The Dragon’s Den grump reveals how he amassed £200m – and where he went wrong…

“If you want something, go and get it.

I wanted a bike, but my mother said we were too poor. So I knocked on people’s doors and offered to deliver them a paper. I kept going until I got the 100 names needed to create a round.”

“Don’t suffer fools.

I spent my 20th birthday in Colchester Detention Barracks, for hanging my Commanding Officer over the side of an aircraft carrier. I don’t regret it. I wasn’t learning anything. I wanted out. He was a drunken arsehole, I taught him a lesson and was set free at the same time.”

“Back your gut instinct.

After four years as an agricultural vehicle fitter I’d had enough. I was lying in a field trying to repair a combine harvester. I’d spent about six hours on the bloody thing and couldn’t get it going. It was raining, I was soaking wet and covered in oil and grease and I hated it. I threw my spanner at the engine, walked out and partied in Jersey for five years.”

“Know the right time to get out.

By 1986, I had a family – I couldn’t commit to doing 14-hour ice cream shifts any longer. Plus of course supermarkets were taking over the trade. Kids would walk past licking lollies bought for half the price I was charging. I saw the end was coming.”

“Keep abreast of public affairs.

My first nursing home was the best decision I’ve ever made. I was toying with newsagents, B&Bs and that, but the media were going on about Thatcher changing the face of elderly care, and how private landlords would make loads of money out of it. I dived straight in. If I hadn’t I wouldn’t be where I am today.”

“Opportunities are everywhere.

I buggered my knee and was travelling 25 minutes to get to a gym. While working out I worked their business out. I knew the fees and the number of members, because they told me. And I knew how much it would cost to build one because I sat and counted the tiles on the ceiling and equated it to the price of my nursing homes. I did the sums and worked out opening my own gym would make me a 35-40% return on capital.”

“I’m driven, restless and arrogant.

Arrogance isn’t a bad trait for entrepreneurs. If you really believe in yourself then you can go and do business.”

“The only thing you learn from is mistakes.

I tried to take over Ladies In Leisure. I bought £1,040,000-worth of shares over six months, but it went bankrupt. Lessons learned? Do more research. And never focus on a single sex. Straight away you reduce your market by a lot more than 50%.”

There is no perfect business plan

“I started late and have no regrets, but Richard Branson started early and I don’t think he’s got any regrets either.”

“Never, ever rest on your laurels.

I haven’t opened bars, casinos and hotels because I need the money. I’ve opened them because I always want to expand – all good companies should. If you relax in business, you’re in trouble.”

Learn what you don’t like

“I left school without O-levels and joined the Navy. The only things it taught me were that I didn’t want to be told what to do and that I was better than a skivvy.”

Make the most of a break

“I got mine with an ice cream van concession at Stewart Park in Middlesbrough. I stood in the middle of the park and thought: ‘Good God, this is fantastic.’ I bid £2,000 and won the pitch. I’ll never understand why other people didn’t bid higher. I cleared £18,000 profit that summer. Within five years I had a £250,000 business.”

Get famous

“Hilton Hotels put 24 clubs up for sale and I bought them for £98 million. Turns out the broker only knew me because of my TV persona.”

Business is bloody easy

“Nursing homes made me realise that. Seriously, anyone can do it. I used to think: ‘Why rob a bank when you can set up a nursing home?’ You wouldn’t believe the simplicity of it all.”



Duncan Bannatyne

Date of Birth

February 2, 1949 in Clydebank, Scotland


Dalmuir Primary School

11+ exams

Clydebank High School

No qualifications - left aged 15

Government training scheme




Self-created paper round, Clydebank (100 houses)


Marine Engineer and Stoker, Royal Navy


Agricultural vehicles welder and fitter, Clydebank


Various odd jobs - barman, night porter, brickie, truck driver, all on island of Jersey


Nightshift worker, Sparks Bakery, Stockton-on_Tees


Bought and sold cars and vans at auction


MD, Duncan's Super Ices, Middlesbrough


MD, Quality Care Homes PLC


MD, Bannatyne Fitness Ltd


MD, Just Learning Ltd


MD, Bannatyne Hotels Ltd


Majority Shareholder, Ladies in Leisure


MD, Bar Bannatyne, Newcastle


MD, Bannatyne Casino Ltd


Dragon, Dragon's Den, BBC Television


MD, Bannatyne Housing Ltd



North Region Entrepeneur Of The Year


Master Entrepeneur Of The Year


OBE for services to charity


Honorary Doctor of Science, Glasgow