It's lonely at the top! Her company turns over 100m a year but Dragons' Den star Hilary Devey says she'll never find love again
22:13 GMT, 18 May 2012
The dcor in Hilary Devey’s London apartment is maximalist, opulence in every nook and cranny. Hilary herself is tired after filming the next series of Dragons’ Den, to be shown later this year, and survives on four hours sleep a night anyway.
Not that you’d know. She’s immaculately turned out. Her vampish locks are glossy and full. She’s 55, tall and slim in black leggings and a cream silk top. But there is pain in her perfectly made-up eyes, despite their sparkle.
Her book Bold As Brass tells of a childhood when she hardly went to school, worked in her parents’ pubs, lost her beloved father to stomach cancer when she was 18, endured painful marriages with men who either loved her too much or not enough.
Life at the top: Businesswoman Hilary Devey pictured in her opulent London apartment
Her only son, Mevlit, now 25, became a heroin addict, stole from her to pay for his drugs and nearly died. And she reveals she was raped. In 2009 she had a stroke. Her peripheral vision has been affected, and she can’t drive because she can’t steer. One arm doesn’t work properly and she can’t always brush her hair. She had warning of it, a terrible headache which she tried to ignore.
‘I was packing for a business trip and couldn’t co-ordinate it but carried on. Then my arm went numb. The signs were there but I didn’t act on them. Instead I took every conceivable headache pill, then collapsed.’ Mevlit found her and called the ambulance. One wonders if her running her haulage company Pall-Ex, which has a turnover of 100 million a year, contributed to it. ‘Stress doesn’t cause a clot. I was unlucky. I have a healthy diet, no red meat or wine and I believe hard work is good for the soul.’
She’s always excelled at being a woman in a man’s world, and nothing has fazed her. But she has been married three times and her mother used to say, ‘Hilary, you are brilliant in business but you have lousy choice in men.’ Hilary explains, ‘In business, I take the compassion out of the commercial decision and then put the compassion back into it. It’s hard to do that with men when you’re feeling lonely and vulnerable. Having a public profile and being at the top of your business is a lonely place to be. What I have achieved emasculates men. God knows why. I’m not strident in a relationship. I’m very traditional, I like cooking and cleaning.’
Hilary says she is tired after filming the next series of Dragons' Den, to be shown later this year
Does she think men always try to rein her in ‘Absolutely.’ And did she change for any man ‘Never.’ She was, however, kept down by her long-term partner Hussein, a Turkish businessman and Mevlit’s father. They couldn’t marry because it turned out he was already married to someone else. ‘He was very jealous. He gave me some of the happiest times of my life and some of the saddest. I did truly love him. The only problem was that he lied, which turned the relationship into a sham.’
Her father had a central heating business, which went bankrupt, as well as pubs. When she was little, bailiffs took away all the furniture. It was at that moment she decided it would never happen to her. From a very young age she helped her parents out or she worked on a stall. The family moved home a lot, and she went to 13 different schools. When she was around eight a friend’s father tried to interfere with her. And years later an older girl lured her into a situation in which she was raped.
‘The worst thing was I couldn’t ever talk about it. The book is the first time, and the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. Harder than setting up Pall-Ex. Harder than seeing my son go through heroin addiction. It was a very emotional time and it affected me very badly, dredging up things I’d locked away. On reflection, working from such a young age and being kept off school to run a business, I didn’t have a normal upbringing did I I’m not a normal person, am I
The book is the first time, and the hardest thing I’ve done in my life… Harder than seeing my son go through heroin addiction. It was a very emotional time and it affected me very badly.
‘My father was such a dominant figure in my life, and Hussein was too. A lot of women gravitate towards men like their fathers. At the time I was a career girl in middle management, but because Hussein was so strong I was attracted.’ Her father cast a long shadow. ‘I remember the day he said, “I’m dying”. I was devastated but he just got on with it. He was like me – take a painkiller and go. I am my father’s daughter.’
As for marriage, or falling in love, she says never again. ‘I wear my heart on my sleeve. Men take advantage of it. Let’s face it, I’ve got money. I’m an easy lifestyle. I won’t let that happen again.’ She married first husband Malcolm Sharples when she was 18, and says he wasn’t strong enough for her. Then came Hussein and after that, when she was lonely, she married Ed Devey. ‘Hussein at least didn’t want me for money. Perhaps he loved me too much. Some men have loved the money too much.’
Last year she married former pub boss Philip Childs, who was renovating her property in Spain. She says this too ‘has gone down the pan’. In her book she explains she didn’t realise ‘you both come with a lot of baggage when you get married in middle age.’
She says her son was dyslexic and she thought he’d be ok at a specialist school, but he started using drugs. ‘It was a journey into the abyss. He’s 6ft 3in and four times the weight of me, but I’ve dragged him into the car and forced him back to rehab.’ She feels guilty that he got into drugs in the first place. She was a single mother running her business. ‘I kept thinking if only I’d not started Pall-Ex. I was busy, so when he wanted money, I gave it to him, because I wanted my child to have the things I never had, but he was buying drugs.’
She says she doesn’t like cynicism, and tells me about a man who tapped at the window of her Rolls-Royce the other day. ‘He said his wallet and mobile phone had been stolen, and he needed 80 to get back to Scotland.’ Was it true ‘I gave it to him happily on the grounds it would change his life but not mine. Hopefully the man will get in contact and say “I was genuine”.’
She’s right. Cynicism is not attractive, and she has none whatsoever.
Bold As Brass by Hilary Devey is published in hardback by Macmillan on Thursday, 16.99.