Dragons are back in the hot seat

As Dragons’ Den returns to BBC One for an 18th series tonight, Danielle de Wolfe learns more from dragons Deborah Meaden and Sara Davies.
Dragons are back in the hot seat

JUDGEMENT CALL: Touker Suleyman, Sara Davies, Deborah Meaden, Tej Lalvani, and Peter Jones in the new series of Dragons’ Den tonight

“AS ridiculous as it sounds, they try and hide the cameras in the walls and everything,” remarks Dragons’ Den star Sara Davies exuberantly.

Referencing her first memories of stepping on to the renowned television set, the 36-year-old entrepreneur says there’s more to filming the hit series than first meets the eye.

“What I think a lot of people don’t realise is we can be two hours on a pitch interrogating one of the contestants and everything like that. You see 12 minutes of it,” says Davies.

“I think people don’t believe us when we say to them that we don’t know anything about the businesses until they walk through the lift.

“You’re so caught up in, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve got to make a big financial decision here’ and part with a lot of money potentially, that you forget about the cameras and you’re really just in the moment.”

However, the entrepreneur is quick to note that there’s no trickery involved when it comes to her reactions in the now famous den.

“I watch myself back and some of the looks I’ve given, I was like, ‘Oh, got to watch for the eye rolls next series!’” she laughs.

“They must have a camera on me all the time just waiting.”

With series 18 marking her second series as a dragon on the hit BBC show, the experience has brought with it a number of important lessons for the Crafter’s Companion founder.

“I’m really conscious of body language,” says Davies.

Sara Davies is on her second series
Sara Davies is on her second series

“I remember going into the edit after the first series and they were putting together the first clips and I met the editors working on it.

“They were like, ‘We love working on the clips with you in because every feeling you’ve got oozes out of every pore of your body, you don’t hide it’.

“I’d never thought about it before.”

It’s a marked contrast to the stoic approach employed by her fellow dragons.

With the formidable line-up of Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden and Touker Suleyman returning to their seats as part of the latest instalment, Tej Lalvani has also announced that series 18 will be his last in the den.

“I’ve obviously watched the show for 15-odd years and I know how everybody else comes across,” says Davies.

“I think the other dragons can sometimes be a little bit reserved and I’m just there [with a] happy, smiley face just winking at the contestants or whatever it is.

“So, I guess that’s been a big learning curve for me.”

For Davies, the other sizable learning curve came in the form of public recognition in her native County Durham.

“After the first series came out, I would be out shopping with the kids and people would stop me and come up to me and say, ‘I just want to say, we’re so proud of you, you know’.

“North-East people are very big on that sort of thing.

“We’ll tell you how proud we are of Ant and Dec. Ant and Dec, they came from Newcastle, they’re our people.

“And it’s that whole pride in the North-East thing.”

Making the switch from BBC2 to BBC1, the returning show will see budding entrepreneurs once again vie for the dragons’ investment, as they undertake a three-minute pitch that could make or break their business.

Filmed between lockdowns, the production, like many others of its kind, found itself having to adapt to a new set of filming restrictions.

The resulting changes saw life behind the scenes abruptly transformed into a far less attractive affair, as fellow dragon Deborah Meaden explains.

“The difference, actually, happened outside of the den,” says Meaden of the impact of Covid.

“It was a bit odd eating two metres apart, but on the last night — you’re the first person to hear this — the country went into lockdown.

“So, once we finished filming, we couldn’t eat in the den because we’d technically stopped work, so we had to go back to the hotel and get a takeaway.”

It was an experience that became memorable for all the wrong reasons, as Meaden recalls.

“We were the only people in the hotel, in the restaurant, under their security fluorescent lights with chairs still up on the tables.

“They cleared a couple and we were all sat two metres apart.

“I mean, the glamorous life us dragons lead.

“We looked at each other and thought, ‘Well, it doesn’t get better than this!’”

Unconventional dining experiences aside, Davies believes there were some positives to be found in the midst of the pandemic, something that extended to the quality of this series’ entrepreneurial offerings.

“What was really interesting is the calibre of businesses we saw in this series was higher than we’d ever seen before,” remarks Davies.

“Now, it’s easy for me to say because it’s only my second series.

“But Peter and Deborah who have been there all these years, they said it was ‘the highest calibre of businesses we’d ever seen’.

“We had more investments where we all fought it out — it was a record-breaking number.

“There was over £2 million pledged in the den in the series; every night we would walk back to the hotel and everyone would say, ‘I can’t believe the calibre of the businesses we’ve seen today’.”

Courtesy of lockdown, both Davies and Meaden also found life outside the den shift dramatically.

“My big thing during lockdown is running — and I’d never really been into running,” says Davies.

“So, for someone who had never done it before, I geared up and learnt how to do the 5km without doing any walking and whatever.

“I know a lot of people have talked about finding their own coping mechanism, for me, it’s not until I look back I realise how much I relied on that.”

It’s a sentiment echoed by Meaden.

“I now do a little bit of painting,” she notes.

“I have not bought a greetings card this year. So, now I make my own greetings cards.

“Some I thought, ‘Oh, that’s really not good enough. Oh, I’ll send it anyway, at least they’ll know I’ve tried’, and people are really, really lovely about it.

“And it’s really warmly received. I think that’s what’s been so lovely.”

Dragons’ Den returns on BBC1 tonight, Thursday, April 1.

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