Devon Life's Judi Spiers meets a very Fortunate Woman
PUBLISHED: 12:41 07 April 2010 | UPDATED: 16:56 20 February 2013
Deborah Meaden talks business with Devon Life's Judi Spiers who finds out why a South West children's charity is close to a dragon's heart
Deborah Meaden talks business with Judi Spiers who finds out why a South West childrens charity is close to a dragons heart
Deborah Meaden laughs a lot, and I dont mean in a nervous, embarrassed sort of way. I mean in a real gutsy, throw-your-head-back sort of way, which is reassuring when youve only ever seen her breathing fire in the Dragons Den. Its also lucky for Harry Enfield who, together with Paul Whitehouse, did a very funny take-off of her and her fellow dragons.
I was very flattered that they even knew who I was, she told me. I actually met him at a ballet and I went over, dead straight face, and said you and I have got something to talk about! He was absolutely mortified. We actually got on really well, and I said I was flattered.
She also wasnt averse to appearing with Peter Jones and Duncan Bannantyne in an episode of Hustle recently in which all three dragons were pictured in the unlikely scenario of fighting to give money away.
Deborahs ability to laugh though doesnt mean that she is in any way a pussycat. It was made very clear to me at the beginning of our meeting that she is a pretty private person and doesnt talk about her personal life, despite the fact that theres a fair bit documented on her own website: Born in February 1959, the successful UK businesswoman lives in Somerset with husband, Paul, Friday, the cat, two dogs, five horses, 11 chickens and four ducks.
Oh yes, and she apparently likes gherkins! Behind the laughter there is a very focused lady. But then what would you expect from someone who at 19 joined the family business, Exeter-based Weststar holidays, and turned it into a multi-million-pound business before selling her remaining stake in 2007?
Deborah hasnt forgotten her roots and readily acknowledges what the Westcountry means to her.
Im not a touchy-feely person. I dont burn incense. But I do see the South West as my home. Its not only that the South West changed my life, thats where my business was that really went from a small business into a big business, so I think I owe it something.
Deborahs ability to laugh doesnt mean that she is in any way a pussycat
One way of repaying what she feels she owes has been to get onboard as Chairman of the NSPCCs South West Childs Voice Appeal, which aims to raise 1.6 million to support children in the region.
I was looking for the charity and when I heard that around 30% of the calls go unanswered because we simply dont have enough councillors, I thought do you know, when I run a business I wouldnt accept 1% of calls going unanswered, and thats for profit. Were talking about childrens lives here. This is completely unacceptable.
Deborah was no more than a child herself when her entrepreneurial skills popped up, somewhere around five years of age.
I decided to sell some flowers for some pocket money and I put them at the end of a pull-in area. I realised that the cars were going the wrong way and couldnt see the flowers until it was too late, so I actually moved them over to my neighbours spot, which I thought was a very good idea. My neighbour was furious. My mother told me off, but actually I could see she was delighted really that her daughter understood location already!
There is a common misconception, Deborah told me, that she never invests. In fact she is actually the second highest investor throughout Dragons Den, having invested about 1.8 million so far. One business she invested in is the Torrington-based MixAlbum, which she describes as the business love of my life. She originally co-invested 150,000 for a 20% stake of Ian Charmings music download enterprise, a virtual DJ system, which bespoke mixes and sells dance music albums to fitness instructors online, and is now a market leader in its sector, and she is now onto her second investment with Ian.
This is a region that has been very good to me, and I want to put something back
What about the ones that got away? I wondered if she had ever kicked herself or at least muttered damn for missing out on what turned out to be a great proposition.
No, Im not a damn kind of person. I fail to recognise failure. I make my decisions, I consider and I get on with it. I never, ever look back. I dont regret. I just think Ive made my decision, right or wrong, now I live with it. Im not a worrier. Im not a fretter. I very much deal with the moment and what is coming up. I dont spend time thinking about the past.
I had an e-mail from a Radio Devon listener saying that they thought my decision to interview Deborah was unfortunate considering there was a recent local dispute in which she was involved. I pointed out that as someone who has at least 100 requests from charities a week, whose own wealth is estimated somewhere in the region of 20 million, she has no personal gain to make from being involved with the NSPCC. She hardly needs the publicity and could easily have been a figurehead on a letter as so many in her position are. But this is something she clearly feels deeply about.
We didnt have a lot of money when I was a child, but I had a very supportive and very caring family, and we talked. When I look at the Childs Voice Appeal, and I see these kids have nowhere to turn and nowhere to go, thats strange for me. I didnt have an easy upbringing, but actually it is easy when youve got people to talk to. I think I owe the children here something.
I consider my decision to interview Deborah to have been very fortunate indeed.
To find out how you can help the NSPCC"in the South West, contact firstname.lastname@example.org