By Jill Boulton
Here's the final article about the time when Visorcat entered the infamous Dragons Den …
At 5.30am on filming day, the shower trickled cold water into the bath at the Copthorne Hotel, Salford Quays, Manchester.
At 6.45am we were to be driven to the studio for a 7am meeting with the producers of Dragons Den. This was a tall order – we were told to arrive ‘camera-ready’.
How can anyone be camera-ready at 7am with no sleep? How can anyone sleep the night before a date with the Dragons? How was I going to wash my hair and be ‘camera-ready’ with a trickle of cold water? This was a distinctly inauspicious start to the day!
Yes, we had passed our audition, and today was the day I, at least, had to look 100%. It had been decreed by the BBC that I was to present the pitch on my own. Alan would demonstrate the product astride his 13-year-old KTM Duke motorbike, wearing full bike gear and helmet, and Andy would be the person who helps the flustered entrepreneur with their numbers or other awkward questions. There was a lot of pressure on me – and the lack of pressure in the shower was not helping.
Somehow, Andy, Alan and I were ready for our car to the studio. The shower warmed up eventually and, amazingly, my hair looked OK. This was the day for female insecurities – if I was paranoid about my weight, makeup, hair, clothes, imperfections or mannerisms, this was the day for all of them to surface at once. I had developed a couple of smallish spots on my neck in the days before the filming date, and, to my horror, on filming day another much larger one had surfaced – right in the middle of my left cheekbone. It was a monstrous cutanean carbuncle and it was going to be right in the SPOTlight!
So, at the unearthly hour of 6.45am, we were whisked off to a former factory that had been converted into studios – The Pie Factory. We were to be the ingredients in a pie for the Dragons and viewers to devour or spit out, depending on their taste.
We were introduced to The Green Room. This was a series of dilapidated temporary buildings loosely attached to the main building. However, it did contain endless coffee and snacks, comfy seats and the all-important hair and makeup girls! So, thank God, my spots could be hidden, hopefully, from view.
We were expressly banned from speaking to the Dragons before our appearance in the Den, so the crew went to great lengths to keep us apart. Visits to the toilet were planned with precision! The crew had to chaperone us to and fro, which involved walking past the Dragons’ rooms with their names on the doors. On one visit, a door opened and someone dressed in red appeared – Deborah Meaden had emerged ahead of us. Realising there was someone behind her, she slowly turned around, looked us up and down and gave us what can only be described as a withering look!
Another memorable Meaden moment was when we were introduced to the set by the floor manager. In front of Deborah Meaden’s brown leather chair stood a pair of killer heels! No prizes for guessing who they belonged to, and I couldn’t help but think ‘I wouldn’t mind stepping into her shoes’.
It was almost a relief to walk on set and deliver my well-practised pitch. I was word-perfect (I think) and I can honestly say I enjoyed the experience. After I finished and Alan had demonstrated Visorcat, there was quite a lot of banter and jokes. My favourite Dragon, Duncan, and I reminisced about Darlington, where I had worked as a newspaper journalist in the late 1990s. Duncan said he understood the problem that Visorcat solves because he had a friend who rode bikes and got flies on his visor.
We mentioned that Visorcat had been tested by a police motorcyclist at speeds above 100mph, at which Duncan and Peter Jones demanded to know his name so he could be exposed!
Then, Ms Meaden complimented me on my pitch – she said “I present very well".
After the banter they all had their say on our product and business, and no, we didn’t get a deal. Having done our homework, we suspected that even if we got an offer, there was only a slim chance of our business getting the money – we understand that deals often fall through after the show.
However, we left with our dignity, integrity and credibility intact – and, importantly, Visorcat got a well-deserved airing on the BBC.
Postscript: I wrote the above article almost four years ago. From today's perspective, we went into the Den with our eyes open – we knew that only one in 20 of businesses offered a deal actually get the money, so there was little chance of us securing anything. However, in the same month that our appearance was broadcast, Visorcat sold out due to the publicity – and we survived to tell the tale …