LONDON – “We would drink the first pint in five to 10 minutes.”
So began Sports Direct founder and billionaire Mike Ashley’s description of a drunken night out in 2013 at which it is claimed he made a deal to pay former advisor Jeff Blue a performance-linked £15 million bonus.
Blue claims Ashley agreed to pay him £15 million if he could help double the company’s share price from £4 to £8, a level it hit in 2013, and that he only received £1 million as a recognition of the deal the two had struck.
Ashley, who appeared in the witness box on Thursday wearing a white shirt and dark blue tie, said he was drunk and didn’t remember the discussion with Blue about the bonus.
Ashley continued saying: “I don’t know how many pints I drank, I don’t keep score.”
“The second pint would probably be between 10 and, at most, 15 minutes,” he said.
“The third pint is, what, 30 minutes-ish? Are you slowing down then? Within the first hour you would’ve had between four and five pints.”
Jeffrey Chapman QC, cross examining Ashley, asked: “Isn’t that a bit optimistic?” noting the time it would have taken to order the drinks.
“I like to get drunk. I’m a power drinker. I’m trying to get drunk.”
Ashley said that banker Simon McEvoy stayed at the bar, ordering pints of beer at a “machine-gun” pace. “He’s ordered the next pint before he’s finished the first one.”
“This is a totally different pace of drinking. I like to get drunk. I’m a power drinker. I’m trying to get drunk. I was trying to get pissed and have a night out.” Ashley said.
The visit to the Horse & Groom pub in 2013 was part of Blue’s efforts to land a new corporate broker for Sports Direct after Merrill Lynch resigned.
Sports Direct ended up appointing Espirito Santo, the investment bank whose representatives were present at the Horse & Groom.
Ashley said he resented having to attend the meeting, and punished Blue by making him keep up with the drinking in the early stages of the evening.
“Mr. Blue kept up for the first hour because I made him. I would definitely have made Jeff Blue keep up for making me be there,” he said, adding he would have preferred former CEO Dave Forsey attended in his place. “He’s a lightweight when it comes to drinking – that’s a fact – and he wouldn’t have been physically able to keep up” after the first hour.
Ashley said he could have had up to 10 pints of beer on the night, and possibly switched to Tom Collins cocktails at a different venue later in the evening.
“Things were said. I don’t remember what I said,” Ashley said. “It’s banter, it’s fun.”
The case is expected to run until next Wednesday.