Wednesday 12 April 2017

Dragon Deborah Suggests 'Never Buy An Investment You Don't Understand - I Did And It Cost Me £500,000'

Dragon Deborah

Deborah Meaden, the multi-millionaire Dragons’ Den investor, was so poor as a child she says her mother went without food so she would have enough to eat.

Meaden also ran up a credit card debt equivalent to £20,000 in today’s money when she was a teenager, and lost £500,000 on a bad investment during the financial crisis of 2008.

She has a huge soft spot for animals, spending thousands of pounds a year on her rescued racehorses and splashing out on £30,000 life-size bronze sculptures of her pets just for fun.

She also gets a real rush from giving to charity and regularly donates her time and money to help charities such as Lendwithcare (, which helps people in developing countries start their own businesses.

Now 58, she lives on a ten-bedroom farm in Somerset with husband Paul, 53.

What did your parents teach you about money?

Not to see it as the end game. It is what you can do with your money that matters because money has no value in itself.

Both my parents were entrepreneurs and built a nice leisure business. But money was tight when I was growing up. I remember when I was small not wanting to finish my baked beans and my mother going absolutely potty. Of course, I now realise that it is because she did not have enough money to buy herself food to eat.

How much pocket money did you get as a child?

I was not given a regular sum. My parents felt I should earn my money because I would then value it. So they would pay me a shilling or two to do jobs such as washing the car, cleaning and washing up.

My first paid job was leading pony rides along Minehead seafront when I was eight. I probably got paid sixpence – not much but I loved horses and it gave me a great chance to be near them. I spent it on cinder toffee and candy floss.

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

No, but I certainly was not living the life of Riley when I left school and moved to Brighton to study business at college. I had enough to exist but I wanted more so I could go out with my mates and have a social life as well. So I worked for it. I studied during the day and took on bar jobs at night.

Have you ever been paid silly money per hour for a job?

I have done a few personal appearances and speaking events when I took the significant sum of money they were offering, knowing I could do some good with it.

The money went to charity. I have also been offered some chunky sums – hundreds of thousands of pounds – to advertise other people’s products. But I never agreed because I can only say things I feel honest about saying. I know it is a hell of a luxury to be in that position.

What was the best year of your life, in terms of the money you made?

It was 2006, when I sold Weststar Holidays for £33 million. I did not splash out, though. I am not that kind of person. I had worked my way up and was determined not to behave differently and buy yachts and Ferraris. I was not interested in that.

What is the most expensive thing you have ever bought yourself just for fun?

Life-size bronze sculptures of our cat and two Hungarian Vizsla dogs for about £30,000, by artist Tanya Brett.

What is the biggest money mistake you have ever made?

Being talked into buying something called a structured bond I did not understand before the credit crunch.

I got a flippant call in 2007 from someone sitting in an office saying they had lost me half a million pounds as if it was nothing. It taught me a lesson: if you do not understand it, do not invest in it. I also realised I care more about my money than anyone else does.

Do you save into the stock market?

I invest a tiny bit of money in stocks I think look cheap. I also sometimes invest in start-ups via crowdfunding. But I would much rather invest in businesses I am personally involved with.

Do you own any property?

Yes. After I sold Weststar, my husband and I bought a beautiful farmhouse in Somerset that needed an awful lot of work.

It is an historically interesting building which used to belong to William Pitt the Elder. We have done it up in an ethical way, restoring whatever we can using traditional materials.

That has cost us at least twice as much as it needed to. I always say: we were lucky to find our home, and it was lucky to find us. I do not know anybody in their right mind who would have spent the money on it we have – far more than we will ever get back.

I have a place in the heart of London, too: a two-bedroom flat in Primrose Hill with a concierge service. I also own some development land.

Do you pay off your credit cards in full?

I do not use credit cards any more because when I was 18 I got myself into financial trouble. I ran up a £3,000 debt – the equivalent of nearly £20,000 today. I used it to fund the first business I ever had and did not have the means to pay it back for a year. I did not like that feeling.

What is the one little luxury you like to treat yourself to?

I get tension in my shoulders thanks to all the travelling I do, so I have weekly £50 massages at my home. I will also treat my six horses to £60 McTimoney massages every two months to make sure they are in shape.

Most of my horses are rescued –they have come out of racing or have had something wrong with them. It is really embarrassing how much I spend on them each year: many thousands of pounds.

If you were Chancellor of the Exchequer, what is the first thing you would do?

I would put more funding into understanding how we can protect our country from looming environmental catastrophes.

I think the opposite of Donald Trump – we need to take climate change more seriously. I do not think we are as committed as we could be at trying to avoid problems such as flooding and global food and water shortages. It is crucial we tackle it now.

Do you think it is important to give to charity?

Yes, for philanthropic reasons but also, somehow, for selfish reasons. Not only does it do good, it makes you feel good.

I never feel more alive than when I am lucky enough to be able to make a difference. Not just giving cash but offering my business experience to the charities that I get involved with.

The charity Lendwithcare is dear to my heart because it helps entrepreneurs in developing countries to help themselves. Not by giving them cash but lending it to them so they understand the value of it.

I am also involved with environmental charities such as Tusk Trust which works to protect wildlife and alleviate poverty in African communities.

What is your number one financial priority?

That my money will do what I want it to, but it will not change or define me. I do not want my money to influence the person I am.



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