"When People Meet Me They Say, 'You're So Much Nicer in Real Life'"
Hasan, Mehdi, New Statesman (1996)
Have you always wanted to be in business?
Absolutely. I had my first flower stall when I was seven, at the end of the drive in Minehead, Somerset. Nobody was stopping so I moved it to my neighbour's drive, because I thought: "Location, location, location." It worked.
Do you ever feel that you are represented harshly on Dragons' Den?
I think I'm fairly represented, but only in that situation. It's me, but it's a very narrow slice of me. When people meet me they say, "You're so much nicer in real life." But if they were to ask me for [pounds sterling]500,000, trust me, I'd get extremely focused on the business.
Which Dragon are you closest to?
I think it's to do with the way we sit, but Peter Jones, Theo Paphitis and I socialise quite a bit. James Caan sits a long way away.
Most people on the programme fail. Do you not feel guilty?
They know the environment they're walking into. They've got this amazing opportunity, and what do they do with it? They say, "I'm not a numbers person--I don't know what my turnover is." That's why I get so irritated.
What's your advice to a young entrepreneur?
Consider, in this climate, "Will this business proposition work?", not just "I want to get into business". If you're convinced it will, don't be put off, because there are plenty of people, particularly when you're young, who are happy to say, "I don't know. I wouldn't do it now."
How ruthless did you have to be to get ahead?
I don't think I'm ruthless, but I'm very driven, irritatingly so.
You've had ups and downs like anyone else. How have you coped with failure?
I've only just learned to say the word "failure". I hate it. I hate getting things wrong and I hate failing. It hurts, and so it should.
Are you mega-wealthy?
I'm afraid so.
What's it like?
It's very nice, but I think when you've earned your money you never feel there's enough. Obviously, I'm not worrying about whether I can pay my heating bills, but it does emotionally [affect me] because I work with people who are worried. I don't live in isolation.
Do you think there's too big a gap between rich and poor in Britain today?
In Utopia there wouldn't be one, would there? But of course--when you've got people sleeping on the streets and others with six houses they don't even know they own, that's too big a gap.
Do you feel you pay too much tax?
I have no problem paying taxes. It doesn't bother me, because I want to live in a society that's happy. …