The Tragedy of John Browne

Posted by Censor Librorum on May 3, 2007 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

John Browne resigned on Monday as head of BP, one of the largest oil companies in the world and one of England’s most celebrated business leaders. Through his management skills and vision, he transformed British Petroleum from a sleepy company into a global giant. Through one small lie, offered out of embarrassment and homophobia, the whole thing unraveled in the newspapers.

Since January, 59-year-old Lord Browne has been battling to prevent a London tabloid, The Daily Mail, from printing the story of his relationship with a man. He resigned after Britain’s highest legal body triggered the release of documents detailing his relationship with a former lover from Canada. “For the last 41 years of my career at BP I have kept my private life separate from my business life,” Mr. Browne said. “I have always regarded my sexuality as a personal matter, to be kept private. It is a matter of personal disappointment that a newspaper group has now decided that allegations about my personal life should be made public,” he said.

Mr. Chevalier, 27, told the paper about Lord Browne’s dinner parties, including one with British Prime Minister Tony Blair in which Mr. Blair talked about life after politics. Mr. Chevalier claimed BP staff had helped him set up his own mobile phone ring tone business, which ultimately failed.

The disputed documents detail Browne’s life with Jeff Chevalier, including their relationship that began on the website of an escort agency. Lord Browne initially lied to the court about how he met Mr. Chevalier. He said he met him when they were exercising in Battersea Park. In fact, they met on a website called “Suited & Booted,” which touts itself as London’s premier male escort agency.

In his resignation statement, Mr. Browne said: “Legal documents have been disclosed today containing allegations about me and my personal life. I wish to acknowledge that I did formerly have a four-year relationship with Jeff Chevalier.” He denied any improper conduct relating to BP, but he acknowledged that he had made a false statement to the court during hearings in January. “My initial witness statements.. contained an untruthful account about how I first met Jeff,” Mr. Browne said. “This account, prompted by my embarrassment and shock at the revelations, is a matter of deep regret. It was retracted and corrected. I have apologized unreservedly, and do so again today.”

The dapper Mr. Browne lived for many years with his mother, a Holocaust survivor, who also accompanied him to BP social and business events before she died in 2000. His relationship with Jeff Chevalier began in 2002. It ended in 2006. On Christmas Eve, Mr. Brown received an email from Jeff Chevalier: “I do not want to embarrass you in any way but I am becoming concerned about your lack of a response to my myriad attempts at communication.” The court papers note Mr. Chevalier denied this was a thinly veiled threat.

The break-up with Browne left him depressed, facing “hunger and hopelessness” in Toronto, Mr. Chevalier said. Two days before Christmas, he sent Mr. Browne an email asking for money.

Days later, Mr. Chevalier got in touch with a friend who worked at The Daily Mail. The editor, Peter Wright, agreed to pay for the story, deciding the homosexual relationship was an important background fact that should be included. He reasoned it wouldn’t breach Lord Browne’s privacy, because the relationship was known to business cognoscenti in the U.K. Mr. Wright said the paper paid a “modest” amount for the story.

Bitter ex-lovers and homophobia are a bad mix.

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