The latest businesswoman recruited to TV’s Dragons' Den has a fierce reputation and even fiercer shoulder pads, but is her bark worse than her bite? Roz Laws found out.
With her icy stare, huge shoulder pads and deep voice, there are few more intimidating women on television than Hilary Devey.
Anne Robinson is at least putting on an act for The Weakest Link, but the latest recruit to Dragons’ Den really means business.
But, although she is clearly formidable, the Midland multimillionaire claims she does have a heart – and a lot of sympathy for the nervous entrepreneurs who venture into the den to pitch for investment.
“I do empathise,” says the 54-year-old who lives in Staffordshire.
“It’s hard to stand in front of five people interrogating you on your projections and bottom line. Unless you’re an accountant, you’re unlikely to remember it all, especially with sheer stage fright.
“It’s not the end of the world if someone doesn’t know their numbers. That didn’t stop me from investing in projects and I think sometimes the dragons drill down too much into the figures.
‘‘I don’t think you have to be ruthless and without compassion in business.
“But that’s not to say I’m not competitive.
“All the dragons are of the same ilk. We all work incredibly hard to get where we are, we know the value of money and none of us are prepared to squander it.
“I’m in the den to make deals, not friends. And I don’t suffer fools gladly.”
She proved that in the first episode when she lost her temper with a pitcher who couldn’t supply her with basic information about his business.
“I’m not amused, I’m angry. I’m out!” she told him.
Devey sold her house and car to build up her Leicestershire freight haulage company Pall-Ex into a £100 million business.
A Bolton pub landlord’s daughter, a phrase she uses more than once in our conversation is “what you see is what you get with me”.
She is resilient enough to have bounced back from setbacks in her personal life, especially her son Mevlit’s battle with drugs. He stole from her to pay for his £600-a-day heroin habit and she once had to drag him from a drug den in Derby.
She has spent more than £500,000 on his recovery and says he is now “on the mend”.
After two divorces, Devey married property developer Philip in March.
Her TV appearances include Secret Millionaire and The Business Inspector, but she’s a long-time fan of Dragons’ Den and was thrilled to be invited to replace James Caan.
But she doesn’t enjoy watching herself on TV.
“I look bloody awful!” she cries. “I said ‘Do I really look like this? I’m getting a facelift!’
“Actually I’m not, because I think you should grow old gracefully, but the girl at the Lancome counter might be seeing more of me.
“We had to wear two identical outfits throughout filming for continuity, but if I had my choice again I wouldn’t have gone for that white jacket.
“My managing director Adrian Russell said ‘I hate it, it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen you wear’.
“But I do like shoulder pads. I’m so happy they are back, the 1980s is my era and I can relive my youth. It’s so Dynasty!”
So what else can she tell us about filming Dragons’ Den?
“It’s bloody freezing first thing in the morning and like a sauna in the afternoon when the lights have heated it up. And the chairs are enormously uncomfortable,” she grumbles in her gravelly voice.
Devey is more used to the luxury of her Midland home, an extension of Rangemore Hall, between Rugeley and Burton-on-Trent, that is 12 times bigger than the main house. It’s called the Edward VII Wing after the king stayed there with his mistress.
She put it on the market last year for £2.5 million but it failed to sell.
“At the moment it’s not for sale, but it may be in the future,” says Devey. “I won’t move away from the Midlands, it’s very dear to my heart and I’ll always have a home here. But I might buy somewhere a bit smaller.
“Living at Rangemore is like being a princess in a castle. It’s a building with lots of fabulous history and I have decked it out very beautifully, even if I say so myself, but sometimes I feel it’s too big.”
Devey, who admits to indulging her passions for interior design and Alexander McQueen designer outfits, shares her home with her Yorkshire terriers, Mixie and Dixie. Animals seem to be her soft spot, as she admits that the last time she cried was last year when her dog Archie died.
“He was murdered,” she declares dramatically of the tragedy, which happened at Rangemore.
“Little Archie was killed by another dog. The window cleaners left the gates open and this dog got in.
‘‘Archie was a Yorkie but thought he was a German Shepherd and went for the bigger dog, who retaliated by biting him through the head then running off.
“I was in London at the time and raced back home but he’d died. It was horrendous.
“I can’t live without my animals. I take Mixie and Dixie shopping down Oxford Street in a little trolley, and I also have an American cocker spaniel in my home in Marrakech called Marilyn, because she’s blonde and dim.”
Now she is venturing into show business, I wonder if there are any celebrities that might make Devey go weak at the knees – although that’s clearly an alien concept to her.
“Do I get starstruck? Do I heck!” she laughs. “No, there’s nobody like that I really want to meet.
“I am interested in politics and I’d like to sit down with David Cameron to ask him some questions.
“And I love our Royal family, they do such a fantastic job for our country. I would like to meet the Queen again and I so admire the Princess Royal. And I take my hat off to the Duchess of Cambridge.”
* Dragons’ Den is screened on Sunday nights on BBC2 at 9pm