Sharp practice? Never! BBC chair is just one of life’s natural born winners | John Crace

Reluctant participant faces Commons select committee with an interest in that £800k credit facility for Boris Johnson

How the other half live. There’s the establishment, and then there’s Richard Sharp. The chairman of the BBC. For the time being at least. Richard is one of life’s natural winners. Born into privilege and indulged ever since. Any talent he might have had has been entirely coincidental. An effortless patrician for whom all doors mysteriously open. He wants, he gets. And for two hours at the digital, culture, media and sport select committee we were granted an insight to his world.

Not that Sharp was anything more than a reluctant participant. At times his forced politeness verged on the tetchy. Especially when he was being quizzed by the Scottish National party’s John Nicolson and Labour’s Kevin Brennan. Then his eyes narrowed and he drummed his fingers loudly on his pile of notes. This was all wrong. Beneath his dignity. People like him weren’t supposed to come under public scrutiny. This was not the way of the world. Committee appearances were for the little folk.

Sharp had been summoned to explain his involvement in an £800k loan facility for the then prime minister Boris Johnson and why he had never bothered to mention it at any of his pre-appointment hearings. The committee chair, Damian Green, got things under way. Perhaps Richard – nobody calls him Dick, at least not to his face – could ease things along by giving a brief timeline of the events. Just to avoid any confusion. Sharp looked horrified. The whole point of his existence was to keep boundaries blurred. Life at the very top of British society is one long non-disclosure agreement.

It was like this. The words were spat out as if they were potentially toxic. Sharp had spent some of his career at Goldman Sachs. He couldn’t quite remember what he had done there but that was rather the point. He had been so effortlessly brilliant and so obviously the right sort of chap that people had been falling over themselves to offer new opportunities.

Of course he was friends with the prime minister. Who wasn’t? So naturally he had been invited to work in Downing Street. Of course he was friends with the chancellor. Who wasn’t? So naturally he had also been invited to work for the Treasury. What had he been doing there? Oh, you know, this and that. What was the point of donating to the Tory party and being a member of all the right clubs if you couldn’t call such people your friends? Connections were just a natural form of social osmosis.

Sorry. Richard got waylaid there. To cut a long story short, back in September 2020 Sharp had been having dinner with yet another old mucker. Step forward, dear old Sammy Blyth, who just happened to be a cousin of Boris. In any other circle but Dicky’s, this would be a coincidence. With Dicky, these sorts of coincidences were precisely the point.

Anyway, back to Sammy. Top Bloke Sammy. Sammy had heard that Boris was a bit short of cash and wanted to help out. It’s what anyone would do. Guarantee an £800k credit facility to someone known to be financially incontinent. Pure altruism at work. So Dicky had said he would put a word in to the cabinet secretary to make sure everything was done fairly. And more importantly so no one would ever know.

Then blow me down. The following month, Charles Moore – Laughing Boy Chas – had said he wouldn’t be standing for the chairmanship of the BBC, and Dicky had a lightbulb moment when he had realised he would be perfect for the job. And here was the thing. He’d gone along to Bozza for a chat and Bozza had agreed he would be an ideal fit. There were enough pinkos at the Beeb and it would be good to have an old school Conservative in charge. And as Bozza had the final say, no one else need apply! The most nerve jangling job interview of all time.

Sorry, what was that? Had they also discussed the loan at the same time as the BBC job? No, no, no. That was all in the past. Dicky wouldn’t dream of conflating the two. Did the committee understand nothing. The whole point of being one of the Chosen Ones, the Golden Elite, was that you didn’t need to talk about these things. All the important work was not at a non-verbal level. No paper trail. No consequences. So to cut a long story short, he had got the BBC job and he and Sammy had had a slap up celebratory lunch at Chequers at which no one bothered to mention the loan. Perfect.

Understandably, the committee was less than impressed. How come Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, had sent round a memo insisting that Boris should stop asking Dicky for financial advice? Sharp had no idea. He’d never given any financial advice and could only assume the cabinet secretary had made yet another of his unforced errors. Really! The very idea that he might have been multi-tasking was patently absurd. Everything had been totally above board. All along his only role in brokering the deal had been to make sure all the rules had been obeyed.

By now Sharp was getting quite flustered. No one would dare talk to him like that at Boodles. He barked out the name Lord Dacre. No one knew why. Not least because Paul Dacre isn’t yet a lord. Only a matter of time, though. He moves in similar circles. And it can’t be long before the committee would be calling him Lord Sharp. No less than he deserved.

Brennan and Labour MP Julie Elliott cut to the chase. Surely if there had been nothing to hide, then even an idiot – Dicky didn’t balk at the word “idiot” – could see it would have been important to bring up the loan at the pre-appointment hearing. In the interests of openness and transparency. If only to flag up that the prime minister was struggling to get by on £160k a year. Sharp shook his head furiously. The whole point of the establishment was that it covered things up.

Look, he said. This is The Way We Live Now. The whole reason he had confided in the cabinet secretary to make sure the financials were straight was precisely so that he did not have to disclose the information to the committee. This was transparency to ensure opacity. To expect him to volunteer such information was to commit a category error. To break a long established omertà.

And even now it was all out in the open, he had no regrets. Dicky would do it all again in a heartbeat. Boris had got his loan on merit. And he had been made BBC chairman on merit. Nothing anyone might say would change his mind. Society – his society – would demand no less. He may be in for a shock when the committee delivers its report.


John Crace

The GuardianTramp

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