When he was 15 he signed up for an 11-year stint with the Royal Navy, but he was discharged prematurely following an altercation with an officer. After the Navy, Bannatyne moved between a number of jobs, at one point moving to Jersey for a few years, where he met his first wife, Gail. But it was after relocating again at the age of 30, this time to Stockton-on-Tees, that he first went into business for himself.
His first venture was an ice cream van, which he bought for £450. After building up that business by acquiring more vehicles, he sold at a profit and moved on to a different industry. The nursing home business was a far cry from selling ice cream, but Bannatyne made a success of that one too, and once again when he sold the business it was for a substantial profit. In fact, from the £450 he paid for his first van, he had, by 1996, worked his way up to £58 million, which was the price he got when he sold the nursing home business and a chain of children’s nurseries.
Diversity has been a hallmark of Duncan Bannatyne’s career and his recent interests have included the well-known Bannatyne’s health club chain as well as bars, casinos and hotels. The 2007 Sunday Times Rich List estimates that he is worth about £200 million, and rates him as the 351st richest person in the UK. Not bad for a fellow who was once locked up and then thrown out of the navy for trying to throw a drunken, cocky officer off a jetty.
Bannatyne has said that after the whole navy experience he realised that no one else would help him realise his potential, and that he had to take charge of his own life. Although he left the navy with no references or qualifications, Bannatyne became motivated to go into business for himself.
The business career has been impressive, but the British public know Duncan Bannatyne best for his role in the BBC 2’s Dragons’ Den. The popularity and notoriety he earned as one of the more fearsome Dragons has brought other television opportunities, including appearing on a somewhat similar ITV show Fortune – Million Pound Giveaway where people put their case trying to persuade a panel to give them money so they can realise their dreams.
At the time of our interview, Duncan is nearing the end of filming for the new series of Dragons’ Den. The show is one of the things that takes him from his home in Darlington down to London;
a trip he makes regularly.
“Yes, I’m down there almost every week, either filming Dragons’ Den, or… Well, this week is the official launch of the paperback [his autobiography, Anyone Can Do It: My Story]. So I’ll be going round signing books in the shops.”
Despite Duncan’s frequent journeys south, Wynyard near Teesside is the Bannatyne family home. His house is a fairly modest affair for such a wealthy man, but its location offers many benefits for a family with young children.