Since tying the knot in a lavish ceremony on the Isle of Man in November 2020, Baroness Mone of Mayfair and her billionaire husband, Doug Barrowman, have marked their wedding anniversaries in style.
Their two previous celebrations have seen them mark the date with a 32-course meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Wales and a sun-soaked luxury holiday to the Maldives.
Given the tumult which has dogged their lives of late, however, the fabulously wealthy pair could be forgiven for choosing a rather more low-key way to commemorate their three years of marriage at the end of this month.
Last week — and despite previous repeated and emphatic denials — both Glasgow-born Michelle Mone, 52, and her 58-year-old husband finally admitted their involvement in a controversial PPE firm which won £203 million worth of ‘VIP’ government contracts after Mone, the former Ultimo bra tycoon, recommended it to Government ministers in the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
More, in a moment, of this extraordinary volte-face and what might be behind it for, as the Mail can reveal, the disgraced couple’s involvement with PPE Medpro might well be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to their ongoing troubles.
Last week — and despite previous repeated and emphatic denials — both Glasgow-born Michelle Mone, 52, and her 58-year-old husband finally admitted their involvement in a controversial PPE firm which won £203 million worth of ‘VIP’ government contracts (File Photo)
Since tying the knot in a lavish ceremony on the Isle of Man in November 2020, Baroness Mone of Mayfair and her billionaire husband, Doug Barrowman, have marked their wedding anniversaries in style
Their two previous celebrations have seen them mark the date with a 32-course meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant in Wales and a sun-soaked luxury holiday to the Maldives
For while there are growing demands that ‘Baroness Bra’ be stripped of her peerage and the OBE she was given in 2010 for ‘services to the lingerie industry’, a Spanish tax fraud trial — now set to start at the end of January — could see Barrowman, if found guilty, sent to prison for five-and-a-half years.
Prosecutors in Santander, northern Spain, are seeking custodial sentences for Glasgow-born Barrowman and six other businessmen amid claims of a ‘fraudulent’ invoice created to evade tax and siphon millions of pounds out of a Spanish company and into their own pockets.
Barrowman insists he has done nothing wrong.
A sorry state of affairs, then, for one of Britain’s wealthiest couples, and one which is a far cry from their joyful nuptials at Peel Cathedral on the Isle of Man on November 28, 2020, when Mone — dressed in a stunning beaded lace dress by designer Suzanne Neville and Jimmy Choo heels — tied the knot with the man she described as her ‘soulmate’.
While the rest of the UK was under strict lockdown, the newlyweds were able to share their celebrations with 90 guests, thanks to the Isle of Man’s decision to scrap social distancing, before jetting off on honeymoon to the Maldives.
But, behind these jubilant scenes, trouble was already brewing for the mega-rich lovebirds. Just a month after their lavish nuptials, journalists began asking questions about Lady Mone’s links to PPE Medpro.
She consistently denied any ‘role or function’ in the company, with her lawyers insisting she was ‘not connected to PPE Medpro in any capacity’. But since then it has emerged that the former model contacted then Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove and fellow Tory peer Theodore Agnew in May 2020, offering to supply PPE equipment ‘via my team in Hong Kong’ — five days before PPE Medpro was even incorporated as a company by her husband’s business associates.
The firm was then fast-tracked by the Government through its ‘VIP lane’ for politically connected companies.
Leaked bank documents seen by the Guardian newspaper showed that Barrowman was later paid at least £65 million from PPE Medpro’s profit and transferred £29 million to a secret offshore trust of which Lady Mone and her three grown-up children were the beneficiaries.
Mone has often used her social media platforms to retell the story of her rise to fame and fortune from a poverty-stricken but loving childhood in Glasgow’s East End, a subject which featured widely in her 2015 autobiography My Fight To The Top (File Photo)
In the aftermath, offshore companies linked to the couple bought a £7.5 million private Cessna CJ4 jet and a £6 million yacht, the Lady M, from which Mone frequently posted glamorous holiday selfies.
She also splashed out £80,000 on a racehorse as a wedding gift for her husband and £3 million on property for her children.
Three years on, and amid highly damaging accusations of ‘pandemic profiteering’, this spiralling saga continues to cast a long shadow over the woman who was made a life peer by David Cameron in 2015 in recognition of her status as ‘one of the UK’s leading entrepreneurs’.
The National Crime Agency (NCA), which raided two of the couple’s multiple homes in April last year — a £20 million property in London’s Belgravia as well as their nine-bedroom estate on the Isle of Man — is still investigating Mone and Barrowman over suspected criminal offences committed in the procurement of PPE contracts by PPE Medpro.
The Government has also initiated legal action against the company for breach of contract over the supply of sterile gowns which were not fit for purpose and could not be used, with officials said to be trying to recoup £122 million plus further costs.
Mone is also being investigated by the House of Lords commissioner for standards, although this has been paused pending the NCA investigation. She began a leave of absence from Parliament’s upper house in December last year — in order, she said via a statement released by a representative, to ‘clear her name of the allegations that have been unjustly levelled against her’.
This absence has meant Mone has not since attended a single sitting of the house or voted on any proceedings. And while there has been no sign of Mone in the Palace of Westminster for nearly a year, the notorious self-publicist has also been absent from social media.
Prosecutors in Santander, northern Spain, are seeking custodial sentences for Glasgow-born Barrowman and six other businessmen amid claims of a ‘fraudulent’ invoice created to evade tax and siphon millions of pounds out of a Spanish company and into their own pockets. Barrowman insists he has done nothing wrong (File Photo)
It is nearly a year since she posted on Instagram, writing on November 24, 2022: ‘Don’t believe everything you read, or everything you think.’
Given that she was previously a prolific poster of highly glamorous selfies in which she extolled the virtues of her own life choices, the ensuing silence has been deafening. ‘I worked hard to get here and it’s paid off,’ she wrote on Instagram in December 2021, in one of a multitude of posts accompanied by inspirational advice for her 112,000 followers.
In another, which was posted in the same month, she wrote: ‘Sometimes you have to think outside the box and not let anything get in the way of what you want to do.’
Mone has often used her social media platforms to retell the story of her rise to fame and fortune from a poverty-stricken but loving childhood in Glasgow’s East End, a subject which featured widely in her 2015 autobiography My Fight To The Top.
It was while working as a hostess at Scotland’s largest exhibition centre, the SECC, that she met her first husband, financial adviser Michael Mone. She was 20 and pregnant with their first child when they married in March 1992.
After her eldest child, Rebecca, was born later that year, she took a job as a sales rep for a Canadian brewer, Labatt, eventually running its Scottish sales and marketing team.
The idea for Ultimo, the push-up bra which made her name and fortune, came in 1996 — after she had been made redundant and given birth to her second child, Declan.
She later said the lightbulb moment came while wearing an uncomfortable cleavage-enhancing bra at a dinner-dance with her husband.
Ultimo launched in Selfridges in London in 1999 — the same year she gave birth to her third child, daughter Bethany.
After her marriage to Michael collapsed in 2011, Mone took control of Ultimo, but in 2014 she sold her majority stake in the business to a Sri Lankan lingerie group.
A year later, then Prime Minister, David Cameron, made her the Government’s new entrepreneurship expert for areas of high unemployment. A life peerage swiftly followed. And her new romance with Barrowman seemed to be the fairytale climax to her rags-to-riches tale.
After her marriage to Michael collapsed in 2011, Mone took control of Ultimo, but in 2014 she sold her majority stake in the business to a Sri Lankan lingerie group
The couple’s involvement with PPE Medpro will come under the microscope once again as part of the ongoing UK Covid-19 Inquiry. Divided into modules covering different areas of concern, it launched its fifth module, entitled ‘procurement across the UK’, just over two weeks ago.
The inquiry will assess ‘the robustness and effectiveness of procurement processes’ as well as ‘the adequacy of items obtained’. Preliminary hearings are scheduled for early 2024, which may, perhaps, explain the timing of Mone’s and Barrowman’s admission of their involvement in PPE Medpro.
Barrowman also has his case in Spain to prepare for. It centres on a payment of 6.3 million euros (£5.5 million) by Spanish company B3 Cable Solutions Spain to UK firm Axis Ventura in July 2008. Axis had raised funding to acquire B3, a cable plant near Santander, which later went bust, leading to 200 workers losing their jobs.
The seven British businessmen, including Barrowman, who was an Axis founder member — but is no longer a shareholder or director, despite being a B3 Cable investor shareholder — have been accused of benefiting from an invoice for ‘fictitious services’ supporting the seven-figure payment.
Prosecutors say the invoice was created to ‘defraud the Spanish treasury’ out of more than half a million euros when it was partly used to offset corporation tax.
A civil court case absolved Barrowman and his partners of administrative wrongdoing, but a parallel criminal investigation led to a judge ruling that there was sufficient evidence for a trial and charges were laid.
Earlier this year, Barrowman’s lawyers said the allegations would be ‘very vigorously contested’ in court. But given all the ongoing drama surrounding him and Mone, it’s fair to say 2024 could well be the couple’s most challenging year yet.
Comeback queen Mone, of course, thrives on adversity.
‘No matter what challenges life throws at me, I still pull myself out of bed every morning and get on with it,’ she wrote on Instagram back in October 2021.
Later, she added another pithy thought on the subject.
‘If you’re not successful, don’t blame others around you. Look towards yourself.’