£3 billion company boss from Shropshire goes undercover for new ITV series

The boss of one of the UK's biggest car dealerships grew a beard, wore a wig and pretended to be a history lecturer for the latest series of Undercover Big Boss.

Mr Forester in disguise as lecturer Tom Gough
Mr Forester in disguise as lecturer Tom Gough

Robert Forrester, who grew up near Prees and went to St John Talbot's school in Whitchurch, said he took part in the TV show and went undercover for two weeks as a way of seeing his business from a unique perspective.

ITV disguised Robert, the chief executive of Bristol Street Motors, as a history lecturer called Tom Gough who was looking for a career change, post pandemic, as part of the rebooted Undercover Big Boss series.

The 51 year-old was able to explore his business, which was founded back in 2006, in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and get to know the every day people working for his company.

Bristol Street Motors is a £3 billion business that sells a car in Britain every four minutes. When the pandemic hit, Robert was forced to close his dealerships and furlough the workforce, so he wanted to see the effects of the pandemic himself.

"During the pandemic, obviously a lot of things changed for everyone," Robert, who's family still lives in Prees, said.

Robert Forester, chief executive of Bristol Street Motors, is featured in ITV's new series of Undercover Big Boss

"Bristol Street Motors is an exceptionally well known brand and we have 149 dealerships across the brand. Car dealerships are interesting because everyone buys a car don't they, so it was a good fit for the show.

"I spend a lot of my time travelling up and down the country from Newcastle, where I live, but the pandemic put a stop to most of my activities which was unusual for me.

"At one point, we had 5,000 people on furlough and then there was the impact of all the lockdowns. Most businesses noticed an upsurge in mental health issues with families struggling. So this was a chance for me to have access to the ground floor and find out how people were doing."

Robert Forester, chief executive of Bristol Street Motors, disguised as former history lecturer Tom Goff for ITV's Undercover Big Boss

Robert said the main thing he noticed was the potential in some people that was hidden behind a lack of confidence, and this is something he wants to change.

"It was a bizarre experience but enjoyable," he said. "Business in the main was in a good place and people were fantastic. The one thing I noticed was there is a lot of people with a lot of potential lacking the confidence to be amazing.

"At the end I got all the senior managers in a room and went through and made a few changes. It was a really unique opportunity.

"When travelling around the business, I could meet people on the shop floor but it might be in groups of eight and so through doing this I got to meet some fabulous people who have so much potential that we can really invest in.

"I think overall we have got to make sure people in the business feel appreciated – it is a big issue lots of places but we need to celebrate the successes as much as taking action when something goes wrong."

To become Tom Gough, Robert donned a wig, a pair of glasses, grew a beard and looked decidedly "scruffy", according to the suit and tie wearing businessman.

"My wife liked the beard but if you watch the programme carefully I am constantly scratching it and the brown colouring kept coming out onto my fingers," he added. "One or two people could tell it was me from my voice but we managed to keep them quiet.

"People were so shocked when it was revealed. It really is not my character to spend two and a half weeks dressed up.

"It's quite difficult actually because you are trying to make a TV programme, while pretending to be someone else in a business you have spent over 15 years building."

  • Catch Robert on Undercover Big Boss on ITV1 at 9pm on Thursday.

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