Hilary Devey: "I'd never buy my own jet"

Former dragon remembers what it means to be broke

Hilary Devey:

The multi-millionaire Hilary Devey, a former Dragon on Dragon's Den, spends up to £13,000 on dresses for special occasions but still remembers what it means to be broke and says she would rather give money to charity than buy herself a private jet.

Here, the Dragon talks about her most extravagant purposes, how she chose which businesses to invest in while on Dragon's Den and the difference that money has made to her life.

What did you blow your first proper pay cheque on?

A pair of brown suede four-inch knee-high platform boots, that cost £30. I was 16 and only earning £7 a week, as a secretary, so that was four weeks' money. I'd had my eye on them and I thought: Sod it. I'm having them.

What was the first big extravagant purchase you made?

A half a million pound house in Nottingham I bought in 1998. I remember walking in and thinking every brick is mine, because I'd paid cash for it. I also bought a villa in Spain. I paid £200,000 for it in 1996 and sold it four years ago for £450,000.

How do you choose which businesses to invest in on Dragon's Den?

I tend to buy into people. If there's a need for the product, and the people are right, then the ingredients for success are already there. I invest millions back into my businesses - everything I have every year goes back into either business or property.

How much did you earn last year?

I haven't a clue. But it was extensive - and I paid a lot of tax.

What's the worst thing about being broke?

The insecurity - not knowing what tomorrow may bring. I was self-employed when I was broke and I remember having dreadful sciatica and taking 20 Nurofen tablets a day to keep me going. The doctor kept saying: You've got to rest. But I [was a single mother and] had a child. Who was going to put food on the table and keep a roof over his head if I didn't? I had to work.

What kind of difference has money made to your life?

Being able to treat my family and treat my friends. If they can't afford something, I'm now in a position where I can afford it for them.

I also do a lot for charity. I give my time and I donate hundreds and hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. I believe I should, and I believe it's right. I think anybody who's got a social conscience would do the same. That's why I'd never buy my own jet - because I look at adverts on TV and the poverty all over the world and I think it's just so unnecessary to buy a plane or a helicopter when I could help these people. I'm a born philanthropist, I'm very compassionate and kind to people - I always treat people as I'd like to be treated myself.

Has there been a time in your life when you've truly appreciated having money?

Yes, when I had my stroke, because I could afford somebody to help me. I couldn't even shower or dress. Who would have cared for me? If I was reliant on the NHS, who knows what would have happened to me. My son, whose problems have been well-documented, couldn't help his mum in that way. The fact that I could afford to pay for help myself made me truly appreciate money and want to give more back to the world. That's why I support the Carer's Trust charity in particular.

What's your biggest money regret?

I haven't got one. I've got time regrets - that I focused too much on my business when my son was growing up and so I didn't spend enough time with him. I should have spent more quality time with him.

What's the best financial advice you've ever been given?

Take the compassion out of a business decision - but put it back in subsequently. So if you have to say something to someone that you know will put them in financial hardship, say: I can't go forward with this business decision because of X, Y or Z. But having said that, how can I now help you?

Do you ever buy anything expensive for yourself?

I believe that people will treat you as you look and I love clothes and fashion, so if it's a special event, I'll have a dress made by a couturier. I do spend quite a bit of money then - anything from £3,000 to £13,000.

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