Dragons’ Den: Keeping up with Peter Jones

He’s the last Dragon standing, but what rattles Peter Jones? And why won’t he splash his millions on his kids?

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When your personal worth is counted in the hundreds of millions of pounds, what you give your children in pocket money might not seem very important. But for Peter Jones, multimillionaire and Dragons’ Den veteran, pocket money for his five children, aged from eight to 21, is a source of much argument.

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“My pocket money is based on incentive,” Jones says of the £25 he gives to his children a month. “It’s like, ‘You’ve got to clean your room, to get this,’ and if they don’t do it, they don’t get the money. It’s a bone of contention.”

Jones, 6ft 7 and looking snug in a grey jumper with a discreet Old Course, St Andrew’s, logo, insists that he keeps his children’s feet firmly on the ground. If they’re not working, he says, they shouldn’t expect a hand-out from Dad.

“I want my kids to be polite and respectful, stand on their own two feet,” he says matter-of-factly. “In the future if they want to go and do charitable work, then I’ll fund that charitable work. I’ve said that rather than me buying them a house, I’ll give them a contribution on top of what they deliver. So if they earn £20,000 a year, I’ll give them a tiny contribution on top. If they decide not to work, they don’t get anything. I want them to do it for themselves.”

It’s an approach – direct, not brooking much argument – that has made him a favourite with millions of Dragons’ Den fans over the ten years the show has been on television. He is described as “the fiercest Dragon in the Den”. 

The original dragons, from left to right; Peter Jones, Doug Richard, Rachel Elnaugh, Duncan Bannatyne and Simon Woodroffe

Jones, 48, who grew up in Maidenhead, son of a self-employed air-conditioning engineer and a receptionist, is the only one of the original “Dragons” still sitting in the moodily lit, Scandi-style chairs, grilling nervous entrepreneurs. “It’s quite scary when you say that,” he says, as we enjoy a coffee in a hotel in central London. “With Duncan leaving this year, yes – I’m the only original left on the panel. It’s bizarre.

“And I remember that first day, walking in and feeling incredibly nervous, wanting to be really professional, but actually quite quiet and quite unassuming, and you feel how daunting that is. I remember it almost as if it was yesterday. Derelict warehouse, railway tracks at the back, thinking, ‘Wow, this isn’t a television studio! This really is a warehouse.’”

For a man whose success includes owning telecommunications businesses and turning around high-street retailers (he recently rescued the photography chain, Jessops), Jones’s major concern about his appearance on that first programme is rather disarming: “I wanted my mum and dad to be proud.”

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After a decade on a programme that’s seen more than £15m invested in new businesses, it must be a breeze now? Not at all, Jones says, revealing that he’s so self-critical, he hasn’t actually “watched it for a long time. I find it very, very difficult to watch myself on TV. I used to do it all the time, and I ended up being so critical, and thinking, ‘God, you’re such a wally, why did you say that?’ and I used to take it personally. Whereas now, I follow up on Twitter, and I feel less ‘in it’, and it means when I go and sit in that chair, I can be Peter Jones, rather than being perhaps somebody that I want to create on television.”