Dragons Den 1: A Brief Encounter with Duncan Bannatyne, and an email from the BBC

By Jill Boulton

A few years ago, Visorcat was featured on the BBC show Dragons Den, and I wrote a series of articles about the experience. In this first article, I explain why we did it … 

ONE December day a while back I was heading for a train to Middlesbrough at Darlington Railway Station. Walking towards me was a tanned and well-dressed businessman with a phone. I recognised him at once as my favourite Dragon, Duncan Bannatyne. As I smiled at him, he promptly looked at his phone and walked on.

It’s amazing who you bump into on the platform at Darlington – I once saw Tony Blair there. But I was delighted with my ‘Brief Encounter’ with Mr Bannatyne – and also confident I wouldn’t see him again.

Some years earlier I had bought, and excitedly read, a large yellow paperback book with the shouty title ‘YOUR IDEA COULD MAKE YOU RICH!’ Based on the BBC series Dragons Den, it was difficult for someone like me to ignore – the book almost jumped off the shelf into my Tesco trolley. It cost £8.97 (maybe I should adopt Tesco’s bizarre pricing strategy?) and contained some useful advice and inspiring quotations for would-be entrepreneurs, although now, when I look back, I think that book must have made more money for the publisher than for anyone who bought it!

However, when I read the book and for every year since, I never for a moment considered applying for Dragons Den. It just wasn’t on my radar. My brother Alan, who founded the business with me, said he would do it (when the subject occasionally came up), but I had many reasons not to. As a former journalist, I liked being behind the scenes and putting others in the spotlight. I have never courted publicity, and I don’t enjoy it. And yet, almost every month, someone would suggest it to us. “Oh, you’ve got a great idea there, why not go on Dragons Den?” they would say when they saw our innovative motorcycle visor cleaning gadget, Visorcat.

“Only as a last resort,” I would reply, while thinking about the amazing publicity it would bring. But still, we never applied. At one time, Dragons Den was my favourite TV programme (funnily enough, I don’t watch it these days) but I couldn’t see myself standing in front of any TV camera, let alone the ones in the Den!

But one day, many years after I bought the book and the year after we launched our product, I was checking emails on my phone while standing on an escalator in House of Fraser in Edinburgh. I saw an email from the BBC and, when I read it, couldn’t stop laughing. Then I was speechless for a while, before eventually explaining to my fellow director Andy Pringle that we had been invited to apply for a place in the infamous Den …

That day was January 17, 2014. A few days later, Andy, Alan and I had filled in our application forms. How could we turn down this opportunity? Thousands of businesses apply to the Dragons every year – and we had been invited.

Not long after that, we had an audition date and an invitation to BBC North at Salford Quays, near Manchester. The die was cast.

Next:Dragons Den 2: A pitch in time – our audition for a date with the Dragons