The most exciting thing happened! My husband and I were, (in passing) invited to the British High Commission drinks reception for the ‘dragons’ of the well known TV show, Dragon’s Den. I am a big fan and lap-up the shows when I’m in England in the summer. Sadly Dragon’s Den is not currently televised here but I’m endlessly fascinated by entrepreneurs’ who have ‘made it’ and what makes them tick (probably in the hopes of picking up life changing tips). My next favourite TV program is ‘Secret Millionaire’, so you can see a pattern forming here.
First I panicked that the British High Commissioner’s wife had been so casual in issuing the verbal invitation that she might rescind it, or simply forget. In the end I managed to drop into conversation to the BH Com himself that we were very excited about the party, to which he replied, ‘Oh, you’re coming are you?’
Apparently the BHC himself had invited lots of charity people and worthies. His wife was concerned that the dragons might be unimpressed by a lack of fans or groupies, hence her invitation to me was preceded by ‘have you watched Dragon’s Den’. She then waited for a suitably enthusiastic response before going on.
Next I lost the plot completely. On Saturday I got my hair done, bought a new top and then set about googling the Dragons on, http://www.bbc.co.uk/dragonsden/about/tv.shtml, in order to do some comprehensive small talk revision. I had learned that Peter Jones would not be coming but Deborah Meaden, Duncan Bannatyne, Theo Paphitis and James Caan would be. There are all out here filming with Comic Relief, visiting Nairobi slums, looking at Sports and HIV charities. My mum texted me, ‘remember you and Deborah went to the same school!’ it said. My mother-in-law skyped to update me on the latest projects they’ve invested in. I was in.
While battling through hideous Nairobi traffic early on Friday evening, made-up to the nines, doubt set in. I wondered how many hundreds of people would be there at the drinks and if we’d even catch sight of the dragons, let alone talk to them. To while away the time I briefed the other four people in the car on how the dragon’s had all made their money, so that they too could chat to them in an informed way if the opportunity arose. My thinking was forewarned is forearmed.
One friend just thought I was a bit sad, as did my husband. The Zimbabwean entrepreneur couple did prick up their ears when I mentioned ‘leather business’- (James Caan’s parent’s family business), as the Zim wife has a company making beaded leather sandals, shoes belts etc and ‘chain of health spas’ (Duncan Bannatyne), as the Zim husband has a successful company refining essential oils – so I felt I’d been useful – if a bit too keen.
When we arrived, late, we found that the dragons were already there, but they’d only just signed their names above ours in the visitors book. How exciting. As usual with TV people, they all looked quite small – Shame Peter Jones wasn’t there as I understand he’s around 7ft. There were lots of drinks guests milling about, but not too, too many.
First I went to talk to a French friend and took time scoping the dragons from a distance. When I saw Deborah at a loss (someone was getting her a drink) and I dove in. She was very nice, smiley and chatty. I said I was from the West Country in England and we did get to the fact that we were at the same school in a sort of natural, roundabout way. Not a needy, ‘I went to the same school as you!!!’ - so that went well. The only problem was that my French friend kept dominating the conversation and I was left chipping in when possible. After around five minutes Deborah made some very civil excuse and moved off.
By this stage I was aware that time was running on. I had to extricate myself from the French friend’s endless chat. I looked over and saw that my husband was in a semi-circle of people talking to James Caan. I went and hovered on the outside edge, was introduced finally, but then immediately excluded again. Plan B.
I looked around and saw to my horror that two of my best friends had the two remaining dragons up against the wall in deep chat. DAMN! I thought. I should have been with them! One was chatting to Duncan, the other Theo. They had it absolutely covered. Again, I went to hover in that area, but there was no letting me in, no matter how hard I tried. I decided to stay put in the vicinity and chat to someone I knew who stood nearbye. He immediately rumbled my plan. He raised his eyebrows, ‘Oh hello....again?’
I watched as my ex-best friends were throwing their heads back and howling with laughter, a dragon a-piece. Double damn. What happened to the sisterhood? Just as I tried to throw daggers over Theo and Duncan’s shoulders, the BHC called our attention so that he could make some speeches. These went on a bit. Embarrassingly I found myself standing in front of all the Dragons and the comic relief guy as the speeches went on, so tried to shuffle off to one side rather than brazen it out with one hundred pairs of eyes staring in my direction.
As the speeches finished there was a sort of stampede to my side of the room as fellow guests realised that it was their last chance to get a sound-bite with the dragons. I guessed that a lot of them were peddling various charities.
Once alone, I hissed at my friends, ‘how did you manage to talk to Theo and Duncan, alone! Goddmanit’
‘Oh’, said one casually, ‘I’ve actually bagged all four, plus the comic relief guy – who incidentally was a bit of a jerk!’
My eyes popped out, she went on,
‘The thing is, you have to be forty and fabulous’ she said, ‘and then just go for it!’
I was feeling increasingly desperate. I could see the Comic Relief guy grabbing the Dragon’s arms and saying something about dinner bookings. I did manage to speak to James Caan again at the bar though.
‘What do you do?’ he asked me.
‘Um....I’m a blogger...’ I said, then launched into something about how hard it was to get work permits here. OMG – I can’t believe I whined and made excuses to a can-do millionaire about the difficulty of an expat working in Kenya. It was so lame!
I could have said, ‘I am freelance writing and I’m actually half way through writing a book’ – but no.... just ‘I’m a blogger and a mother’ popped out. I think I have self confidence issues. I lay awake that night fuming at myself about that one!
I really wanted to talk to Theo too, as he’s my absolute favourite, but it just didn’t happen. He had a semi-circle of people talking to him at the end and there was just no way a gap was going to open up. My second friend (who runs her own business) said after chatting to him alone for ages, that he was charming. That didn’t help.
The Zim friends said Duncan was ‘glazed over’ and disinterested by the time they got to him. I nearly killed them for forgetting to mention to him that they are in the essential oils business.
‘Oh yes, damn I forgot,’ said the Zim husband, ‘so he’s the spa guy?’
‘Yes!’ I almost screamed.
The Zim wife/friend made me laugh so much. She and her husband are incredible examples of people who lost their farm, everything in Zim and have successfully worked their way back up in Kenya, to a point where they own two businesses and their own house etc. They are fab.
‘I told James Caan,’ she said in the car later, ‘that there’s actually no difference between him and me, we’re both the same.’
I nearly choked! ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘the only difference is that he has five cars including a Maybach, an Aston Martin, multiple homes and a gazillion pounds in the bank.’
‘I know,’ she said, ‘he was very nice but when I spoke to him he hadn’t even heard about land reform in Zimbabwe or even Amin’s expulsion of Asians in Uganda in the 70s. But at least he was interested. He asked lots of questions and listened. Not like that other one.’
The Dragons’ are still here in Kenya until Tuesday. I have resisted the temptation to stalk them at their hotel (though I did find out where they are staying). They looked a little shaken by their experiences of filming in the slums and we'd talked about the problem of HIV and Aids here.
My parting thoughts are that it must be exhausting being a celeb – particularly a millionaire investor one, where no doubt everybody has an idea to pitch wherever they go. In retrospect I feel a bit silly about getting so awfully excited and keen to impress. It was fun though.
Labels: Comic Relief, Deborah Meaden, Dragon's Den, Duncan Bannatyne, James Caan, Kenya, Theo Paphitis, tv35 36 37 38