With 12 series of Dragons’ Den under her belt and another due to air later this year, Deborah Meaden is an old hand at picking out promising entrepreneurs on the BBC show and destroying the pretenders with her killer questions.
But don’t count on her being there forever.
“One day I will definitely, definitely have to leave,” she tells RadioTimes.com.
Can she imagine a point where she’ll simply have had enough? “At the moment it’s hard to imagine because I still thoroughly enjoy it, but who knows what happens in life,” Meaden says.
“And it might be me deciding, or Dragons’ Den might decide it’s time for a new Dragon and it’s time to replace me.”
Still, it may not be any time soon. Former Strictly Come Dancing contestant Meaden is the second longest-serving Dragon (after Peter Jones) and has seen a dozen other investors come and go – but every year she is keen to return.
“At the moment I feel like I’m really still enjoying it and it’s hard for me to imagine that I wouldn’t still enjoy it because it’s what I do in my everyday life,” she explains.
“It’s not something that I do for 20 days a year and really enjoy it and then get on with my everyday life. My everyday life is investing in businesses, so as long as I carry on loving that then I’m obviously going to carry on loving Dragons.”
How about retirement?
“I did retire, for about two weeks,” Meaden says. “When I sold Weststar Holidays, the idea was to take stock and stop and then decide in life – we were going to travel around the world or whatever we were going to do.
“After about two weeks my husband said to me, ‘Oh for goodness sake Deborah, get yourself a business because this is driving me bonkers.’ What I realised is, why would you retire from something that you love?”
The next series will feature two new Dragons: Tej Lalvani and Jenny Campbell, who replace Nick Jenkins and Sarah Willingham in the Den.
But when it comes to welcoming newcomers to the panel of investors, she and Peter Jones are surprisingly happy to have their advice ignored.
“At the end of the day they are Dragons, they are businesspeople and they’ve kind of got to find their own way and their own place,” she says.
“So I quite like it when we proffer advice and they say, ‘Thank you very much but I’ll do what I want.’ So I like that! That’s the sign of a Dragon.”
And when it comes to Meaden’s own strategy in the Den, there’s one thing she is clear on: her ethical code.
— BBC Dragons' Den (@BBCDragonsDen) February 19, 2017
As an animal lover with a cat called Friday, three dogs, five horses, eleven chickens, four ducks and three geese, she will be taking part in the National Cat Awards on 3rd August. She also keeps her furry friends in mind in the Den.
“Although I come across as stern obviously in that particular environment – I’m in a business environment, people are pitching for my money, I’m making decisions on whether or not it’s the right investment – but even in that environment I will often talk about animal welfare,” Meaden explains.
“I won’t get involved in businesses that I think cut across any kind of animal welfare issues. The one thing I say, I will invest in anything – I don’t care what it is – as long as it doesn’t cut across my ethical code, because at the end of the day I want to be able to live with myself. I want to feel proud of what I do.”
Cats Protection’s National Cat Awards 2017 takes place on 3rd August at The Savoy Hotel.