I felt like fleeing UK, says Patisserie Valerie boss Luke Johnson

The former chairman of Patisserie Valerie has revealed that his ego took such a battering after the cake and cafe chain’s collapse that he considered fleeing the country and feared becoming “a pariah in the business world”.

Luke Johnson said that he developed “chronic insomnia”, was “despairing” and “rarely ventured out” after the company uncovered what it called “significant, and potentially fraudulent, accounting irregularities” in October last year.

This meant that Patisserie Valerie did not have enough money to service its debts.

The anguish also affected Johnson’s wife, Liza, and their three children, who suffered under the scrutiny. “I felt ashamed that I had brought such difficulties upon my family,” he writes in today’s Sunday Times.

However, he said his worst moment came in January when rescue talks with lenders failed and parent company Patisserie Holdings went into administration, with “significant” redundancies. Johnson had lent the business £10m to try to keep it afloat.

The 57-year-old — who was also Patisserie Valerie’s biggest shareholder — writes: “I felt it had been a double disaster. I was very depressed and I began to think my career in this country was over — that I should emigrate.”

Patisserie Valerie

The collapse engulfed his life: “For the best part of six months, I could think about nothing but the Patisserie Holdings crisis, more or less all my waking hours, reflecting back on events — on many moments when I was told untrue things by people I trusted.”

The company admitted in January that it had found “extensive” misstatement of its accounts and “very significant manipulation of the balance sheet and profit and loss accounts”.

Its finance director, Chris Marsh, had been arrested in October on suspicion of fraud and left the company.

Johnson, a serial entrepreneur whose previous investments include Pizza Express, the Strada Italian restaurant business and the cafe chain Giraffe, also described how the experience destroyed his self-confidence.

“If I was arrogant at times before, my ego has taken quite a battering since,” he writes. “A very public disaster like this shatters your self-belief.”

He said the fear and despair translated into physical illness: “I suffered a series of debilitating infections and was on antibiotics for weeks.”

Johnson said he was now ready to return to public life, as well as his Sunday Times Business column.

“My life will always be influenced by Patisserie Holdings, but does that mean I should give up my 35-year career in business?” he writes.

“I don’t think so. I still have a contribution to make . . . I do not think it is productive to bury yourself in blame for the rest of your life.”