Chelsea Flower Show’s gala night always brings out the corporate powerbrokers but in these febrile political times more than the usual number of Tory bigwigs were there among the blooms last night, eagerly being quizzed by the tycoons. Chancellor Philip Hammond, Business Secretary Greg Clark and Treasury select committee head Nicky Morgan were all spotted in bunches, discussing the Brexit leaf mold that infects Westminster these days. No Brexiteer pols though — not surprising in this lion’s den of Remainer elites.
Spy’s straw poll of bosses gave Theresa May 16 weeks left in office, roughly the time until the next Tory party conference when the next leader is unveiled. The most optimistic estimate was 26 weeks (“if you define optimistic as having to stay in that horrendous job for longer”). The most bearish gave her a fortnight.
But back to business: RSA boss Stephen Hester was spotted deep in conversation at the stall of headhunter Russell Reynolds, which set tongues wagging. Affable Andy Briggs was enjoying his gardening leave — geddit? — from Aviva. Gossip links him to every insurance job going, but he tells Spy he’s off on a world tour holiday with the family before he even thinks what to do next.
Ousted BT boss “Gorgeous” Gavin Patterson was stalking the foliage, as handsome as ever, albeit also coy over his future. Perhaps he should have popped into Russell Reynolds too.
Goldman Sachs international chief Richard Gnodde and UK investment bank head Anthony Gutman, both tall as hollyhocks, were doing the rounds. Gnodde was chuffed about moving into the bank’s gleaming new offices in two months, although there’s still an awful lot to complete — builders, eh?
Gutman was deep in conversation with Ocado chairman Lord (Stuart) Rose, unsurprising since GS is Ocado’s adviser on its deal with Rose’s old shop M&S. Gutman, incidentally, was an early investor in Purplebricks, but said he sold most of his shares before the online estate agent really started going to seed.
Slaughter & May’s Steve Cooke was overheard teasing a West Ham fan about his beloved Spurs’ pending Champions League Final, while former BP chief Lord Browne was touting his new book on the joys of engineering.
Taylor Wimpey’s Pete Redfern, more woodworker than horticulturalist, was seeking construction inspiration from the treehouse in one garden. Helen Gordon of landlord Grainger, a keen sailor, preferred the Welcome to Yorkshire garden, complete with canal lock gates: “Reminds me of being on the board of British Waterways,” she said.
Thomas Cook’s shareholders may be crying “brace, brace” but chief Peter Fankhauser was relaxed and tanned. He’d just heard hedge funds shorting his stock had been phoning around Fleet Street telling porkies about Cook’s losing its Atol licence. “They’ll suffer eventually.” Weedkillers are available, Peter.
In Standard Aberdeen’s tent, Raymond Blanc was turning out gastronomic treats for the likes of Carphone Warehouse tycoon David Page and politics svengali Sir Lynton Crosby, flushed from his polling firm’s success in calling last week’s Aussie elections.
Host Martin Gilbert was positively blooming. Such redolent health must be down to ditching all those managerial duties since shedding the co-chief executive role. More time to spend in the garden, perhaps.