Dragons' Den Duncan Bannatyne's love of Stockton on Tees

PUBLISHED: 12:02 05 December 2011 | UPDATED: 20:24 20 February 2013

Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne

Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne

Duncan Bannatyne's North East love affair almost failed to spark but now the Dragons' Den star is here to stay

Considering it was the place in which he amassed the early parts of his fortune, its surprising to hear that Duncan Bannatyne wasnt always such a fan of the North East. These days, his palatial pad in the Wynyard Estates, near Stockton-on-Tees, offers everything the 62-year-old Dragon requires, even if it doesnt have the lively surrounds of his other homes in Londons Covent Garden and Mougins, on the French Riviera.

He admits though that he initially despised the area the first time he visited with wife-to-be Gail, it was a cold and miserable place in which I wasnt at all happy. I thought it was terrible. I hated it and was itching to go south.

But three decades later the Dragons Den star with a 320million empire is still here.

It took time for me to get used to the place, he said. We initially stayed with family on an estate called Bishopgarth it had a pub, which was the best thing about it. But as the days went by the idea of staying became more appealing.

I guess I needed to settle down. I had already been dishonourably discharged from the Navy for showing violence to a superior officer. He was drunk and poked me in the chest with a torch on a gangway. I told him not to do it again, but he did, and again. So I picked him up and said Ill throw you over the side! And that was it; I got nine months detention.

A succession of poorly paid positions followed, giving the couple the chance to purchase their first home. But it wasnt until Bannatyne encountered an ice cream van named Greenweasel, that the pound notes started to pile up.

Id been buying used cars cheaply at auctions, doing them up and moving them on at a decent profit. Thats when I came across an old ice cream van. Suddenly I could really see a business.

The van cost Bannatyne 450 and he said: My biggest success was when I came across an ad in the paper selling concessions in the parks. I paid 2,000 to be the only ice cream vendor in Stewart Park. I made 18,000 that summer. Easy.

After five successful years in the trade however, the entrepreneur was getting bored, and when the opportunity came to move into the nursing home trade, Bannatyne was quick to seize on the option. He subsequently gambled everything on the venture, and won. This led to a business called Quality Care Nursing Homes and in the meantime, the Dragon also set up Just Learning, a chain of childrens day care centres.

The Scot, who is currently going through divorce proceedings from estranged wife Joanne, now chairs a portfolio of health clubs, restaurants, bars, hotels and properties and commands his empire from headquarters in Darlington ironic for a man who had such grand designs on the South.

The North East will always be my home from now, he said. I love my trips to Barbados and South Africa but the North East still has that charm I fell in love with all those years ago.

Im a big fan of Caf Lilli in Norton-on-Tees for dinner. Its a great restaurant. Its not fine dining; its a brasserie which is far more my style. If its just a quiet drink Im after, there are several excellent pubs in Wynyard; The Stables, The Billingham. Its all here.

With a new series of Dragons Den planned for the New Year, Bannatyne has a busy few months ahead but seems its his philanthropic commitments which will receive the most attention.

Im trying very hard to secure a deal to build a school in Haiti in February, he said. The Bannatyne Charitable foundation gave away 1million last year and I want to do that every year.

In business, I just want to go forward. Purchase the odd hotel, collect the odd health club. Im quite happy to keep it like that and pay off some debts. Theres always another series of Dragons Den in the offing too. I always say I wont do another one, but by Christmas Im itching to get to it again.

And how does this Dragon relax away from the glare of the media spotlight? I think people assume I like stuff thats brash and elegant. Spending time with my kids has always been hugely important and I never work during the school holidays. Past that, I love Premier League football and you cant beat a good film. And if The X Factor is on, Ill watch that, and maybe The Young Apprentice too.

I suppose what the North East taught me all those years ago is that its sometimes the simpler things in life that matter.

The print version of this article appeared in the December 2011 issue of North East Life

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