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Sir Philip Green’s ‘bigger than Disney’ tie-up with Simon Cowell was doomed from the start

Sir Philip Green’s ‘bigger than Disney’ tie-up with Simon Cowell was doomed from the start

In Oliver Shah’s excellent, and given what has occurred, presciently-titled book on Sir Philip Green, Damaged Goods, there is a section devoted to the retail tycoon’s friendship and business partnership with Simon Cowell. 

It tells how the X Factor and Britain’s Got Talent mogul first met Green in 1999, at the Monaco Grand Prix; how Cowell was a guest at Green’s 55th birthday party (PG55, as it was branded with typical understatement); and how, in 2009, Green’s wife Tina paid £3m to organise Cowell’s own 50th celebration.

The bash was held at Wrotham Park, a stately home in Hertfordshire. The 450 guests were greeted by a giant image of Cowell projected on to the building; the waiters wore Cowell masks; Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam from the Sistine Chapel was recreated on the ceiling, with the image of God replaced by Cowell. Music was from Earth Wind & Fire, and dancers came on dressed as giant vaginas. 

Shah relates how Green and Cowell had “announced plans to build a multi-billion-pound showbiz and merchandising company to rival Disney”.

Cowell had allowed the rights to his shows to belong to third parties, including Sony. Green thought this was ridiculous, and persuaded Cowell that they could take them back, and launch new formats and clothing lines, which would then be sold via his Topshop chain. It seemed like the perfect fit: the musical and TV genius, creator of One Direction and the rest, with the billionaire magnate who could call on the likes of Kate Moss to help design his products. 

In one respect, Shah is technically incorrect. What the newspaper that broke the story actually reported was that this dream ticket was going to surpass Walt’s mighty empire. Indeed, the Evening Standard splashed its front page with the headline, “Bigger than Disney”. 

I know, because I was the journalist who took the call from Green wanting to go public with their plan. It was I who sought out the editor, and said how Cowell and Green were going into business together, and the intention was that their venture would be “bigger than Disney”. 

Now, Cowell has pulled the plug on their golden alliance, buying Green out from his Syco company. His move came after the revelation that Green used a High Court injunction to reinforce non-disclosure agreements said to involve allegations of racism and sexual harassment. Cowell is not alone: the pop star Beyoncé has also done the same, cutting her dealings with the retailer.

It turns out that relations between Cowell and Green had long ago become strained, to the point of nonexistence. Cowell said: “He was part of the company, but three years ago we just stopped talking.”

Added Cowell: “When it came to severing the ties, I wasn’t arguing about the money. You simply make a decision of who you want in your life and your business, and it was my decision.”

The impresario stressed he ended contact before Green was heavily slated for his controversial sale of BHS (when he offloaded the stores to an unsuitable purchaser, and at first, refused to plug the chain’s pension deficit). “It was six months before that. Then, roughly a year and a half ago, there was a meeting to see whether he would be interested in selling his shares. It didn’t appear that way.” Now, after the court claims erupted, Cowell has forced the issue and their union is officially ended. 

This, from a position in which Cowell and Green were once so close that they spoke regularly on the phone for hours, and went on holidays together. 

But the truth was that their marriage was doomed from the start. Whispers in the TV and music industry began circulating soon after they joined forces. Green had assured Cowell that he would show the big studios who was boss. However, the mostly US chiefs and their lawyers did not warm to Green’s full-frontal, often belligerent style. The Hollywood titans did not see why they should be told what to do by a shopkeeper from England. 

They began as equal partners before Green shifted into the background as a sounding board for Cowell – and then, it has since transpired, not advising him on anything at all.

From the moment Green announced himself as someone with serious means he was fawned over (Tony Blair knighted him for “services to retailing” while David Cameron asked him to advise on making Whitehall more efficient). 

Everyone swallowed the Green mystique. Journalists, politicians, fellow retailers, City fixers, fashion insiders, all sat at his table. All dined out on “PG” stories, how amusing he was, how his threats were delivered with gusto and humour. One editor said to me recently how “charming” he’d always found Green, how he loved his wit and actually looked forward to their exchanges. 

Nobody stopped to question what it must be like to be one of his employees, that what he now dismisses as mere “banter” might have a very different connotation if the person on the receiving end was a member of his workforce. Neither were his boasts scrutinised. 

Today, the Cowell-Green combo lies in ruins, and Disney has a market cap of more than $170bn (£132bn). 

Chris Blackhurst is a former editor of The Independent, and director of C|T|F Partners, the campaigns, strategic, crisis and reputational communications advisory firm.

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Sen. Chuck Grassley opts for Finance Committee Chairman, setting up Sen. Lindsey Graham to lead Judiciary Committee

Sen. Chuck Grassley opts for Finance Committee Chairman, setting up Sen. Lindsey Graham to lead Judiciary Committee

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) talks with reporters as he heads for a meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 02, 2018 in Washington, DC. 

Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) talks with reporters as he heads for a meeting at the U.S. Capitol October 02, 2018 in Washington, DC. 

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley announced Friday that he wants to serve as the leader of the Senate Finance Committee in the new Congress — a move that puts Sen. Lindsey Graham directly in line to become the Judiciary Committee chairman.

Donald Trump, would be poised as chairman of the Judiciary Committee to usher Trump’s judicial nominees through to their final votes on the Senate floor. And he could potentially be tasked with overseeing the nomination of Supreme Court justices if any of the nine high-court judges — two of whom are over 80 years old — retire or die while Graham is chairman.

Graham, R-S.C., said in a statement, “If I am fortunate enough to be selected by my colleagues to serve as Chairman, I will push for the appointment and Senate confirmation of highly qualified conservative judges to the federal bench and aggressive oversight of the Department of Justice and FBI.”

He added: “Finally, I will continue to seek common sense, bipartisan solutions to major issues facing our nation.”

In terms of seniority, Graham is technically third in line in the Judiciary Committee majority’s rankings. But the No. 2 lawmaker, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, is retiring at the end of his current term.

Hatch, who currently leads the Finance Committee, said in a statement that the Senate panel “will be in good hands with Senator Grassley at the helm.”

He added: “Chuck has a proven history of leadership at the committee and knows the ins and outs of its sprawling jurisdiction. I am confident Chairman Grassley will carry out a robust agenda that will build on tax reform’s recent success and continue to make progress in the health care, trade and oversight spaces.”

Senate committee leaders are elected before the start of each new Congress by the majority party’s conference.

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Victoria election: Crime, congestion and terrorism isn’t stopping Daniel Andrews

Victoria election: Crime, congestion and terrorism isn’t stopping Daniel Andrews

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews could be forgiven for thinking nothing on the horizon can stop him being re-elected on November 24.

Two weeks ago the Labor premier appeared to be cruising to victory, with a commanding 54:46 lead in the Newspoll published a few days earlier and matching favouritism in online betting markets.

Then fate threw two wild cards into the election. A few nights of mayhem in the inner northern and southeastern suburbs at the hands of the African “youth gangs” that opposition leader Matthew Guy has banged on about all year, and then last Friday’s deadly attack in Bourke Street – Melbourne’s main pedestrian thoroughfare – by a deranged Muslim man who came to Australia as a child refugee from Somalia and had a history of extremism, drugs and minor offences.

If anything could reinforce Guy’s “tough on crime” message and give his flagging campaign a boost, this might have been it. The Bourke Street attack will still be fresh in the memory through next week’s last days of the campaign when a state funeral is held for Sisto Malaspina, the much-loved co-owner of Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, a Melbourne landmark a few blocks east of where he was killed.

The scene on Bourke Street on November 9 showing the Muslim attacker's vehicle in flames after he was shot by police in ...
The scene on Bourke Street on November 9 showing the Muslim attacker’s vehicle in flames after he was shot by police in Melbourne’s CBD.

Stuart Gaut

Guy – backed by Prime Minister Scott Morrison – seized on the tragedy to announce tougher sentencing laws, proposals to force terror suspects to wear ankle bracelets and stay out of the central business district, more CCTV and a plan to fast-track deportations of foreigners who commit crimes or are considered at risk of doing so.


Andrews didn’t bite – a tactic he often uses to damp down issues. No statewide poll has been taken since these events, and caution needs to be exercised. Yet there is no sign the events have put the brakes on Andrews’ steady march to victory on November 24.

Betting money is on Andrews

Instead, in the one constant barometer we do have – betting markets – the money has continued to flow in for Labor, pushing the party to a short $1.12 to win on a $1 bet at Tab.com.au and the Liberals to a long, speculative $5.50.

Despite Andrews thin majority, Liberal insiders say it is increasingly hard to see where they could find the seven seats needed to blast Labor out of power. Thursday was a particularly bad day. Meralyn Klein, the Liberal candidate for the winnable suburban fringe, Labor-held seat of Yan Yean, had to withdraw after a far right group posted a video of her appearing to accuse Muslim teenagers of assaulting her (she never mentioned Muslims but the video did).

Then Guy dodged a union protest at an Australian Industry Group lunch at which he was scheduled to give a keynote speech, apparently fearing being associated with the death of a young trainee on an AiG-sponsored training scheme at Marshall Lethlean Industries in Melbourne’s east.

Guy might have done better to front the protest and express his concern for the tragic loss of so young a life – his office said he suddenly had to attend an urgent meeting with Melbourne’s Jewish community over security – but such courage is rare in the age of hyperpartisanship and political micromanagement.

On Friday, Guy’s campaign resorted to offering struggling families half-price flat-screen TVs and cheap fridges – if they pull off an unlikely victory.

Business shrugs at the Libs

PM Scott Morrison Victorian and Liberal leader Matthew Guy seized on the Bourke Street incident to announce tough new ...
PM Scott Morrison Victorian and Liberal leader Matthew Guy seized on the Bourke Street incident to announce tough new crime and terror measures. They are pictured meeting Nino Pangrazio, co-owner of Melbourne’s Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar with Sisto Malaspina, one of two victims of the attack.

Eddie Jim

What’s clear is that Guy and the Liberals are struggling to make an impact. Business folk – including some of those stood up by Guy at Thursday’s AiG lunch in Hawthorn – plead for anonymity and shrug their shoulders when asked about the election.

Look at all the construction around you, they say, Andrews has got Victoria on the move in four years. He can’t take all the credit for the booming Victorian economy, but he can take a lot of credit for the $67 billion-plus pipeline of big transport projects – road and rail tunnels, level crossing removals all over the rapidly growing city, new train services – that are helping to fuel the economy.

They don’t have to add – but most do – that his Liberal predecessors Denis Napthine and Ted Baillieu conspicuously failed to do so in their cameo between 2010 and 2014. Guy is marked down for their under-achievement, as well as his own, and has had to play catch up on infrastructure.

Few people are directly affected by crime and terror attacks, as tragic and traumatic as they are for victims, but everyone is affected by a city that doesn’t work. Andrews has turned the pressure of managing the nation’s fastest growing population into an asset, seizing the problem by the neck and flooding the city with cranes and construction as a constant reminder of work being done.

Terrorism, congestion, a police probe into Labor’s rorting of parliamentary funding for staff during the 2014 campaign, the Greens’ insurgency in the inner city – any of these might have derailed Labor’s campaign. So far – with the caveat we will have more polling this time next week – none has.

It’s too late for the Liberals to nominate another candidate for Yan Yean, which strategists claim was on some lists of seven seats the Liberals needed to win. Guy’s campaign has been badly wounded by the federal Liberals’ infighting that ended Malcolm Turnbull’s prime ministership and put Morrison and his baseball caps into The Lodge.

But the campaign has also been weighed down by Guy’s failure to explain what the Victorian Liberals stand for in 2018, a criticism that could never have been aimed at Jeff Kennett, the party’s last premier to win re-election. The same shortcoming threatens the NSW Liberals’ grip on NSW next March, and Morrison’s government in the federal election due by next May.

Even the Greens – who pose a real threat to Labor’s small majority in inner city seats – are wrestling with “cultural problems” as they defend a controversial rapper candidate in Footscray over a video critics say promotes violence against women. They’ve already lost Upper House candidate Joanna Nilson over Facebook posts advocating shoplifting, and disparaging a female Liberal staffer.

Liberal keader Matthew Guy dodged this protest over the death of a young trainee. AMWU State Secretary Tony Mavromatis ...
Liberal keader Matthew Guy dodged this protest over the death of a young trainee. AMWU State Secretary Tony Mavromatis chanting at the protest outside an Australian Industry Group luncheon in Hawthorn, Melbourne.

Daniel Pockett

Despite Labor’s quiet confidence, next Saturday night’s election will come down to just a handful of marginal seats at next Saturday’s election. AFR Weekend has spoken to a selection of voters to reveal the key issues which might swing the vote.

Sandbelt seats: cafes and congestion

(Bentleigh ALP 0.8 per cent, Mordialloc ALP 2.1 per cent, Carrum ALP 0.7 per cent, Frankston ALP 0.8 per cent)

Bentleigh is one of the four Frankston line seats – together with Frankston, Mordialloc and Carrum – that have changed hands in the last two elections to go with the government.

Bentleigh was the last seat to be decided at the 2010 election with the Liberal victory confirming the defeat of the Brumby government. In 2014, Bentleigh joined the other Frankston line seats to return to Labor and put Andrews in government. Both sides have been campaigning hard with Matthew Guy promising two-storey height limits and billions to “bust congestion” to win the seat back.

Shellee is a local 30-something mother and marketing executive. She says her parents, who also live in the suburb, vote in different directions while she keeps her vote to herself. She is yet to decide this election and represents a shining example of the sort of voter who could swing the seat.

Congestion and development are top of mind for her and local residents although she gives Labor credit for the suburb becoming a bustling metropolis, including new boutique shops, cafes and even a bar with the new Bentleigh train station and an upcoming street festival adding to the feel-good factor.

“It has changed a lot,” she says, “there is a lot more here for young people now.”

Now with cafes: Bentleigh street scene.
Now with cafes: Bentleigh street scene.

Wayne Taylor

“The concern is all along Centre Road they have put up massive apartment blocks bringing a lot of cars and congestion,” she says. “Cars are parked up and down both sides of the street and often you can’t get a park outside your own house,” she says. “The Liberals have dropped off quite a few pamphlets promising ‘to protect the liveability’ but she says crime “hasn’t been a big issue here”.

Labor are also fighting a concerted campaign in the seat by disgruntled former taxi drivers who have lost their livelihood and in some cases their lives in the wake of Uber. The Liberals are promising to have Jeff Kennett lead a review to offer compensation and the protesters are mobilising at shops and centres to urge voters to put Labor last.

Inner city: climate and congestion

(Brunswick ALP 2.2 per cent, Richmond ALP 1.9 per cent, Albert Park ALP 3.1 per cent, Prahran Greens 0.4 per cent, Melbourne Greens 2.4 per cent, Northcote Greens 5.6 per cent)

Labor face the threat of minority government if the Greens can steal another two or more inner city seats and retain Melbourne, Northcote and Prahran, which is being hotly contested. The Liberal party have opted out of Richmond, leaving Labor’s planning minister, Richard Wynne exposed.

The Greens are also campaigning hard to win Brunswick, which covers the suburbs of Brunswick and parts of Coburg, Pascoe Vale South, Parkville and Fitzroy North. The long-held Labor seat became marginal in 2014 and is exposed after MP Jane Garrett left the seat to contest the Legislative Council.

Local mother Jocelyn is a former engineer turned yoga teacher who usually votes Greens. This year she is voting Labor.

“Usually my vote goes to the Greens but I will be voting Labor because of their strong commitment to renewable energy given their 50 per cent renewables target by 2030,” she says.

More trains: Premier Daniel Andrews and Mininster for Public Transport Jacinta Allan makes an annoucement on new train ...
More trains: Premier Daniel Andrews and Mininster for Public Transport Jacinta Allan makes an annoucement on new train carriages at the Bombardier factory in Dandenong.

Eddie Jim

Growth suburbs: sky rail and housing

(Eltham ALP 2.7 per cent, Cranbourne ALP 2.3 per cent, Macedon ALP 3.8 per cent, Monbulk ALP 5 per cent, Bass LIB 4.6 per cent)

A host of high-growth outer suburbs could be key in the election race.

Macedon is the first rural seat along the Calder Highway north-west of Melbourne. Monbulk covers Dandenong Range suburbs in the outer east and is the only seat in Melbourne’s east held by Labor, with Deputy Premier James Merlino. Eltham lies in Melbourne’s north-eastern suburbs.

Bass is considered the first semi-rural electorate on the northern edge of the metropolitan area with Cranbourne and Pakenham rapidly sprouting new housing estates. Labor strategists believe the trend towards young, lower-middle class voters could hurt the Liberals.

Andrews has promised to remove four level crossings in Pakenham and build an elevated sky rail, adding to the first such service that opened in the south-east earlier this year. Level crossing removal has strong support although the the prospect of more sky rail has activated a hard-core group of residents campaigning against Labor over the plan.

David Farrelly is a long-time resident who is leading a local group called No Pakenham sky rail.

“We are still a rural town split in two by the rail line,” he says. “Two weeks ago Labor announced the level crossing removal but barely mentioned sky rail. They say it will run three or four kilometres and at 20 metres tall it will be the tallest structure in Pakenham,” he says.

An artist's impression of Skyrail: Popular with commuters because it eliminates level crossings and speeds road ...
An artist’s impression of Skyrail: Popular with commuters because it eliminates level crossings and speeds road journeys, but not so much with some adjacent homeowners.


Regions: hospitals and trains

(Geelong ALP 6 per cent, Ballarat: Buninyong ALP 6.5 per cent and Wendouree 5.8 per cent; Bendigo East ALP 5.1 per cent).

Geelong covers the regional CBD and surrounding suburbs. A “wild card” has been thrown into the mix with flamboyant former Mayor of Geelong Darryn Lyons running as an Independent.

Jase Carey, who runs a plumbing business with a couple of young workers, is in Bunninyong on the edge of Ballarat’s Wendouree seat. As a country boy, he says he is wired to vote for the Liberal Nationals. But he says the two young tradies who work for him wouldn’t know who Guy is.

“If I asked them who the Liberal bloke was they wouldn’t know,” he says. “Jeff Kennett was your classic in-your-face Liberal but Guy is just not in that calibre.

“Roads is a massive one, getting across town now is a nightmare. Labor probably get credit for the level crossing removal and a lot of works improving the hospital.

“$1 billion down the gurgler for nothing on the East West Link pisses me off but whoever gets on with it is fine by me,” he says.

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England women team news: Marlie Packer picked in week of drink-driving case

England women team news: Marlie Packer picked in week of drink-driving case
Marlie Packer (left) and Sarah Hunter (right) combine as England beat France in their World Cup semi-final last year
England women v Canada women
Venue: Castle Park, Doncaster Date: Sunday, 18 November Kick-off: 14:00 GMT
Coverage: Live text commentary on the BBC Sport website

Marlie Packer has been named in the England team to face Canada on Sunday, at the end of a week in which she pleaded guilty to drink-driving.

Packer was banned from driving for 17 months, reduced to 14 on completion of a driving course, after hitting another vehicle in September while twice the legal drink-drive limit.

The flanker’s return is one of 10 changes made by coach Simon Middleton.

Saracens team-mate Poppy Cleall and number eight Sarah Hunter also return.

Fly-half Zoe Harrison – who came on in the 57-5 win over the United States – starts at 10 with Katy Daley-Mclean on the bench. Millie Wood, more often a centre, makes her first Test start on the wing.

Prop Hannah Botterman and second row Catherine O’Donnell are also in the XV.

“The competition for places is really tough within the squad and that’s great to see. There were some excellent individual performances against the USA on Friday and I will expect to see the same on Sunday against Canada,” said Middleton.

“We are really excited to play in Yorkshire and are looking forward to a great crowd and atmosphere at Castle Park on Sunday.”

England whitewashed fourth-ranked Canada in a three-Test series last November. The visitors will play Wales and Scotland on 24 and 27 November respectively.

The meeting with Canada is the penultimate chance for players to impress Middleton before 28 full-time 15-a-side contracts are awarded in January. England will play Ireland at Twickenham on 24 November in their final autumn international.

Packer was part of the 2014 World Cup-winning team

No excuses – Packer

Parker, who could lose her job as a plumber, said she had “no excuses” for her “serious error of judgement”.

“I have apologised to my family, loved ones and the club for this totally unacceptable behaviour,” said Packer.

“I wish to say sorry to my team-mates and supporters whom I have also let down.”

An RFU spokesperson added: “The matter has been dealt with by the courts and the England Women team management have spoken to Marlie who understands her responsibilities as an England player.

“Marlie remains eligible for selection to the England team.”

England: McKenna; Wood, Attwood, Burford, Smith; Harrison, Riley; Cornborough, Davies, Botterman, O’Donnell, Scott, Cleall, Packer, Hunter (c).

Replacements: Kerr, Perry, Brown, Aldcroft, Brown, Macdonald, Daley-Mclean, Williams

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Elise Christie: British speed skater considered quitting after Winter Olympic heartbreak

Elise Christie: British speed skater considered quitting after Winter Olympic heartbreak
At the Winter Olympics, Christie fell in the 500m final and 1500m semi-finals, and was disqualified from the 1,000m heats

Elise Christie felt “very alone” after the Winter Olympics.

Her campaign in Pyeongchang did not go to plan when she came home empty-handed. Then her boyfriend dumped her and her coach left his role.

For five months after February’s Games, she thought it was, perhaps, the point to call time on her short-track speed skating career.

“I went through a period where I thought ‘I hate it’, I didn’t see the point in what I was doing,” she told BBC Radio 5 live’s Friday Sports Panel.

Triple world champion Christie was the poster girl for Team GB and had been tipped for multiple medals in Pyeongchang. Instead, an ankle injury was her only token from a Games she will almost certainly want to forget.

But, nine months on, the 28-year-old is back on the ice – happier and stronger than ever.

‘I just don’t know what I’m doing’ – losing motivation

The Olympics hasn’t been Christie’s friend to date. Her campaign in Sochi in 2014 ended in three disqualifications and, in Pyeongchang, she fell in the 500m final and 1500m semi-finals – damaging ankle ligaments in the latter – and was disqualified from the 1,000m heats.

She had expected to return from South Korea an Olympic medallist – instead, she was left questioning what her future held.

“My ankle was so bad and I was still in pain from the other injuries I’d suffered last year, and I’d get on the ice every day and think ‘I just don’t know what I’m doing’,” Christie said.

“I didn’t believe I could turn it around, my ankle was never going to get better – did I really want to go through another four years of this?

“It was really hard, and that didn’t happen after Sochi, so I did find it really hard losing my motivation because I have never been like that.”

Feeling alone

Christie posted an emotional tribute to her coach Nicky Gooch on Instagram

It hasn’t been the easiest of years for Christie. After the disappointment of the Olympics, two big departures from her close circle left her feeling isolated.

First, her boyfriend – Hungarian speed skater Shaolin Sandor Liu, who won his country’s first-ever Winter Olympic gold medal in Pyeongchang – ended their relationship. By text message.

Then, Nicky Gooch, Christie’s coach and Lillehammer 1994 Olympic bronze medallist, left his role.

“The person I’ve always been closest to, who I’ve worked with for 12 years, was Nick my coach and he left,” she said.

“I did feel very alone which didn’t help, and that’s why it probably took longer, but I have built new relationships now, I’ve worked with the sports psychologist, and without all that, I wouldn’t have been able to get to where I have got right now.

“The final straw for me was the boyfriend, I lost my whole support network.

“You need that support, but a lot of it comes from yourself, you choose whether you’re going to win or not based on the decisions you make and the way you approach things.”

Switching focus

But, while motivation mostly must come from within, Christie did receive some help along the way.

During and following the Olympics, she received hundreds of messages of support – many of which were from children. And that, she says, gave her the boost she needed to continue.

“Children have this untainted view on life where they haven’t been told to think a certain way and they have not been affected by the world yet,” she said.

“They were all saying ‘don’t give up’, ‘you’re my hero’ and things like this, and for me, I didn’t have a good enough reason to show them to give up.

“I just kept going everyday for that, and now, I’m back to a place where I can do it for myself again. I’m enjoying it, I’m happy and I’m getting stronger again, and so it has been worth it.”

Earlier this month, Christie returned to competition as part of the British mixed relay team at the opening World Cup event of the season.

Yet, while she didn’t compete in the individual events in Calgary, Canada, she came home with a much clearer focus.

“I went to a competition and had all these younger skaters come up to me asking why I wasn’t racing, telling me I was one of the best skaters in the world,” she said.

“I thought to myself ‘that is true’ – it doesn’t matter what happens every four years, I have got 10 World Championship medals, I’m a 10-time European champion, so I’m now focusing on what I have done, what I have succeeded in, rather than the one event that didn’t go right.”

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Britain is trapped on Theresa May’s Brexit carousel

Britain is trapped on Theresa May’s Brexit carousel

London | Brexit day – March 29 next year – is just 133 sleeps from now. When just over half of Britons voted to leave the European Union in the summer of 2016, they couldn’t have imagined that two and a half years later, with mere months to go, the country and its government would still have no idea what kind of Brexit they are in for.

Brexit is a challenge of seismic, historical significance, an economic and cultural turning point for Britain. Even for a country largely governed by politicians schooled in Oxford University’s last-minute essay-crisis mode of making public policy, how could it come to this?

The problem, in a nutshell, is that parliament has awarded itself the right to a binding vote on any government proposal for Brexit, a vote that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government is constitutionally unable to ignore. But having done so, they’re now finding there is actually no parliamentary majority for any form of Brexit whatsoever.

As things stand, when parliament grapples with this in mid-December, it won’t vote for the deal May brought back from Brussels this week. And it won’t vote for a second referendum to revisit the whole idea of leaving. And there aren’t the numbers to force a new election. But it will vote against lapsing into a no-deal Brexit.

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May will need to frighten and cajole parliamentarians into supporting her deal with ...
Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May will need to frighten and cajole parliamentarians into supporting her deal with Brussels.

Matt Dunham

If parliament doesn’t like anything that’s currently on the table, then the message to May and her team has to be: go back to Brussels and find a better deal from the EU.


But parliament also can’t agree on what a better deal might be. Some say it’s a closer integration with the EU single market, some say it’s a looser free-trade agreement. The opposition Labour party won’t really say at all.

And even if parliament could agree, the EU has no incentive to indulge Britain in another fruitless round of negotiation, with the clock ticking towards March 29, given the talks would inevitably reach, and founder upon, the same hugely adhesive sticking points that led negotiators to May’s current deal.

Circuit-breaker wanted

Some people say Britain is like a political circus. But it’s more of a carousel: the same arguments, the same political calculus, going round and round and round.

Theresa May's problem is that parliament has a decisive say on her Brexit deal but has no majority for any deal whatsoever.
Theresa May’s problem is that parliament has a decisive say on her Brexit deal but has no majority for any deal whatsoever.

What’s needed now is a circuit-breaker, to make the carousel stop turning. But nobody knows what it is.

The Brexiteer outriders in the Tories think it’s a change of leader, and are busily penning letters to the chair of the backbench committee, Graham Brady. If he ends up with 48 letters in his drawer, a no-confidence vote of the party’s 315 MPs is triggered automatically.

But although a spill looks increasingly likely, there probably aren’t 158 Tory MPs with the appetite for a Conservative Party leadership election, which involves a grassroots ballot lasting at least six weeks.

To avoid that, there would have to be a single, unity candidate, with May not recontesting. But there’s no obvious messiah who can unite the party and strike a deal. And the public won’t wear a self-indulgent leadership campaign, stretching past Christmas, when time is of the essence and the nation’s economic wellbeing is at stake.

Uncertain times lie ahead as the British parliament grapples with Brexit.
Uncertain times lie ahead as the British parliament grapples with Brexit.

Matt Dunham

Labour, meanwhile, thinks an election will break the impasse. But dissolving parliament needs a two-thirds majority vote on the floor of parliament, and even the most rebellious of Tories isn’t going to put his or her name to that. And even if there was one, on current polling it might not change the parliamentary arithmetic.

May’s own route off the carousel is probably to strike dread into MPs. She will tell them the only likely alternative to her deal is crashing out in an ill-prepared and potentially hugely disruptive fashion – for which all politicians would wear the blame.

And she will say that if the Conservatives muck this up, they risk ushering in a Labour government led by unreconstructed socialist Jeremy Corbyn, adding a new layer of disastrous economic icing to the already unpalatable Brexit cake.

Her ally is the markets: if they take proper fright, politicians might follow. But they’re not ready to do so yet. The stakes have to get higher, which is why May is warning of “difficult days ahead”.

High-profile Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg is now a ringleader in efforts to unseat Theresa May as prime minister – ...
High-profile Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg is now a ringleader in efforts to unseat Theresa May as prime minister – but he says he doesn’t want the job himself.

Matt Dunham

Although a left-field outcome could emerge from the fluid and unpredictable parliamentary arithmetic, the choice is probably whittling down to May’s way or the no-deal highway.

May’s way

Her deal is designed essentially to overcome one single problem: Northern Ireland. It has a 500km border with the Republic of Ireland, containing several hundred border crossings.

The two economies are seamlessly integrated, and nobody wants to change that. Particularly because putting up a border – customs checks, regulatory inspections – would risk rekindling the vicious sectarian conflict that was brought to an end by the Good Friday Agreement of 1998.

A no-deal Brexit risks costly delays and tailbacks at the port of Dover.
A no-deal Brexit risks costly delays and tailbacks at the port of Dover.

Luke MacGregor

But Northern Ireland also needs to be seamlessly integrated with the rest of Britain, or there’s a risk that the ties that bind “the Union” may begin to fray. Although most English people have little love for, or interest in, Northern Ireland, the political class can’t abide the thought of Britain breaking up.

The trouble is, if Britain is to leave the EU and go its own way on customs, regulations and visas, then Northern Ireland can no longer be seamlessly integrated with both Britain and Ireland. But the politics of the province mean it’s too difficult to choose one over the other.

So London and Brussels have agreed that when they negotiate a free-trade agreement over the next two years, they’ll find some ingenious way of keeping Northern Ireland open to both sides.

They just don’t know what that solution is yet. So Brussels demanded that if the solution turns out to be illusory, the “backstop”, or default, would be Northern Ireland aligning with the EU. This is anathema to May, and to the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) whose 10 votes in the House of Commons give her a majority.

May’s counter-offer was to keep Britain aligned with the EU, in a temporary customs union, until the solution was found. This would ensure Northern Ireland was aligned with both.

The EU accepted this – for them, a big concession – but began to worry again about what would happen if the solution wasn’t found. What if Britain then just pulled out of the customs union? Brussels demanded a mechanism to ensure Britain couldn’t do this, or else a reinstatement of the earlier “backstop”.

But Brexiteers saw this demand as a perfidious attempt to lock Britain into the customs union – accepting EU rules, regulations and tariffs – indefinitely. With no say on what those rules are.

In the final deal, May has basically ignored this concern, pledging that the customs union would definitely be temporary but not offering a mechanism to guarantee this.

And that’s basically why her Brexit secretary Dominic Raab quit on Thursday, and why May’s own backbenchers revile her deal. They can’t abide the idea that Britain is hemmed in by the customs union until the Northern Ireland question is resolved.

Their own solution – a no-deal Brexit, and a free-trade agreement from scratch rather than from inside a customs union – would probably lead to a “hard border” between Ireland and Northern Ireland, although this is never acknowledged. Which is why May doesn’t support it.

And so the carousel goes round and round and round.

The no-deal nightmare

The public is said to want the government to “just get on with it”. Easier said than done. Trenches have been dug in parliament, and everyone is sticking to their guns and trying to spike those of their opponents. The complexity of the divorce defies the simple slogans of the Brexiteers.

But if the only route out of the impasse is a no-deal Brexit, with its food and medicine shortages and lorry pile-ups at the ports, the public isn’t going to like that much.

No-deal Brexit might turn out to be much less scary than the doomsayers let on. There will be six months of disruption to trade, for sure, and consumers will feel it. But it might take bark off the economy rather than coppice the whole tree. Still, given the poor state of no-deal preparation, you wouldn’t want to bet your house on that.

May will use the fear factor to push ahead with her deal. She’s a poor communicator and saleswoman, but she is dogged and resilient, and many Britons are developing a sneaking sympathy for her.

If she can keep a core of her cabinet with her and sufficiently spook parliament and the public, she might somehow find a way through. But if her ministers keep jumping ship and her authority leaks away, Britain sails further into uncharted territory and a likely cliff-edge Brexit.

May shouldn’t be underestimated, but the profound dysfunction of Brexit politics can’t be overstated. When unstoppable force hits immoveable object, nobody can say who will crumble.

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ATP Finals: Alexander Zverev beats John Isner to set up Roger Federer semi-final

ATP Finals: Alexander Zverev beats John Isner to set up Roger Federer semi-final

Germany’s Alexander Zverev clinched his place in the ATP Finals semi-finals with a straight-set win which eliminated his American opponent John Isner from the season-ending event.

Both men dominated their service games, but Zverev nicked the first-set tie-break before breaking at the end of the second to win 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 in London.

Third seed Zverev will play Roger Federer in the semi-finals on Saturday.

Zverev’s win means Novak Djokovic is through as group winner.

The Serb world number one, who meets Marin Cilic in his final match on Friday, will play South Africa’s Kevin Anderson in the last four later on Saturday.

More to follow.

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FAO Schwarz makes its return to New York. Here’s what its new store looks like inside

FAO Schwarz makes its return to New York. Here’s what its new store looks like inside

Iconic toy retailer FAO Schwarz is making its return to New York City after shutting its famed flagship store on Fifth Avenue in 2015, when the brand was still owned by Toys R Us.

expanding around the globe.

The goal is to make the space “experiential” and one that can “deliver theater and can drive customers,” David Conn, CEO of FAO Schwarz’s parent company ThreeSixty Group, told CNBC last month.

Brands featured in the 20,000-square-foot 30 Rock store include two of those also owned by ThreeSixty — electronics from The Sharper Image and toys from Melissa & Doug. There are walls of Barbie dolls, a Build-A-Bear Workshop station, a racetrack for kids to play with cars, a space where a magician will teach tricks, a candy shop and so much more for visitors to do there, beyond shopping.

And, of course, FAO Schwarz brought back its iconic keyboard on the floor. (This time it’s also on the ceiling, in bright lights, to spark the curiosity of those walking by.) The massive clock tower is there too, along with a new centerpiece, a rocket ship.

Without Toys R Us now that it’s bankrupt, there is a huge share of the toy market left up for grabs, giving FAO Schwarz the chance to make a name for itself again. FAO Schwarz will also be selling its own branded items inside other retailers including Kohl’s and Hudson’s Bay this holiday season.

Back at 30 Rock, FAO Schwarz will offer everything from hot items like Hatchimals to the brands older generations of consumers grew up with, like Steiff teddy bears. Its goal is to be a store that customers remember and keep coming back to.

The experience is the key. It’s a strategy many retailers are employing to lure consumers out of their homes and into the stores — but it’s also part of FAO Schwarz’s heritage. The fun of going to the old store is a memory for many generations, but today’s shoppers may find many “Instagrammable” moments inside the walls of the new store

“We think this transcends even just toys,” Conn said. “We joke around … we were experiential before it was cool to be experiential.”

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Gareth Southgate: Semi-final would cap ‘brilliant year’ for England

Gareth Southgate: Semi-final would cap ‘brilliant year’ for England
England have won nine of their 16 games in 2018

England are determined to reach another semi-final to top a “brilliant year”, says manager Gareth Southgate.

A win over Croatia at Wembley on Sunday would give England top spot in their group and progression to the inaugural Uefa Nations League finals next summer.

The Three Lions reached the last four of the World Cup in Russia in the summer – their best showing since 1990.

“Whatever happens on Sunday, we’ve had real shoots of progress, achieving some outstanding results,” said Southgate.

With one game remaining, England are second in Group A4 of the competition. A draw against Croatia would put Spain through while defeat would relegate England to League B of the Nations League.

Southgate added: “We were very keen that we moved on from the World Cup as quickly as possible. It has been a brilliant year.

“[We have had] really good performances and blooded a lot of new players. It has given us a real depth to the squad and competition for places.

“But I think everybody wants to go another stage and get to a semi-final out of a group which is as tough as there has been in this competition.

“It is a really good game for everybody to look forward to.”

Sancho impresses Southgate

Former defender Southgate gave debuts to Bournemouth striker Callum Wilson and Southampton goalkeeper Alex McCarthy in Thursday’s 3-0 friendly victory over the United States.

Teenager Jadon Sancho was given his first international start after an impressive season in Germany with Bundesliga leaders Borussia Dortmund and Southgate was particularly impressed by the winger.

“Some of the one-touch, two-touch football around the box was really exciting,” Southgate said. “I thought Dele [Alli] and Jesse [Lingard] were both really good in that opening period as well.

“We talk a lot about a lack of creativity in English players, but when we’re bringing on Ruben [Loftus-Cheek] and we have got Jadon, Jesse and Dele on there, and we know there are other players coming through the system, it is an exciting period.

“None of these lads are the finished article and Jadon is very raw. Some of his decision-making was really good and some not so good.

“We want him to try things and feel free enough in an England shirt to do those things. He can be really pleased with his first start.”

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Kieran Tierney: Celtic defender drops out of Scotland squad through injury

Kieran Tierney: Celtic defender drops out of Scotland squad through injury
Kieran Tierney had been training with the squad ahead of the trip to Albania
Nations League League C, Group 1: Albania v Scotland
Venue: Loro Borici Stadium, Shkoder Date: Saturday, 17 November Kick-off: 19:45 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio Scotland; live text commentary on BBC Sport website

Celtic defender Kieran Tierney has become the ninth player to withdraw from the Scotland squad ahead of the Nations League game against Albania.

The 21-year-old has returned to his club following medical advice.

No replacement is to be called up by head coach Alex McLeish for Saturday’s League C Group 1 match.

Sheffield United midfielder John Fleck had earlier been added to the squad for Tuesday’s Nations League match with Israel at Hampden.

He will join up with McLeish’s pool of players after they return from Albania.

The 27-year-old was capped at under-21 level but has never been involved with the senior set-up before.

The loss of Tierney reduces McLeish’s options in defence while at the same time resolving the conundrum of finding a place for two top-quality left-backs.

Tierney has been used on the left of a three-man central defence, with Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson pushed into a wing-back role on the left.

With Kilmarnock’s Stephen O’Donnell having withdrawn from the squad, leaving McLeish without a natural right-back, using Tierney on the other flank and reverting to a back four had been an option open to the head coach.

McLeish had said that he had noted Callum Paterson’s form in a forward role for Cardiff City, but the 24-year-old is an option at right-back, having played there previously for his country and Hearts.

Fleck has scored once in 16 Championship games this season

Fleck’s call-up had come after Aston Villa midfielder John McGinn became the eighth player to drop out of the original squad for the double header.

Assistant coach James McFadden explained: “Rather than have John travel from Sheffield to Edinburgh, on to Albania and back to Glasgow in the space of 48 hours, without having the opportunity to train with the team, it is better for him to join on Sunday and be physically and mentally prepared to focus on our match on Tuesday.

“The coaching staff have settled on the plan to play Albania and have been preparing on this basis all week.

“John has been in fine form for a successful Sheffield United side this season and his inclusion in the squad will offer us a fresh option against Israel.”

Fleck, previously with Rangers and Coventry City, has made 17 appearances for his club this season, with the Blades sitting fourth in England’s Championship.

Scotland could still finish first, second or third in the section

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