When Dragons’ Den returns for a new series (Sunday 31 July, 9:00pm, BBC2, BBC HD) the showcase for business ideas will also be unveiling a new prospective investor.
Hilary Devey replaces former Dragon James Caan – and in the latest issue of Radio Times the 53-year-old multi-millionaire CEO of haulage company Pall-Ex reveals how she’s engineered professional success alongside a traumatic personal life.
“My first memory? I was about three or four and I remember the bailiffs coming in and taking every single piece of furniture. They took everything. They took the cooker. They took the beds. They took the sofa which my brother and I were sat on.”
Hilary’s father’s once successful heating company had gone bust but he recovered from the setback to run a series of pubs and hotels in which his young daughter worked.
“From the age of seven, I was forced to work in the bar all weekend… My brothers were expected to go to school. It wasn’t regarded as important for me. So I was kept away from school to help run the family business. In retrospect, what an opportunity.”
Following a failed marriage, Devey met and fell in love with a Turkish man named Hussein. They lived together for several years and had a son. All seemed to be going well until a shocking phone call one night.
“We were sat on the sofa together. The phone rang. I picked it up and this woman said, ‘My name is Hanifa. I am married to Hussein and we have five children, one of which is a few months younger than your son.’ I handed the phone to Hussein and said, ‘It’s your wife.’ Then I left.”
It was after leaving Hussein that Hilary came up with the business idea that was to make her fortune. She worked ferociously hard at that, while also bringing up her son Mevlit, but did not realise until it was too late that he was going off the rails and had become a heroin addict.
“Nothing I have ever seen or read gives a real portrayal of what having a heroin addict in your home is like. For four years I lived in a house where every door was locked after me, because my son stole everything… I gave him a petrol card for his car. He would flag down cars and trade £100 worth of diesel to buy a £20 pack of heroin.”
“I have been out at midnight in my pyjamas, a raincoat thrown over me, dragging him out of crack dens, a knife at my throat.”
Her son is now off heroin but Devey has faced health problems of her own. She had a stroke following surgery and although it has had some lasting effects, she remains upbeat.
“I’ll never drive again, because it’s affected my peripheral vision. And one of my hands is paralysed, I can’t feel a thing in my fingers. But my brain is still as sharp as ever. And I can afford a chauffeur. So what the hell!”
Read more about the torrid life and business background of the formidable new Dragon in the latest issue of Radio Times, on sale now.