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TV Interview

Duncan Bannatyne ('Beat The Bank')

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Duncan Bannatyne ('Beat The Bank')
Duncan Bannatyne OBE is one of Britain's most respected and successful entrepreneurs. The Dragons' Den star began his business career with an ice cream van, but is now estimated to have a wealth of £310 million with a nationwide chain of Health Clubs. The Scotsman's latest investment is in BBC Two show Beat The Bank, where he tries to help a couple actually make money during the current financial crisis. We gave him a call to find out his secret.

Your new show has a fantastic title. How are you planning to Beat The Bank?
"This is a show where I take a young couple from the general public and I ask them if they want to leave their money in the bank or if they want to take a risk with it. I introduce them to some experts: one in antiques, one in art, one in wine. These experts claim that if you give them £10,000, you can get a much better rate than from a bank. I remind the couple that there are risks involved and it's left for them to decide what to do."

Were you concerned at all for the couple's finances? You can afford to lose cash, but this is literally all these people's savings.
"I made it very clear to them that it was risky and that this isn't a gameshow. They could lose money or gain money. I laid down the terms to them straight. It wasn't my decision. However, they invested the money [in one expert] and then I invested in the other two experts. The programme will show who made the most."

Was it the fact they could lose everything that appealed to you?
"That was what definitely appealed to me - the risk. The risk is quite tremendous. I don't think there's been a show before where contestants could lose all their money - their own money. It's not a gameshow and it could go either way. They could make a lot of money or lose everything."

Is there really money to be made in a product like wine?
"I think there is, but you have to know what you're doing. You can't go in head first without an expert. You've got to also remember the worst case scenario and only buy things if you like them. So if you end up stuck with a load of red wine you can drink it. Or if you can't sell the art, you can put it on your walls. That's my philosophy anyway. If you can't make any money off it, as long as you enjoy it, then that's okay."

What's your best advice for people that are really struggling in the current financial climate?
"I think there's two options. All those people who can pay their bills should make sure they're up to date, get rid of as much debt as they can and reduce their spending where they can. However, anyone with a bit of spare cash who's willing to invest, it's bargain basement time. You should get out there now and make some investments."

In your opinion what is the root of the problem behind the credit crunch?
"There were just too many banks. Banks were passing money around each other and one day it was always going to run out. If there were as many supermarkets on the high street as there are banks, then we'd run out of fresh vegetables. It was as simple as that. I don't think anyone could have foreseen it, but I did comment three years ago that there were an awful lot of people about making huge amounts of money from transferring other people's cash around on commission. It just never seemed right to me."

Have you been hit by the crunch?
"My businesses are up from last year, so we're doing well and most small businesses I speak to are still actually doing quite well. But I have wanted to borrow more money to invest in more health clubs and it's proving very difficult. Banks want huge amounts of interest, personal commitments and guarantees. I'm in the middle of a deal at the moment, which I'm just weighing up whether to go in or pull out."

Is the credit crunch likely to kill of the entrepreneurial spirit that Dragons' Den thrives off?
"People are still coming up with ideas now and people will keep coming on Dragons' Den with new concepts. I think the entrepreneurial spirit is still alive and kicking. I hope it never ever dies, because I think when it does, the world dies."

How long do you think the show can run for?
"I was worried that we wouldn't be able to do a sixth series and make it successful, but we did it and it was even better than the fifth. There are TV producers in charge of these things and they understand these things better than me, but I reckon there's potential for two or three more series."

What is the relationship genuinely like between the Dragons? Peter Jones is always making jokes about the rest of you in the press.
"It's very easy to say we all have big egos, but look at families. Families fall out sometimes and then they make up. We're like that. We've matured together over the last four years. Peter Jones just likes winding people up. We're very, very normal people and very ordinary. People are quite surprised that we're not the same as we come across on television."

Have you ever regretted not investing in a product on the show?
"No. Not one."

That's a pretty confident attitude!
"The investments I've made on the show have been by quite far the most lucrative investments. Peter Moule's ChocBox is a fantastic company that me and James Caan invested £150,000 in. The company's making £250,000 a year. No dragon is doing better than me with their investments."

Beat The Bank airs Thursday, November 13 at 8pm on BBC Two.

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