'Dragons' Den' star Hilary Devey on business success and personal regrets

While former Dragons Den star Hilary Devey has built a fortune as a successful businesswoman, her private life hasn't run quite as smoothly.

"In my private life, I have made bad choices as far as men are concerned again and again," Hilary, who recently split from her third husband, tells HELLO!. "But dwelling on the past is at odds with a successful future."

Hilary, 56, feels more confident about her business judgement, and this week she can be seen in the new Channel 4 show, The Intern, in which she sets a group of 18-24 year olds a series of challenges as they bid to succeed in their dream jobs.



When asked whether she is a "fairy jobmother" she replies, "I am not all sweetness and light."

"As you will see from the show, I don't tolerate any nonsense and am often firm with my young protégés," she says. "You can kill with kindness and my focus is on offering encouragement, constructive criticism and a bucket-sized dose of reality." Here, Hilary talks to HELLO! about life, love and business and fashion...

Do you feel you have sometimes put business before family life, had to put your personal life to one side? Do you have any regrets about doing so?

"Of course. I prioritised at the time because it was my way of providing for my family. I have regrets about this, and some of its consequences. My son, Mevlit, has always said that there was nothing that I could have done to have stopped him getting in with the wrong crowd and becoming an addict, but it still troubles me. I am grateful that he is better."

You have said that there isn't much you haven't gone through. What was the biggest challenge for you?

"My son's struggle – and success in overcoming – drug addiction."


You always look perfectly styled. Do you think image is an important part of success?

"I am a slave to fashion, and my love of clothes has given me self-confidence. Perhaps it is just me, but I have never understood those women in a male-dominated industry who just try and blend-in."

Do you hope to find love in your life again?

"I rule nothing out."

Is there any aspect of your life and career you would like to change if you could wave a magic wand?

"There are many things that I wish that I could change, but you need to be forward-facing and that should be on both a personal and professional level. For this wonderful country to be great again, we need to evolve and innovate. Our focus must be on the future as we have don’t have so many laurels left to rest upon."

Do you think many men find it hard to be in a relationship when the woman is the main earner?

"Yes. However different my professional world has been to that of my mother's generation, old attitudes linger, and a lot of men feel threatened and emasculated by a successful woman. There are a great many gold diggers out there."


Do you remember your very first job?

"The first job that I had was helping my parents in their pubs and hotels. The thing that it taught me was the importance of good customer service. The customer is often wrong, but must always be made to feel as if they are right."

Do you think it is tougher than ever for young people starting out on a career?

"These things are all relative. There have been recessions and depressions before, but it is exceptionally tough at present. That’s why my new show is important."

Would you say to young people to get a work placement and get out in the world of work over a degree?

"This all depends on the character of the person. Not everyone is an entrepreneur. Some people are better suited to vocational degrees; we all want lawyers and doctors who actually know the law or how to cauterise a wound, rather than picking these things up on the hoof. However, if a person thinks that they have a business idea then I would advise that they think carefully about whether committing themselves to three years of study – and enormous debt – is going to help them realise their dream, or just delay it."

You have said your earliest memory was of the bailiffs taking furniture when your father was declared bankrupt. Do you think your background has shaped who you are and has it made you more determined to succeed?

"We are all formed in response to our pasts, whether rebelling against them or being controlled by them. The secret is to turn bad things into positives. As I said, it is about the future, and no one – whether prince or pauper – has an easy ride."

Would you characterize yourself as a "fairy jobmother"?

"That seems a good description, but I am not all sweetness and light. As you will see from the show, I don’t tolerate any nonsense and am often firm with my young protégés. You can kill with kindness, and my focus is on offering encouragement, constructive criticism, and a bucket-sized dose of reality."


Do you believe you have to experience bad times to recognise the good?

"Perspective comes from many things. But when you have been at rock bottom, you are in no doubt when things are going well!"

You have houses around the world. Where do you feel most at home?

"My homes are merely extensions of my office but in different time zones and with comfier chairs! I grew-up in a nomadic way, with my father's work taking us all over the country, so I don’t really feel roots in a traditional sense."

The Intern starts this Thursday at 9pm on Channel 4

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