Mary Portas: Biography highlights
Mary Portas has made an indelible mark on British retail. Starting her career as a Saturday girl at John Lewis, she soon became a window dresser at Harrods and then Topshop, roles in which she utilised her artistic ability and understanding of customers and brands.
Full biography of Mary Portas
Mary Portas’ background
Mary Portas is one of the UK’s most high-profile businesswomen. After making her name transforming Harvey Nichols into London’s sexiest fashion destination, Mary launched her own retail consultancy, ‘Portas’, which works with clients ranging from Louis Vuitton to Sainsbury’s.
She has been a regular on our TV screens, advised the government on the future of high streets and developed a fashion label. Her proudest achievement to date is the creation of twenty-six Mary’s Living & Giving shops for Save the Children. She is the author of Shop Girl, Work Like a Woman and most recently, Rebuild: How to thrive in the new Kindness Economy, which is a vital guide to how we reset post-pandemic and build back better.
Mary began working for Harvey Nichols in 1989; when she became their creative director, she turned the shop’s fortunes around.
In 2007, Mary first appeared in a TV series of her own. BBC2s Mary Queen of Shops focussed on Mary’s efforts to save flagging fashion boutiques and was immediately popular with viewers, as was Mary’s tough-love approach.
Two further series were aired and a special series, Mary Queen of Charity Shops allowed Mary to tackle the challenges facing charitable organisations in tough economic times. She has since introduced a new style of charity shop, which are called Living and Giving stores, for Save the Children and now has seven such stores in the UK.
After her success at the BBC Mary moved to Channel 4, where she has been involved in a number of successful programmes, including Mary Portas: Secret Shopper, Mary, Queen of Frocks, Mary’s Bottom Line and Mary Queen of the High Street. David Cameron commissioned an independent review of the Future of the High Street from Mary in 2011.
Her report was published the same year and made a number of recommendations for improvements, some of which are being carried out in a few towns – the designated Portas Pilots.
Mary founded the retail communication agency Yellowdoor in 1997; in 2013, the business was re-launched with a range of new services to cater for the ever changing retail industry. Now called Portas, clients include Swarovski, Puma, Clarks, Matalan and Mercedes-Benz.
Having become a household name primarily for her television appearances, Mary has also written two popular books to help advise consumers about how best to shop for their needs and one to educate retailers on the art of window dressing. Since 2005, Mary has been writing the column Shop! for the Sunday Telegraph Magazine.
Positions and honours
– Appointed by the Government to produce the Portas Review of the high streets future (2011)
– Founder – Mary & House of Fraser (2011)
– Doctorate of Letters – Herriot-Watt University (2009)
– Columnist Grazia (2008 2010)
– Columnist Sunday Telegraph Magazine (2005 present)
– Global Retail Ambassador – Save the Children Judge – Best Shops in Britain Awards, the Telegraph
– Founder Portas (formerly Yellowdoor) (1997)
– Creative director – Harvey Nichols (1989 1997)
Watch Mary in action
Praise for How to Shop with Mary Queen of Shops: '...the 21st century shopping guide you simply can't be without'