David Parkin on ABBA, the Tour de Yorkshire and going plural

David Parkin on ABBA, the Tour de Yorkshire and going plural

YOU go away for a week and it all happens.

The Home Secretary resigns, Sainsbury’s and Asda announce they want to merge and the brains trust at the Football Association want to sell Wembley to an American football club owner.

It all seemed to be going on last week.

You’ll be telling me next that ABBA are going to release a new album.

What, they are?

Yes apparently the Swedish pop band have announced they are reuniting to release new music for the first time in 35 years.

The news was greeted calmly by fans of the former Eurovision winners who disbanded in 1982.

According to Sky News, one said: “This is the best news I’ve had in my lifetime.”

Another said: “Waiting for this my whole life.”

You can’t beat a bit of real perspective.

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IF you are in Yorkshire this weekend I hope you get the chance to experience the excitement, exhilaration and general feel-good factor of the Tour de Yorkshire.

This year’s race is bigger than ever and has attracted some of the best men and women cyclists from across the globe.

The Welcome to Yorkshire team has done a great job yet again and the region’s cities, towns and villages along the route will welcome riders with a gusto they can have rarely seen before.

I’ll be watching the big finish in Leeds on Sunday afternoon and I also attended the Eve of Tour celebration in the city’s Millennium Square on Wednesday.

Riders were introduced on a big stage by a pair of slick presenters – a woman with very glossy hair and a big bloke with an American accent and a ponytail who looked like he was one half of a Penn & Teller tribute act.

There was a buzz about proceedings and some lovely stories to tell such as Ilkley rider Sophie Thackray who has had to get permission to miss school so she can compete in the race.

Yorkshire cycling legends Brian Robinson, Denise Burton-Cole and Barry Hoban were among the Tour de Yorkshire ambassadors who also appeared on stage.

I popped into the hospitality tent for some light refreshment and was immediately approached by a woman holding a phone.

“Could we have a picture please?” she asked.

“Of course, where do you want me to stand?” I replied, with the charm you would expect of a Yorkshire media personality.

“Just there, so you can get all three of us in, I’ve been waiting to get this photo for ages,” she said, while giving me the phone and putting her arms around ITV cycling commentators Ned Boulting and David Miller.

:::

MY powers of hypnotism are still intact if last Monday is anything to go by.

I popped into the smart Victoria Quarter atelier of Leeds tailor James Michelsberg.

Last year’s suggestion that I become a Michelsberg Brand Ambassador in exchange for a bit of schmutter still holds and James, clad in a sharp double breasted flannel chalk stripe, whipped out his tape measure and told me it was time for a new whistle.

James is one of life’s great enthusiasts and sees positives in almost everything.

For instance, that morning he had buried the ashes of his mother Jill, who died last year.

What he told me, and has subsequently written about in his blog, was an uplifting story of a glamorous lady whose sense of style inspired her son to launch his tailoring business 14 years ago.

It is a funny, touching and wonderful story which is well worth a read: http://michelsberg.co.uk/jill-elizabeth-michelsberg/

His Mum would be very proud of him.

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I CAN see the logic of Sainsbury’s and Asda looking to link-up but given the huge impact it will have on consumers and even more so on suppliers, I think they will both have to jump more hurdles than Colin Jackson if it is to ever go ahead.

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STAYING in the City, this week the chief executive of regional newspaper publisher Johnston Press, Ashley Highfield, announced his departure from the company which owns the Yorkshire Post and the Scotsman.

I wrote last year about the dire straits the company was in.

This week Johnston Press announced that Highfield is resigning and will go within a month.

Not before time for the former BBC and Microsoft executive given that the value of the second largest regional newspaper publisher in Britain collapsed from over £100m to less than £10m on his watch whilst struggling to cope with a debt pile of £220m.

A statement to the Stock Exchange by JP said: “Ashley is leaving for family reasons and in order to fulfil his plans to transition to a be a ‘plural’ non-executive director as the next phase of his career.”

Ah, that old phrase “going plural”, coined by Allan Leighton when he left Asda.

We forgave him the management jargon then because he had a great pedigree and his career as a non-executive director since has been pretty successful – well Leeds United apart.

But why would anyone want Ashley Highfield on their board?

According to JP chairman Camilla Rhodes, he had many achievements: “Ashley oversaw the successful acquisition of the i newspaper, has driven growth in our digital footprint, while making substantial progress in reorganising and restructuring our business.:

And what of Highfield himself, what is he proud of?

“I have been privileged to lead Johnston Press during a period of unprecedented turbulence in our industry. Since 2011 we have grown our overall audience in particular our digital business, created an industry leading tele-sales operation and maintained margins.

“The acquisition of the i newspaper has been a particular highlight.”

During a period when newspapers have faced a massive digital challenge his big idea was to buy a print product.

He has more than halved the workforce to 2,140 people since 2011 but has also presided over revenue dropping from £374m to £201m between 2011 and 2017.

And only £26m of that figure was from digital advertising revenue.

Meanwhile Highfield picked up a salary and pension contributions of more than half a million quid a year.

I don’t think shareholders will be throwing him a leaving do.

A lot of JP staff bought shares in the business through the company Sharesave scheme.

I saw one write this week that his shares, once worth £23,000, now added up to barely £200.

I look forward to following Ashley’s “plural” career with interest.

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MY fears about taking a holiday at a resort in Cyprus near the RAF base where the Tornado squadron took off from to bomb Syria proved unfounded.

Some commentators had suggested that if President Putin was minded to retaliate then he might target RAF Akrotiri on the Greek island.

But it seems that Cyprus is now as popular with Russian tourists as it is with Brits and our hotel was playing host to plenty of them.

I haven’t met many Russians but the ones I observed last week appeared quite similar.

Grimacing and glowering men accompanied by women in heavy make up and sparkling with jewels and glitter, all with poor table manners.

I’ve not seen anything like it before.

Well since the last time I was in Manchester.

Have a great weekend.

 

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