Saturday, 14 September 2013

'My ex-wife is crazy. I’m one of Britain’s most eligible men and she dumped me for a few quid': Dragons' Den's Duncan Bannatyne on the woman who branded him a selfish bully

 Duncan Bannatyne is pictured with his ex-wife Joanne in 2009 before their divorce left him questioning his taste in women
Well , this is fun. The ‘most eligible bachelor in London’ — his words, not mine — is holding forth on exactly what sort of wife he would like next. 
Although the Dragons’ Den star seems more preoccupied with making clear the sort of woman who should NOT pitch for the role of future Mrs Duncan Bannatyne.
For Duncan Bannatyne absolutely does not want — take a deep breath because this is a long list — gold-diggers; women who say one thing and mean another; women who hide the credit card statements; women who sit him in front of the telly with a glass of wine then accuse him of not talking to them; women who profess to be carers and
nurturers then suddenly turn and say ‘F*** YOU’ (his words again); women who think that just because you put them on the company books as directors they are somehow involved in your business; women who … well, this could go on all day, but you get the picture.
And, two years on from his split from ex-wife Joanne, it would seem clear who the 64-year-old is referring to, though, of course, we cannot possibly know whether the list of grumbles is actually true. 
Less predictably, perhaps, Duncan would also like to make it clear that he’s not interested in the young women who cosy up to him in bars because they know him off Dragons’ Den. Seriously? Aren’t leggy young lovelies one of the perks of the job of being a well-known, suddenly single millionaire-off-the-telly? (Just ask MasterChef presenter Gregg Wallace . . .)
‘Absolutely not,’ he says. ‘It’s gross, that older man/younger women thing, isn’t it? And my children would kill me.’
So what sort of woman does he think would make a good Mrs Bannatyne? 

The ranting and raging out of his system, the Clydebank-born entrepreneur seems to visibly soften. Indeed, he can be quite endearingly funny, when he isn’t fuming. He reaches for a mint humbug (we are in a posh hotel; he is delighted to find they are free), and sucks furiously while he thinks.
‘I think possibly a woman in her 40s, maybe with a few children. Money isn’t really an issue — I mean, I’d insist on a pre-nup next time, definitely — but if she had her own business it would be good. And a swimming pool would be nice.’
His PR, who has accompanied him today, says: ‘He’s joking! Make it clear that he’s joking!’

Alas, I’m not sure Duncan Bannatyne will be as eligible as he thinks he is when all the single businesswomen-with-swimming-pools of the parish have read his latest autobiography. 
His last book was supposed to have been the definitive one. It ended with him pretty much at the top of the tree — riding high in the Rich List, with a glorious new TV career, a happy marriage, a perfect life (complete with villa in the South of France, with a you-know-what in the back garden). 
This one, which will be serialised in the Daily Mail next week, is a rather more sombre, often shocking read, detailing his slide, both business and personal, into the abyss. 
In it, he explains how he managed to ‘lose’ £345 million, his much-prized place on The Rich List AND his happy marriage, all seemingly overnight. While these two events may seem unconnected, in Bannatyne’s mind they are inextricably linked.
Bannatyne accuses his ex-wife Joanne of asking for a divorce via text message following the break down of their marriage
Bannatyne accuses his ex-wife Joanne of asking for a divorce via text message following the break down of their marriage
Bannatyne accuses his ex-wife Joanne of asking for a divorce via text message following the break down of their marriage

His theory is that Joanne — with who he has two children, Emily, 14, and Tom, 11 — saw that his business was in trouble due to the recession, and put the boot in. She filed for divorce, without as much as a hint that she was unhappy, and brought him to his knees. Joanne, no doubt, sees things differently.
Their fight went to court, over and over again. Under the terms of the agreement he can’t divulge what the settlement was, but he says he paid out ‘millions’ in legal fees.

‘The whole process took 20 months and that was basically 20 months of watching my bank account being depleted by one lawyer’s invoice after another,’ he says. 
He famously called Joanne, who he met in 1992, a gold-digger on Twitter.
‘Basically, she was worth more divorced than with me,’ he says. ‘If we hadn’t been married, I maintain we’d still be together.’ Again, Joanne will have a different point of view.
He arrives for our interview with a spring in his step, looking dapper but bleeding from the head. What drama this time?  
‘I don’t know,’ he says, puzzled. ‘I must have banged it somewhere.’
He had piled on weight during his annus horribilis (helped along by a three-bottle-a-night wine habit), but has been back in the gym, and can fit into his old suits again. He still doesn’t look as young as the picture on the front of his new book, though. 
‘Oh, that’s probably been Photoshopped,’ he says. Say what you like about him, you would be hard pushed to find anyone else in showbiz who tells it like it is to quite the same extent. 
Before we talk marriage, we try to talk money (although in truth he hurtles between the two). Is he, as reported, in financial difficulties? Yes and no. His business is apparently sound.
'My kids would kill me': Bannatyne says his children (pictured here with ex-wife Joanne) wouldn't be thrilled for him to find a much younger girlfriend
'My kids would kill me': Bannatyne says his children (pictured here with ex-wife Joanne) wouldn't be thrilled for him to find a much younger girlfriend

‘I still employ the same number of people, roughly, and make the same profits,’ he says.
But times are tough, not least because of a complicated loan arrangement that has effectively frozen his assets. To summarise, just before the recession hit he borrowed £180 million from the Anglo Irish Bank to buy a load of health clubs. This is apparently quite a normal thing to do when you are in business at his level. 
Unfortunately, the bank went under, and he is now left with a situation where he has to keep paying off the loan but isn’t able to fund further expansion of his business ‘because every penny I make goes to them’. 
It seems to me to be a perfect example of why you should think twice about borrowing £180 million from anyone, but then I am not a millionaire business guru. The upshot is that he cannot pay himself too much from his company — leading to him being, on a personal level, pretty broke (or as broke as anyone who still has a speedboat can be).

‘I am overdrawn on my personal account and, yep, I am counting the pennies. I cooked for the kids the other night and I did a braised beef thing from that new Jamie Oliver book on how to cook on a budget.
‘It’s been a complete change. I used to spend £50,000 or £60,000 a year on holidays, always flying business. Now, I go standard.’ 
He reckons that he now spends no more than £2,000 a month. So not much budget for splashing out on things like cars these days? 
‘Ha. It’s a long time since I could do that.’
I ask (joke!) if he can’t pitch to his fellow Dragons for help and, blow me, he says in all seriousness that he has already done that.
‘I mean not pitch, exactly, but we have sat round and discussed it and they’ve tried to come up with ways of making it work. But it’s impossible. Refinancing just isn’t an option because my loan [interest] rate [from the bank] is so low.’
On a personal level, his fellow Dragons have already saved him. In his book, he recounts how he was chatting to entrepreneur Peter Jones during a break in filming of the BBC series when a text message from his wife pinged into his inbox. In it, she announced that she wanted to divorce. 

‘After 18 years, she didn’t even have the decency to tell me face to face. The children were at home. How could she?’
He says he went to pieces. Peter Jones offered him a bed that night, and went on to be ‘the biggest support’, helping him with legal representation and advice. 

In the weeks following, his colleagues on Dragons’ Den watched in horror as he ‘lost the plot’.
'We had a good marriage': Bannatyne insists though the pair were happy and that Joanne McGue loved him before their split
Following his divorce from Joanne McGue (left) in 2009 the businessman is keen to move on and was recently linked to 24-year-old TV designer, Julia Kendell (right)
Following his divorce from Joanne McGue (left) in 2009 the businessman is keen to move on and was recently linked to 24-year-old TV designer, Julia Kendell (right)

‘With hindsight, I shouldn’t really have been there. I was all over the place. I’d go to say something and realise that I didn’t have a clue who was pitching what. Or I’d just get up and walk off. How on earth they edited that series I will never know.’
He and Joanne only ever communicated via lawyers. At his lowest point, he seriously contemplated suicide, and remembers standing on a railway station platform debating the best time to launch himself off. 
‘I’ve been on a train before when someone threw themselves in front of it. I remember actually hearing the crunch of bones. We were held up for three hours and I remember not understanding what could lead someone to do something so terrible. But when it happened to me, I did understand it. I was there.’
What stopped him from stepping off the platform?
‘I have no idea. I just didn’t.’
Quite why the marriage collapsed is still a mystery — mostly to him, it seems. Joanne gave an interview a few weeks ago in which she claimed he was a largely absent father, preoccupied with work and his own fame. She depicted him as stubborn, selfish and self-important.
He absolutely does not recognise that description of himself. ‘It just isn’t true. I was at home more than many fathers I know. 
‘When we started Dragons’ Den, Peter Jones and I made a stand about filming in the school holidays and said we would not do it. 
‘She presented it as me charging off. Well, she could have come with me. She says I’d sit and watch TV and not talk. She would sit me in front of the TV and hand me a glass of wine.’
She also depicted him as a bully who had to win at all costs — even when it came to playing games with his own children.
He laughs. ‘Yes, hands up. I play Monopoly to win and I want my kids to play to win. What does it teach them if I let them win? But you don’t end a marriage because someone likes to win at Monopoly.’
At his darkest time the businessman from Clydebank in Glasgow even contemplated killing himself
At his darkest time the businessman from Clydebank in Glasgow even contemplated killing himself
There’s no laughing, though, when I ask what Joanne — a former nurse — meant when she said she had spent their whole marriage nursing the emotionally fragile Duncan. At one point she referred to herself as his ‘medication’.
His reaction is startling. 

‘So she was nursing me? What sort of a nurse cares for someone for 18 years, then turns round and goes F*** YOU?’ He gives the ‘v’ sign. 
‘Do you do that to a  . . . a patient you care about?’

Doesn’t it make him a little sad to think she was that unhappy? ‘If she wasn’t happy, then she was the best actress in the world. I loved her. She loved me. We had a good marriage.’
It’s hard not to feel sorry for him. He describes weeping all over his (female) lawyer, and I don’t doubt his anguish for a minute. But he often lashes out without thinking and seems quite capable of rewriting history. At one point he gets uppity about Joanne thinking she was part of his healthclub business.
But as a named director of the company she was, surely?
‘Oh well, yes, I put her on the books. But she wouldn’t have been a director if she hadn’t been married to me.
‘I’m not saying she wasn’t entitled to half — obviously she was, but it’s how she did it. She could have brought the whole business down. Because of her the children from my first marriage have suffered. To hurt my children like that is wrong.’
He has four daughters — Abigail, now 29, Hollie, 27, Jennifer, 21, and Eve, 19 — with his first wife, Gail, who he separated from in 1994. 
Indeed, the salt in the wound of his recent split, he says, is that his split with Gail is proof that he knows how to divorce amicably.
The Scottish tycoon found fame on Dragons' Den after making his fortune in care homes for the elderly and fitness clubs
The Scottish tycoon (left) found fame on Dragons' Den after making his fortune in care homes for the elderly and fitness clubs
‘[Gail and I] sat around the kitchen table and we said that, however hurt and angry everyone was — and we were — this was not going to affect the children. We never did that thing of sitting outside the house and tooting the horn when we were collecting the kids.’
And that happens now? ‘[Joanne] doesn’t even come. She sends her PA.’
When I make a vague comment about nobody winning in these acrimonious divorces, his response shows that when it comes to emotional intelligence, he is somewhat lacking.
‘Look, the poor girl has given up one of the best eligible bachelors in London for a few quid, you know.  She  . . . I think she’s crazy. She’s ruined her life.’
It turns out this old Dragon can also be a bit of an old dinosaur. At one point he is talking about how difficult it was to get a female Dragon on board (‘no one wanted to do it’) and he says businesswoman Deborah Meaden was a brilliant find, because she’s ‘one of the boys’. 
Or, rather, she is now. ‘At the start, if there was any sort of innuendo between me, Theo [Paphitis] and Peter, she would walk off.’
Surely the male Dragons weren’t subjecting Deborah to sexist banter? 
‘Not sexist, no. But you know what guys are like. You see someone and say “She’s got nice t**s”. Now, Deborah won’t walk off. She’ll say “Yeah, very nice” and then turn the subject to whatever she wants to talk about. She’s worked out that she can’t change us because we are men and that’s that. And she has a laugh with us.’
Oh dear. Sometimes he really can be too candid. With Duncan, what you see is mostly what you get. 
He loves being on Twitter (it was the third element in his marriage, apparently) and makes no secret of the fact he goes on it so much to sell his products, even if his main product sometimes seems to be Duncan Bannatyne. 
‘I can link my book sales on Amazon to it and watch them rise,’ he claims. He says that if the absolute worst did happen and his business folded (‘although it won’t because we are past the worst’), he could — and would — simply start all over again. 
What of his personal life, though? He admits that taking him on ‘would be quite a big thing for anyone. It wouldn’t be easy for anyone to put up with my life.’
Yet what are these rumours about him already having a new girlfriend? Last week he was pictured with TV presenter Julia Kendell at a charity function, sparking headlines that he had ‘found love again’. 
Is this true? First, he scoffs and says they are just good friends, then confesses they only met three weeks ago and have only been out together twice. On the second occasion, ‘we were holding hands.
But we are not in a relationship’. Would he like it to become a relationship? ‘I might,’ he says, coyly. He doesn’t seem to have asked, yet, if she has a swimming pool, but whether she has or not, I’d put money on him plunging right in.

1 comment:

  1. Has a guy ever given you mixed signals?

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    Thanks again.


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