role-based allowance’ she understood he was paid tax-free in Luxembourg. ‘That’s in euros, isn’t it?’ she snarled for the cameras. ‘So you’re also profiteering from the collapse of the pound?’ While he was still gripping the committee-room table and mumbling about adding strategic value, up popped another text from JayZee: ‘Your ass is so fired!’
‘Not to worry, old boy,’ said Damian over sandwiches at Pret A Manger. ‘You’re still a very marketable commodity. Pity we’ve just missed one vacancy that would have been perfect for a man at, um, your career stage.It was the last place on this year’s Strictly, but they gave it to Ed Balls. I suppose we could try I’m a Celebrity…’
‘But what about the House of Lords?’ George said plaintively. ‘I really feel I could help shape Philip Hammond’s productivity blueprint… Can’t you have a quiet word in Theresa’s ear?’
‘To be honest I think that ship’s sailed, George, but here’s something that’ll pay the winter heating bills.’ Damian slid a paper headed ‘Contract’ across the table…
‘You’re on,’ whispered the young man in black. George straightened his Carmen Miranda headdress and bounded on to the stage. ‘Hello, boys and girls, I’m Widow Twankey. Have any of you seen that naughty Aladdin?’ ‘He’s behind you,’ screamed the boys and girls. ‘Oh no he isn’t,’ George replied, with a hint of melancholy.