|Born||Mary M. Newton
28 May 1960
Watford, Hertfordshire, England
|Education||Holy Rood Junior School Watford, St Joan of Arc Convent, Rickmansworth Hertfordshire|
|Alma mater||Watford School of Art|
|Known for||Television presenter, author|
Mary Portas (née Newton; born 28 May 1960) is an English retail consultant and broadcaster, known for her retail- and business-related television shows, and her appointment by David Cameron, the British Prime Minister, to lead a review into the future of Britain's high streets.
Early life and education
Portas was born into a large Irish family in a small end-of-terrace in Windsor Road in North Watford. She went to Holy Rood Catholic Junior School (in North Watford) and then St Joan of Arc Catholic School in Rickmansworth. Her mother died of meningitis when Portas was aged 16, and her father, a sales director of Brooke Bond, the tea manufacturer, died of a heart attack two years later forcing Portas, aged 18, to turn down a place at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in order to look after her younger brother.
Portas started her career in retail with a Saturday job in John Lewis. She then had a part-time, and later a full-time, job with Harrods where she was responsible for window displays for about three years, before joining Topshop as display manager. While in this job, she was spotted by Burton Group chairman Sir Ralph Halpern.
Her next role brought Portas her first taste of fame and public acclaim, as creative director of Harvey Nichols. Portas is credited with turning Harvey Nichols into a leading modern fashion brand. She created the groundbreaking Harvey Nichols window displays that became part of the guided tours of London — one of her most famous displays was "Autumn Intrusion" - a commission by artist Thomas Heatherwick that won a D&AD Gold award in 1997. She then persuaded the store's owners to use younger designers, and gained publicity in the BBC's Absolutely Fabulous series in the 1990s, after promising writer and star of the show Jennifer Saunders the run of the store for research in return for Saunders namechecking the business. By the age of 30, Portas was a member of the company's board.
In 1997 Mary left Harvey Nichols to launch an agency, Yellowdoor, which has made its mark in the creative advertising landscape, producing category challenging campaigns and championing brand development for clients including Clark's, Louis Vuitton, Oasis Stores, Swarovski, Dunhill, Boden, Thomas Pink, Patek Philippe and Mercedes-Benz. In January 2013 she re-launched her agency as Portas with a new offer reflecting today's retail landscape, and how consumers behave today. Portas prides itself on developing retail firsts, whether that is working with Westfield London to lease shopping mall units to luxury brands (including Prada, Gucci, Louis Vuitton and Burberry) for the very first time in the UK/Europe, establishing the first ever association between Britain’s biggest art institutions (including Tate Britain, the Hayward Gallery and the National Gallery) to create an Arts Education programme for the launch of Louis Vuitton’s Bond Street ‘Maison’, creating the Thomas Pink White Shirt Bar or conceptualising and launching ‘The Home of Alfred Dunhill’, a unique flagship store concept for the men’s luxury goods brand.
Portas is claimed to be one of the UK's foremost authorities on retail and brand communication. She regularly travels around the world advising on retail strategy and frequently lectures on the theme of brands and retail. Notably, Portas spoke alongside Neil Armstrong at the Cannes Palais Festivals in October 2007, and spoke at the Yorkshire International Business Convention with the Dalai Lama in June 2012.
Notable career milestones
Before the age of 30, Portas became a member of the board at Harvey Nichols.
In 1997, Portas left Harvey Nichols to launch her consultancy business, Yellowdoor. When asked in a Radio Times interview why she left Harvey Nichols, Portas is quoted to have said "I wanted to create my own world. I wanted freedom."
Mary's first television appearance was as a guest on Richard & Judy in 2005, where she was spotted by television producer Patricia Llewellyn who would go on to sign Portas to production company Optomen Television.
Portas began writing her weekly 'Shop!' column for the Telegraph Magazine in 2005, in which she reviews a different retailer every week.
The column is said to have inspired Mary's first television series, Mary, Queen of Shops, which aired on BBC2 on 31 May 2007.
On 19 June 2009, in a ceremony at Galashiels, Heriot-Watt University awarded Portas a Doctorate of Letters in recognition of her career and her contribution to the advancement of marketing and brand communications within the retail sector.
In December 2009, Portas opened her first permanent 'Living & Giving Shop' in support of charity Save the Children. There are now 16 shops open across London and Edinburgh. She was also named as the charity's Global Retail Ambassador.
In 2011, Portas moved from BBC to Channel 4. Her first series for the channel was Mary Portas: Secret Shopper which aired in January 2011.
In August 2011, Portas opened her own shop, called "Mary & House of Fraser" within UK department store House of Fraser's Oxford Street flagship. The store stocks her first fashion collection, called 'Mary Portas', as well as other product collaborations including a footwear collection with Clark's - "Mary & Clark's", and a hoisery collection with Charnos - "Mary & Charnos". Portas also launched a new product innovation, 'Armery', which is a hoisery-type garment for the arms. The product is designed to "banish bingo wings".
In the December 2011 issue of fashion industry journal Drapers, Portas was named as the 6th most influential person in fashion.
Portas' first book, Windows - the Art of Retail Display, was published in five languages by Thames & Hudson.
Her second book, How to Shop with Mary, Queen of Shops, was published by BBC Books in 2007 to accompany the television series. The book was co-authored by Peter Cross, Josh Sims and Melanie Rickey.
Her Third book , Mary Portas ,Shop Girl, a memoir, Published by Doubleday, part of Transworld Publishers Ltd 26 February 2015.
Since 2005, Mary has written a weekly column Shop!, for the Daily Telegraph magazine, reviewing shops across the country. She started writing the column in 2005 and it was her critiquing of shops that was the inspiration for the BBC documentary and accompanying book. Each week, Portas reviews shops based on their location, shopability, service and website - awarding retailers marks out of 10.
Portas' top-rated shops include Louis Vuitton, Reiss, John Lewis, Liberty and APC.
Between 2008 and 2010, Portas wrote a weekly column for consumer fashion magazine Grazia, offering career advice and mentoring to the magazine's readers.
Portas' programmes are shown in over 20 international territories, including on Australia's Lifestyle Channel.
- Mary, Queen of Shops (2007–2010) was Portas' first series. The format follows Mary helping struggling independent shops by offering retail and business advice. As part of the process, retailers also received a full shop-fit redesign overseen by Portas.
- Series 1 (4 episodes): 31 May to 21 June 2007 – this series saw Portas visit 4 failing independent fashion boutiques aiming to revitalize their businesses. The BBC published a tie-in book entitled How to Shop with Mary, Queen of Shops.
- Series 2 (6 episodes): 9 June to 14 July 2008
- Series 3 (6 episodes): 7 June to 12 July 2009 – this series saw Mary broaden her focus from fashion boutiques to saving key shops on the high street. Retailers included a local shop, a greengrocer, a baker, an interiors shop, a hairdresser's and a hardware shop. Notably, the first episode in the series featured a Wimbledon based bakery whose owner refused to accept any of Mary's recommendations. The series earned Portas a nomination for the British Academy Television Awards's Best Feature award, which was eventually won by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's series Hugh's Fish Fight.
- Mary, Queen of Charity Shops (5 to 19 November 2009) saw Portas apply the business makeover format to the Orpington branch of Save the Children's network of charity shops. By the end of the series Mary had successfully turned this worst-performing store into the best.
- Mary Portas: Secret Shopper (19 January to 9 February 2011; 4 episodes) was Portas' first series following her move to Channel 4, and saw her using different disguises and secret filming to reveal bad customer service in British shops.
- Mary, Queen of Frocks (4 to 18 October 2011; 3 episodes) was a departure from the produced shows that Mary had presented previously, and instead was an observational documentary that followed Mary as she tried to launch her own shop aimed at 40+ women with UK retailer House of Fraser.
- Mary's Bottom Line (15 to 29 March 2012; 3 episodes) shows Portas try to revitalize the UK's manufacturing industry by re-opening an underwear factory in Manchester, with a revisit aired on 27 December 2012.
- Mary, Queen of the High Street (7 to 21 May 2013; 3 episodes) is a series on Channel 4 following Portas as she helps to rejuvenate Britain's struggling shops.
- Mary Portas: Secret Shopper (24 February to 17 March 2015; 4 episodes) a second series on Channel 4 revealing bad customer service in British shops and attempting to help them change.
Other television appearances
Mary hosted an episode of The Money Programme called Mary Portas: Save Our Shops in June 2009.
She appeared in the Panorama documentary "On the Rack" which exposed unethical production practices by fast fashion retailer Primark; and has appeared as a panellist on The Apprentice: You're Fired! four times.
In March 2011, Portas regularly appeared in the Channel 4 series Lily Allen: From Riches to Rags, in which she advised the pop star on her venture into fashion retail.
Mary's Living and Giving Shops
Following the BBC Two series Mary, Queen of Charity Shops in June 2009, Mary was appointed as Global Retail Ambassador for Save the Children. She developed the "Living & Giving" concept as a new type of charity shop that puts the local community at its heart - "not just a shop, but a place to inspire, share, create, meet and discover". The first Living & Giving shop Portas opened was a three-week-long pop up at Westfield London, earning the charity over £190,000. Portas has gone on to open seven permanent Living & Giving shops, in Edinburgh, Westbourne Grove, Primrose Hill, Parson's Green, Barnes, New Kings Road and Chiswick.
In August 2011, she opened her first retail shop as a concession in House of Fraser's Oxford Street branch. The shop, named Mary & House of Fraser, sells clothing and lifestyle products aimed at the 40+ female market, and was filmed for a Channel 4 documentary Mary Queen of Frocks that aired in October 2011.
||This article contains embedded lists that may be poorly defined, unverified or indiscriminate. (December 2011)|
In May 2011, she was appointed by the Prime Minister David Cameron and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to lead an independent review into the future of the high street. She published her report "The Portas Review" on 13 December 2011. Portas states the aim of her review to "put the heart back into the centre of our High Streets, re-imagined as destinations for socialising, culture, health, wellbeing, creativity and learning". The review goes on to detail 28 specific recommendations -
- Put in place a "Town Team": a visionary, strategic and strong operational management team for high streets
- Empower successful business improvement districts to take on more responsibilities and powers and become "Super-BIDs"
- Legislate to allow landlords to become high street investors by contributing to their Business Improvement District
- Establish a new "National Market Day" where budding shopkeepers can try their hand at operating a low-cost retail business
- Make it easier for people to become market traders by removing unnecessary regulations so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason why not
- Government should consider whether business rates can better support small businesses and independent retailers
- Local authorities should use their new discretionary powers to give business rate concessions to new local businesses
- Make business rates work for business by reviewing the use of the RPI with a view to changing the calculation to CPI
- Local areas should implement free controlled parking schemes that work for their town centres and we should have a new parking league table
- Town Teams should focus on making high streets accessible, attractive and safe
- Government should include high street deregulation as part of their ongoing work on freeing up red tape
- Address the restrictive aspects of the ‘Use Class’ system to make it easier to change the uses of key properties on the high street
- Put betting shops into a separate ‘Use Class’ of their own
- Make explicit a presumption in favour of town centre development in the wording of the National Planning Policy Framework
- Introduce Secretary of State "exceptional sign off " for all new out-of-town developments and require all large new developments to have an "affordable shops" quota
- Large retailers should support and mentor local businesses and independent retailers
- Retailers should report on their support of local high streets in their annual report
- Encourage a contract of care between landlords and their commercial tenants by promoting the leasing code and supporting the use of lease structures other than upward only rent reviews, especially for small businesses
- Explore further disincentives to prevent landlords from leaving units vacant
- Banks who own empty property on the high street should either administer these assets well or be required to sell them
- Local authorities should make more proactive use of Compulsory Purchase Order powers to encourage the redevelopment of key high street retail space
- Empower local authorities to step in when landlords are negligent with new "Empty Shop Management Orders"
- Introduce a public register of high street landlords
- Run a high profile campaign to get people involved in Neighbourhood Plans
- Promote the inclusion of the High Street in Neighbourhood Plans
- Developers should make a financial contribution to ensure that the local community has a strong voice in the planning system
- Support imaginative community use of empty properties through Community Right to Buy, Meanwhile Use and a new "Community Right to Try"
- Run a number of High Street Pilots to test proof of concept
On 13 December, the Prime Minister David Cameron issued a statement thanking Portas for her review and explaining that the Government would respond to her recommendations in spring 2012. Cameron said "I am delighted that Mary Portas has produced such a clear vision of how we can create vibrant and diverse town centres and breathe life back into our high streets."
Portas Pilot towns
On 4 February 2012, the minister for local government, Grant Shapps, announced that towns across England could bid to become Portas Pilot Areas. A total of twelve towns were to receive a share of £1m, as well as the support of the Minister, Whitehall and Mary Portas. In May 2012, the twelve towns to be helped were announced as: Bedford, Croydon, Dartford, Bedminster (Greater Bristol), Liskeard, Margate, Market Rasen, Nelson, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea, Stockport, Stockton-on-Tees and Wolverhampton.
In July 2012, fifteen more towns were announced as: Ashford, Berwick, Braintree, Brighton (London Road), Hatfield, Royal Leamington Spa (Old town), Liverpool (Lodge Lane), Waterloo, Forest Hill, Tower Hamlets (Chrisp Street, Watney Market and Roman Road), Loughborough, Lowestoft, Morecambe, Rotherham and Tiverton.
Portas was married to chemical engineer and Unilever executive Graham Portas for 14 years and together they had a son, Mylo, and a daughter, Verity. Portas now lives with her civil partner, Melanie Rickey, in Primrose Hill with her children and their son, Horatio, after an amicable divorce from her husband. Horatio was born through IVF, with sperms by Portas' brother, Lawrence Newton, and ovam by Rickey.
At one minute past midnight on the 10th December 2014 Mary and her partner Melanie became one of the first couples in the UK to convert their civil partnership to a marriage, following a parliamentary change to the Marriage Act.
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- Portas' website
- Shop!, The Telegraph's Saturday magazine
- Channel 4 website
- Portas' Twitter
- The Portas Agency - Portas' retail consultancy
- Mary Portas at the Internet Movie Database