In conversation with Deborah Meaden, the driven and determined Dragon. First published in the August 2012 edition of ELLE Decoration UK
Deborah Meaden may be a Dragon in the popular BBC2 programme’s Den, but she has little time for the assumption that her somewhat, shall we say, bullish on-screen persona is her true nature. ‘My job is to establish whether or not something is a good investment, not to win a Miss Congeniality contest,’ she’s been quoted as saying. And as she puts it to me, ‘They’re judging me on the wrong basis. Call me stupid, call me unethical, that would bother me, but the programme’s not about me.’
However, it does accurately convey the passion and gritty determination that inevitably lie behind any great business success. And she happily confesses to being extremely driven. ‘When I’m engaged, I want to win. I’m really, really competitive.’ So she does have a soft underbelly? ‘I love business. I don’t need to work, but why have I got 19 businesses? Because I love it. But without Paul, my husband, I could easily get out of balance. He reminds me what it’s all about.’
I confess to awkwardness in wanting to ask if not having children was deliberate (yes) and if her husband works (he looks after their farm). She neatly sidesteps my impertinence, enthusiastically extolling instead the virtues of her brood of pets – a dog (a Hungarian Vizsla), a cat and six horses at the time of writing. Overall, she comes across as deeply contented, grounded and very happy with her lot.
She’s also very inspiring. When quizzed on what motivates her, she’s articulate and direct. ‘Once I’ve set my mind to something, I don’t talk myself out of things. I just get on with it,’ she states, concluding with, ‘The only difference between successful people and those who aren’t is that the successful person acts on their ideas.’ And Deborah’s latest action was the purchase of Fox Brothers, a luxury woollen mill founded in 1772 near her Somerset home. Its iconic weaves have been used by Savile Row for years, but it now has a new online retail arm, The Merchant Fox, selling ‘unashamedly expensive’ British-made accessories. But she’s not complacent about its potential: ‘People need to make non-disposable, quality products for life. Fox will work forever, as long as it stays relevant. It’s about speaking to people in the right way.’
Tell me five words to describe yourself. Honest. Competitive. Loyal. Fun. Fair.
What was the last film you saw? I don’t go to the cinema very often. I usually see films on an aeroplane, but the last one I did go and see, ‘Precious‘, was really harrowing.
What scent do you wear? I change quite a lot. I’m not a mainstream perfume wearer.
What book are you reading right now? I’ve just finished a Radio 4 Good Read, ‘The Emperor’s Babe’ by Bernardine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton, £10.99). It’s written in rhyme – I loved it.
When did you last laugh? I laugh all the time. My husband and I have a good old giggle, and I have three sisters. I have laughter lines, look – I earnt them!
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be? I’m quite used to me now. But I don’t think my chin is as strong as I am.
If you could choose another nationality, what would it be? I’m really quite British. But I suppose Italian, because I think they know how to enjoy life.
What do you consider your greatest achievement? A very odd question. I don’t measure life in achievements. I think the best thing to do in life is to just get on with it. But when you’re surrounded by the media, perhaps it’s simply to remember who you are.
Are you religious? No. I’m an atheist.
What’s your favourite snack? Pickled gherkins. I could eat a jar without even thinking about it.
What do you think you’d taste like? I’d like to think I’d be a traditional dish with a twist. Lamb chops? Or cottage pie with some kind of unidentifiable ingredient in it.
If you were an animal, what would you be? I’d like to be a cat in my household, but I don’t think I’m quite feline enough. I’d probably be a horse.
If space travel were affordable, would you go? No. It would make me feel very sad. Disconnected. I think I’d panic that I couldn’t get back here.
What did you want to be as a child? A show jumper! I loved horses from when I was this high [gesticulates an inch off the floor]. It seemed quite glamorous.
What was your worst subject at school? Latin. I got thrown out of class. They didn’t explain to me why I should be doing it and why it was useful.
What’s your idea of luxury? Open air, space, being with my husband and my animals at home.
What star sign are you? Aquarius.
Do you believe in luck? The only thing I put down to luck is where I was born and the parents I was born to. I think you make your own luck.
Do you have a motto? Just do it!