Sports Direct’s colourful boss Mike Ashley put in another vintage performance as he took to the stand in the High Court to dismiss a £14m claim made against him by investment banker Jeffrey Blue.
Blue is claiming that at an alcohol-fuelled management meeting, Ashley promised to pay him £15m if the banker boosted Sports Direct’s share price to £8 per share.
Ashley only paid the ex-Merrill Lynch man £1m, however, and the tycoon is dismissing the original promise, which took place in the Horse and Groom pub in Fitzrovia, as “drink banter” and called Blue “a total liar”.
Seeking to play down his role as a decision-maker at Sports Direct, Ashley told Mr Justice Leggatt he was not “Obi-Wan Kenobi in charge of the Death Star”, seemingly mistaking the legendary Jedi Master for Darth Vader, Lord of the Sith.
He later emphasised the point that he was not a movie villain, saying he does not sit in his office “stroking a white cat”.
The comments were reminiscent of pleas he made to MPs during their inquiry into Sports Direct’s working practices last year, when he told lawmakers several times: “I am not Father Christmas.”
Yesterday, a red-faced Ashley argued that gatherings he held in pubs with executives were not “management meetings” and that they were merely a “drink after work”.
"It is a twist on words to call them a management meeting, it is very clearly a twist on words," he said.
He said he hosted boozy after-work sessions near his Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire because “it’s very boring and lonely in Shirebrook”.
Blue’s lawyer forced Ashley to count out how many pints he would have on such occasions, a task he said he was willing to do even though the “City may laugh at me for the next 15 years...so be it”.
The extraordinary testimony, which even drew laughter from Ashley’s PR executives, featured repeated references to Ashley’s wealth and physical size.
“Do you mean: ‘I should go to the gym...because I’m fat as a barrel and I’m clearly going to die,” Ashley said at one point.
Later, Ashley claimed he only made Sports Direct public for the benefit of the firm, saying he didn’t do it for himself because he was already “fabulously wealthy”.
“What do you think I did with the money in the morning?” he said. “Went out and bought the neighbour’s house? I already owned it!”
More fireworks are expected on Thursday as Ashley heads to the High Court again.