Dragons’ Den star and Somerset stalwart, Deborah Meaden talks with Rachel Mead about her new book and her Christmas plans.

On opening the door to the green room at the Westlands Entertainment Venue in Yeovil, I find myself walking into a vibrant conversation about the merits of Somerset, and there at the centre of the discussion is Dragons’ Den star and local resident, Deborah Meaden. Whether she is championing her homeland whilst hosting her podcast, The Big Green Money Show on BBC Radio 5 Live, or promoting her latest book, Why Money Matters at the Yeovil Literary Festival, Deborah always has Somerset’s back, ‘From a business perspective our county is really well served for transport links whether rail, road or air but let’s also look at how our world is changing here, not only do we have Mulberry in Bridgwater but we also have the new electric car battery plant coming to that part of Somerset too. I think we’re on the cusp of a golden era in Somerset.’

Deborah has always been a natural ambassador for the West Country throughout her career including the time when she took part in the inward-investment campaign, ‘Into Somerset’ in 2009. Turn the clock back to her key involvements in Weststar Holidays or even to the time when she was bingo-calling at Butlins and her love for both the county she was born in, and for business, is unquestionable; ‘I can’t think of a single job that I haven’t enjoyed. It’s all about mindset, there is positivity to be found in each and every job. I loved pot-washing, and I loved the bingo! In fact, being a bingo-caller was the best job for me, it certainly taught me about customer service: those players demand a lot from you!’

Back to the current day and Deborah has 23 businesses in which she is invested and actively taking part in, including Fox Brothers in Wellington which she co-owns with her business partner, Douglas Courdeaux, ‘It’s a gem of a business, it was originally set up in 1660 as Were & Co before changing its name in 1772. We make the most beautiful cloth for brands such as Chanel, Hermes, Celine and Louis Vuitton.’ The design centre and looms all sit in Wellington, and they are dedicated to weaving the finest wool cloth made in Britain for over 250 years. ‘Plus, we’ll also be starting up William Bliss again soon, so we’ll be making traditional tweed riding jackets in Somerset too.’ As the owner of four ex-racehorses this next business move certainly fits in with this entrepreneur’s personal interests, ‘We re-home horses who are chucked out at the end of their racing careers, they join us along with the rescue sheep, ex battery hens, our five Hungarian vizlas and two cats.’

With 26 acres surrounding their home, Deborah and her husband, Paul are keen environmentalists, ‘Nature is at the heart of what we do; we don’t spray; we allow the grass to grow long and we don’t cut the hedges. It’s our responsibility to encourage nature and so we manage the pasture for the wildlife. We leave standing hay for our horses, and we love to encourage wildflowers to grow. Nature is Nature and as such we shouldn’t pick and choose; everything has a place whether its ragwort or bindweed!’ Deborah refers to her home as her ‘luxury in life’, and together with Paul they have nurtured their listed property through plenty of renovations, ‘Our house wraps its arms around you, and I think that’s because it’s not all clean and brand-new lines. We’ve used traditional lime plaster and in doing so it just feels right; I love the imperfections of it - pristine houses just make me feel uncomfortable.’ The husband-and-wife duo have been keen to embrace the skills of local tradespeople in creating their home into their countryside idyll and as such Deborah is only too happy to share the details of her trusted team, ‘Limebase in Taunton are the absolute experts in lime plaster and Wainscot Interiors Ltd are our choice for bespoke joinery; they helped us with our massive oak barn doors which must be 15 feet high! We have decorative gates and estate railings, so Kevin Bramble in Somerton sorted those, and then Matt at Dingle Design, from just over the border in Devon, is our man for ironmongery. Matt created a sculptural pergola, we knew what we wanted and after describing it, he amazingly ‘just got it’ and now it’s a work of art.’

With business trips and TV filming schedules regularly taking her away from home, Deborah appreciates her time in the county even more when she is here, ‘Somerset Life means home. It means breathing air and wonderful light. All of us need a place in the world where we can breathe out and Somerset is mine; I feel my shoulders relax when I am home. At this time of year, I love to explore the Mendips and the Quantocks; it can all get quite wild and in combination with the views it’s just lovely!’ Mornings in Somerset always begin with a bare foot walk around her garden so that Deborah can stay ‘grounded’ before she gravitates to the kitchen, ‘We have an AGA so we all head straight to this room, even on a hot summer’s day, but I have two further favourite rooms in our house. My favourite room for ‘us’ is the garden room because we have a TV and a fire in front of the sofa. We pop some grubby throws on the sofa and the dogs and cats can join us too! And then my favourite room for ‘me’ has to be my bathroom. I love my own company and if I’ve had a busy day, I always have a bath to wash the day away. My husband knows that if the phone rings no one can interrupt my bath time!’

As Christmas comes hurtling around the corner, I ask Deborah how her plans are shaping up, ‘Anyone with horses will understand that the horses don’t care that its Christmas Day so I’m always up early, heading off bare feet, to feed them. We always have lots of people around for the festivities; we tend to pick up the waifs and strays and people on their own, so we’ll all have a glass of Buck’s fizz and a bit of toast before unwrapping our presents.’ I can’t imagine how hard it is to buy a gift for a Dragon, ‘I never thought I’d be one of those people that say, “I don’t need anything” but I am! I simply don’t need anything, so we have a rule that there’s no presents for immediate family members and then we restrict the budget to £20 for everyone else.’ Christmas lunch is cooked by Paul who will prepare a turkey, chicken or goose, whereas plant-based Deborah will opt to keep things easy and find a meat roast alternative, ‘I can’t expect Paul to make something different for me when he’s cooking for 20 people so I’m happy to pick something up in the supermarket to go alongside all the trimmings’. The meal in the Meaden household is then followed by an afternoon of games, ‘We’ve all learnt over the years that we can’t play Trivial Pursuit, for some reason it always ends up with an argument! So, we’ll play charades and the ‘name in the hat’ game.’ I’m surprised that they don’t play Bingo, what with her calling skills, ‘I was gifted a bingo cage, perhaps we’ll give that a go this year!’

Somerset County Gazette: Why Money Matters Published by FarshoreWhy Money Matters Published by Farshore

With Deborah’s book, Why Money Matters being aimed at children aged 5-9 years old, there’s bound to be many a book wrapped up and placed under Christmas trees this year, ‘It’s really important that our young people have a healthy relationship with money. We learn our money habits at the age of five, so I’ve gone back to basics with this book, and it simplifies things.’ Deborah explains how quite often people tend to be either spenders or savers through their life and she wants to get the message out there that’s it’s actually ok to be both. ‘I sit in the middle because I still save up for things. And of course, you should always encourage children to think about ‘needs and wants.’ Deborah and her team are making plans to take the book to schools to help children learn about where money comes from; that they shouldn’t be scared of it; and how best it should factor into their lives, ‘Unbelievably this topic is not taught in schools, luckily I’m a nagger so I will keep going on about this to our government, I genuinely can not believe that it’s not part of the curriculum, and with the next generation growing up with ‘invisible money’ it’s vital that they learn the dangers as well as the advantages.’

As Deborah welcomes children to the stage at the Yeovil Literary Festival, she explains to the younger audience how money can’t buy you happiness but that it is a lot easier to be happy when you don’t need to worry about money. ‘It may sound odd coming from a Dragon, but more money doesn’t make you happier, if you’re not careful you’ll end up like Scrooge! Money itself is not good or bad but what you do with it can make a difference. The biggest lesson in life to learn is that not everything costs money – I don’t care about fancy stuff or invitations; it’s the moments in life I love. I love these wintery chilly days, bright blue skies and getting out into Somerset’s countryside – it doesn’t get any better than that!’

Deborah's book is available to buy from all local bookstores.