It’s time to talk about what happened
at HMV in the lead up to me losing my job of 15 years.
I have never been the perfect employee nor have I ever claimed to be but I have never and will never assault a member of my staff or bully them. Alas I cannot say the same for some of my previous managers. Not all were bad. I have worked with so many people but im outlining some specific male senior figures to explain that there is no sexism involved in this from my side. I have so much respect for the honest workers of the place I called home for 15 years. There were some outstanding male role models. The man who gave me my first job, even though I wore double denim to the interview, John Greener, he was a good egg and a massive fan of music especially vinyl. Steve Nolan, Arsenal fan and lover of the MG. The man who told me I needed to go to London otherwise I would never progress. When I returned to my much beloved original store and see the same staff in the same roles I know he steered me right. Paul Hammond, the only man I’ve met who was more excitable about new releases than I was and has a heart of gold. Darren Rigby although not someone I worked alongside with daily he always made me smile and conversed with me in our brief encounters and always had time for me. John McCaul, such an amazing guy. A man who would help me realise that the way I was being treated was not right and that I needed to tell someone. And Martin Jezzard the man who believed me and restored my faith in a broken system.
In my early years I was propositioned by an upper management male. Suggesting if I did certain things that I would be quickly promoted to manager and so on. I laughed at the very suggestion and said I would earn my stripes through blood, sweat and tears not sleeping my way to the top. The irony wasn’t lost on me when a female comrade got promoted above me very quickly who he’d spent a lot of time with the same night. So I realised early on that it was a game and I could choose to play it the way I wanted. So I did. I earnt my stripes. I worked so many ridiculously long days back and forth into the heart of London watching my relationships break apart as I pushed up into the upper echelons by sheer bloody mindedness. I featured in the accident book a lot as part of my quest to impress meant hurtling myself across the shop floor at an alarming rate.
I had my share of unwanted sexual advances, smacked so hard on the backside that it made me cry and this was done repeatedly by a friends husband when no one was about so no witnesses, and then chased down by a different individual into an alleyway after a Christmas party because I wouldn’t kiss him and that person wouldnt take no for an answer. The best part was how none of my friends at the time helped even though they saw me run past screaming. Lucky I was a fast runner. Then at another party told I was a slut because I wore small amounts of clothing. The girl who wouldn’t sleep her way to the top of the food chain being called a slut by the very men she wouldn’t accept. So cliche. Such was my life. There were SO many amazing male friends I did have and still have. Please don’t think this to be men shaming for it isn’t. I don’t count the rancid bag of flesh who bullied me as human. A sociopath in managerial clothing. But not a real man. By the time I came to be his Assistant manager I had been bullied by my previous manager and had been weakened to the point of believing I was just crap at my job. Colleagues would say otherwise but this first guy, let’s call him Mr Spanner, would take every opportunity to mock me infront of other management and staff. Saying how stupid my hair was or how awful my clothes were and how thick I was. For those of you who didn’t know at the time this was when I dyed my hair black and the first time I gained weight. This was my attempt to hide from him. To not stand out. If I blended into the background maybe he would leave me alone. I was wrong of course and manage to destroy the relationship I was in at the time by going from a hot, slim blonde, happy go lucky girl to a black haired, fat, angry miserable cow. I recoil whenever I see photos of that time of my life. I hated how I looked and how I was.
Then the London bombings happened and I quickly realised that my misery needed to end so I applied for a job at the soon to open Stratford HMV but was instead offered Ilford. I literally didn’t care where I went I just wanted away from him and all the fellow managers that sat there and laughed along as he took the mickey out of me, every, single, day.
As the ebs and flow of life go I then met Alex Sardinha and the wonderful crew of the Ilford store and oh how different life was. Although I hadn’t reached my ultimate goal of manager (because I hadn’t slept with the right people?), I was happy to be working for a family man who loved music, his wife and his children. So nice to have that warmth. My team were amazing and people like Michelle and Scott M and Scott R made me remember the fun and laughter within life. I started to love my job again. But of course this wouldn’t last forever because that would be too easy. Alex moved on and I had the angry chef take over.
The profit in the store wasn’t big and there were no promotion opportunities and I felt my feet going to sleep. So I decided I needed to try and get out whilst things were okay and push once more to get the store manager position I coveted so much. After covering Canary wharf a couple of times I got offered a job at a new store opening near bond street tube station. Moorgate. The store that almost destroyed me.
I had to cover there for a while as there was no manager, I was hoping that they would see me do well and offer it to me. But of course that didn’t happen. After a particularly depressing pep (sans pep) talk from an ex manager I was again left feeling that maybe I was never any good and should have done as a few of my female counter parts had done and slept my way to the top. But I pressed on still determined to get through on hard work and gusto.
And then HE arrived. The nightmare. And for 4 years beat me down with a very concentrated type of bullying. He started off small, separating me out so I had lunch on my own, away from the team, making me cash up so he would be one on one in his office with me. Making sure no one was around when he spoke to me so I wouldn’t have witnesses. Every day walking to work I had music playing. Drowning out the city and surrounding me in mentally soothing sounds. Every day my usual bounce in my stride became slower, less bounce, then no bounce until finally I would cry as I walked down the last part of the path. Praying and hoping that something would change, that today would be the day he would stop. The Regional manager at the time didn’t acknowledge me so I had no confidence to bring it to him. Oh no sorry he did acknowledge me once to bring him a cup of coffee. Then laughed along with my manager about women in kitchens.
My family loved and supported me and I had a boyfriend that loved and supported me but I felt so alone, isolated. I fully believed that I had done something to warrant this abuse. I assumed I was just that annoying or rubbish that I deserved it and when I wasn’t thinking that I thought at least he isn’t hurting anyone else. I kept diaries from the moment he started torturing me. I needed an outlet for this. Little did I know I would use it later down the line as evidence.
3 things happened that made me decide enough was enough. The order of these things is somewhat sketchy because I was traumatized by it so my memory fails me.
3. I saw him assault another colleague. And I went for him. He laughed it off pretending it was horseplay but it wasn’t. I tried to beg the colleague to report him for what had happened as I knew he would be sacked but the colleague refused and I respected his wishes. At the time this colleague didn’t know I also had my own personal reasons for wanting to have him reported. For years he had been torturing me behind the scenes and this was one of the only incidents where there were witnesses. I knew he would burn for it but I couldn’t force someone to do anything. If I did then I would be just like that piece of shit.
2. Martin J took over as Regional manager and immediately sensed something wasn’t right. My friend John said to me that Martin knew things were off and that I should talk to him. It was this conversation with John and the following conversation with Martin that saved my life. I say that with all the gravitas it’s meant with.
1. I decided to walk in front of a bus.
That walk to work from the station one day was just too much. I got to the crossing, tears flowing non stop out of my eyes and I thought IF I could get both my legs broken I would be off work but get paid sick pay. So I wouldn’t have to see him but I wouldn’t lose my job. It was in a later discussion with HR that I realised I was actively thinking about killing myself but pretending to myself that I wasn’t. I didn’t want to leave my family or partner but I couldn’t deal with another day of it. And as I went to step out there was a large car horn that shook me from my trance. In that moment I decided that I was gonna take him out of the equation instead of myself. I loved my job and had worked so hard. I loved people where he didn’t and so I deserved to work not him. I would collate together all the evidence I could and turn his world on its head.
One of the things about having a sociopath and narcissist for a boss is they think they will never get caught.
So whilst he continued his campaign of making my life a living hell I collected my evidence together and tried to remember witnesses where I could. I knew I couldn’t use my colleagues assault so this would all be off my own back.
I called my regional to arrange a meeting to discuss things. He had no idea what was going on and I had to remain vague as I was still unsure who I could trust.
There was one hiccup in the road. Because my regional didn’t know what was happening he accidentally asked my boss if he knew why I wanted to see him direct. I was blissfully unaware as the days counted down to my meeting that I was about to have the wind taken out of me. Unloading delivery one morning and the boss comes in all smiles and lightness. I think my goodness that’s new. whilst smiling he comes up behind, breathing down my neck and whispers in my ear “I know who you’ve been speaking to, nothing gets by me, he tells me everything” and then he walks off and I stood there shaking. He knows; he knows shit. What do I do. But then I realised that he doesn’t know WHAT I’m going to discuss because I didn’t even tell my regional that. One card left.
As the time ticks closer to the meeting my boss calls me into the office repeatedly trying to get me to confess what I’m going to say. He backs me into a corner and makes sure i can see he’s blocking the door telling me “you aren’t leaving till you tell me” then he sees that tactic isn’t working and tries “we are friends right?” I try to hide how much I’m shaking, so scared he is gonna hit me or hold me down as I can see he knows I’m up to something. I finally charge the door and tell him I’ll ring the police and say he’s holding me against my will. He laughs and says the familiar line “no one will believe you over me” and as I walked out I said “someone will, one day”.
When I left that office it was as if I could finally breath again.
With a pocketful of kryptonite and a head full of hope I grabbed my things and practically ran to my meeting. My mum came too and patiently browsed the whole of the Oxford street store whilst she waited. Again my mother knowing me better than I know myself and even though I told her i didn’t need support she came along.
I handed Martin some of my many documents about everything from a couple of years to start with and it felt as though I had given him a live hand grenade that i had been waiting to go off. He immediately realised the severity of the situation and told me to report to him Monday as he didn’t want me going back to the store whilst an investigation took place.
It was awful not being able to make sure my work colleagues were okay. I panicked that in my absence he would pick on someone else or threaten someone to lie about what they had seen. I was in the dark in a completely different way this time. The only person I saw was the guy who was assaulted. He randomly appeared one day when I was at the leadenhall store which I had been given temporary management over whilst the investigation went on. I asked if he was okay. He said the boss had been telling people I had been sacked for messing with him or for being rubbish at my job etc. I wasn’t around to say otherwise of course so I knew that might make others worry about their own statements. He asked me that if he told the truth about what happened to him, would the boss lose his job. I said “what do you think. If it happened to a work colleague of yours. would you think that was acceptable?” he said no and then asked “do you think he would lose his job?’ And I said well do you think he should for what he did to you ? and he said yes And I said “well there’s your answer.
For a while I was at Leadenhall and luckily was surrounded by more amazing staff who were kinda caught up in the middle of this oddness. I panicked every day that my old boss would be outside and punch me square in the face or worse. Then the day of his questioning came and my partner, now husband, came to the shop and simply waited so I felt safe until it was done ready to protect me from evil should it appear.
My regional came to tell me my old boss was no longer an employee of the company. I had slayed the Dragon and released myself from 4 years of bullying and harassment and others too.
Not long after that I was given my much coveted Store Manager role.My regional saying I would have got it sooner but was quite clearly being held back by the slayed boss.
I hadn’t spoke to the team as per agreement during the investigation but then I felt odd. I hated being away from them as I believed I had let them down. I wasn’t there to protect them from him.
Christmas was just around the corner and the wonderful John was manager of Moorgate. The team finally got the manager they deserved. Fun, hard working and not a bully. He invited me to the Christmas party and I felt lost. It was his team now. I didn’t want to step on his toes even though he was adamant I wasn’t. But would the team even want me there?. Some of them legitimately liked the old boss . They would hate me for sure. What happens if HE turned up to attack me if I showed up. So many thoughts. Eventually and with much convincing I decided to go. Mini panic attacks and looking over my shoulder all the way there.
I got to the door and held my breath for a second before entering. I could see the tables full of people. Ones I knew and then Christmas temps. I meekly walked over hoping to blend in but as I approached everyone got up and started clapping and cheering. A teary eyed work colleague coming towards me with a big hug saying “you’re my f@#$ing hero” and everyone calling me a warrior etc. I was gobsmacked. I sat down and tried to take it all in. I listened as the colleagues told me about their own individual investigations where they had to give their own statements and corroborate any parts of mine where they might have been witnesses. We then drank and ate food and I left understanding more of the impact my actions had made.
Not long after the New Year my beloved HMV collapsed and I lost my job of 15 years and was simultaneously diagnosed with cervical cancer. It was a Tuesday because I remember thinking how appropriate those Baz Luhrman lyrics were regarding lifes worries.
“The real troubles in your life are apt to be things that Never crossed your worried mind; the kind that blindside you at 4 PM on some idle Tuesday”
I was blindsided.
But I proudly got the store manager position in the end through blood, sweat and tears. Maybe more than some of you knew about (if you’ve made it this far and are still reading)
I used to have nightmares about my old boss killing me, over and over again, waking up in a pool of sweat. Once I had counselling after my cancer op and talked about it all he went from this towering murdering menace in my mind to a nothing. This is why I made a solemn vow to never bully or to allow bullying to happen with my teams. Ever. Even if the physical assault stops the damage to the mind doesn’t stop and can cause irrevocable damage.
That’s it in a nutshell haha! There’s more details but ain’t nobody got time for that !
I have met so many amazing people because of hmv and I’ll never forget the great ones but I’ll always remember the sociopaths and the narcissists and I’ll take them down, again and again.
Good will always triumph over evil.
And the moral of this story is…
Never give up the good fight ❤