She is no stranger to the spotlight. A book deal, regular television appearances and a prolific presence on Instagram, all part of a carefully crafted public image that helped Michelle Mone secure a peerage in 2015.
Yet, Baroness Mone – or “Lady M” as she often refers to herself – has been keeping a low profile in recent weeks.
A series of damaging allegations have thrust the lingerie entrepreneur and Conservative peer into the centre of an alleged scandal that is engulfing the House of Lords.
She is accused of attempting to “bully and hector” ministers into awarding public PPE contracts worth more than £200m to a company called PPE Medpro during the pandemic and of profiting from the deal – a claim she strongly denies.
Having now taken a leave of absence from the House of Lords, Lady Mone says she wants to clear her name but she has been noticeably quiet so far.
On the Isle of Man, at the 154 acre-estate she shares with her husband Douglas Barrowman, preparations are under way for the festive period.
Christmas trees, wreaths and decorations adorn the home, but staff – who have been told not to speak to journalists – insist they have no idea where the couple are.
It’s a peaceful corner of the island and the gated property may offer Mone some refuge from the growing scandal – but the issue is not going away any time soon.
The House of Lords is looking into whether Mone broke any rules and the National Crime Agency has launched a fraud investigation into PPE Medpro, whose gowns were unusable because they failed NHS checks.
A number of official reports will follow but Lady Mone’s representatives have described it as a “witch hunt”.
At the centre of the storm is Michelle and her husband Douglas. According to files compiled by HSBC, which were first obtained by The Guardian, accounts linked to Barrowman, and later Mone, received millions of pounds in transfers from PPE Medpro.
Another leaked document lists PPE Medpro as an “entity” of Barrowman’s family office, the Knox family office on the Isle of Man.
It was prepared by Anthony Page, a finance director at one of its trusts and the registered owner of PPE Medpro.
At his home in the centre of the Isle, Mr Page was keeping a low profile.
He refused to speak when Sky News approached him for an interview.
Neighbours described him as “a very pleasant family man” and said they were surprised by the news of his involvement in the scandal.
Situation needs ‘proper investigation’
Residents told us that news usually travels fast on the Isle of Man, but there was a sense of resignation about the latest revelations. A feeling that this is just another Westminster scandal.
Frank Schuengel, a councillor for Douglas South Ward, said: “It’s a big topic in the UK, probably more there (than here) because we don’t have a House of Lords. It’s not applicable, we have our own government.
“It’s not the kind of politics that I would personally do but I’m sure there will be processes and investigations.
“It’s a shame whenever someone doesn’t act in a way that you would wish all politicians to act.
“But I think it’s being investigated and if something is not right, one would hope that any investigation would uncover that.”
Some wanted to avoid jumping to conclusions before investigations are completed, but others had already made up their minds.
On Strand Street, the main shopping high street in Douglas, one local resident said: “It is disappointing. I think that anybody that does that kind of thing just isn’t really a moral person. So, it’s a bad example. Hopefully more will come to light.”
Another added: “I just think it’s awful. There were a lot of irregularities surrounding all the PPE supplies during the pandemic. As far as Michelle Mone is concerned… and the situation around it, I think needs proper investigation.”
‘Corruption at the highest levels’
Mone’s lawyers claim she only made the “simple, solitary and brief step,” of referring the company to the government.
They insist she and her husband, Douglas, had no involvement in PPE Medpro, nor did they play any role in the process through which it was awarded its government contract.
That was before a series of damaging emails appeared to show her pressuring ministers to award PPE Medpro government contracts.
At the height of the pandemic, she wrote to former health secretary Matt Hancock, allegedly saying: “I am going to blow this all wide open.
“I smell a rat here. It’s more than the usual red tape, incompetence and bureaucracy. That’s expected! I believe there is corruption here at the highest levels and a cover up is taking place… Don’t say I didn’t warn you when Panorama or Horizon run an exposé documentary on all this.
“I say a level playing field for all.”
PPE Medpro was later awarded two contracts worth more than £200m without tender. The entire process is now coming under intense scrutiny.
Lady Mone foresaw this – but she probably didn’t expect to be at the centre of it all.