One Giant Leap… with Duncan Bannatyne
Entrepreneur, philanthropist and author, Duncan Bannatyne is perhaps best known for being a straight-talking business angel on BBC2’s invester-tainment programme Dragons’ Den.
Born into modest circumstances in Scotland in 1949, Bannatyne showed an entrepreneurial spirit from an early age, but drifted until he turned 30, when a move to Stockton-on-Tees and a £450 ice cream van kick-started a business empire spanning hotels, health clubs, spas, media, stage schools, property and transport. Awarded an OBE in 2004 for wide-ranging charitable work, Bannatyne has travelled the world for organisations such as Unicef and Scottish International Relief (SIR). He describes to Compass editor Jennifer Cox, the trip that started it all.
I was brought up in poverty in Clydebank, Scotland and there was no opportunity to travel. I’d joined the Royal Navy when I was 15, and two years later spent six months sailing around the world.
Our first port of call was Cape Town, South Africa. We docked and were met in the harbour by local families, who literally queued along the quayside for the chance to take us home for tea. We were there for the weekend, and they wanted to put us up while we were ashore. It was quite unbelievable: meeting local people and seeing how they lived. We went on a short safari, and to the top of Table Mountain where it was snowing. Many locals had never seen snow before and apparently had travelled from all over specifically to see it, which shocked me, because where we came from, we had snow all the bloody time.
I stayed with a couple who had two daughters (one I got on well with and we stayed in touch for a while). They showed me around, shared the food they ate, and it amazed me how everything was so different from the life I knew. They had this local fruit, a bit like an apple, and I said it was lovely – just to be polite. So they gave it to me in every meal after that, which wasn’t good as it was quite sour. But of course what really amazed me was the sun. It was shining all the time, blazing hot. So different to home.
Next was Hong Kong. We sailed into the port, which was covered in bunting and all the locals were down in the harbour waving. The thing that I remember most was the food – mostly noodles and seafood, whatever the locals were eating but everything was new, and incredibly tasty. You can’t go into a Chinese restaurant and order the sort of food we had there. And the hustle and bustle was just incredible: markets, people with snakes coming out of baskets, street traders trying to sell you things. And of course we went to a few bars too. It was exciting and overwhelming at the same time.
We usually went ashore in groups, four or five of us together; I hate to think what would have happened if we’d gone on our own. We’d buy things to send home as everything was so cheap. I bought a car racing set for my brother, and a doll for my sister. Before we left the ship we were warned about local hustlers and taught how to haggle, which was interesting because it was so foreign to us, but absolutely the norm there. Someone would come up to you and offer you a watch for say 50, and you’d offer them 10, and they’d tell you to go away, but then get back into the haggling again. I really enjoyed it. That said, I bought a watch and it never worked.
From Hong Kong we went onto Fremantle in West Australia. It was a really, really friendly place and we had a good time in bars with the local people. All around the world we were made to feel welcome; it was a really great feeling. It was my first trip abroad and I was circumnavigating the world. We’d rarely be anywhere longer than a couple of days though. The rest of the time we were at sea, for up to three weeks at a time: sometimes travelling from port to port, other times just at sea doing manoeuvres as we were on an aircraft carrier.
I took it all in my stride – as you do when you’re 17 – but I also wrote letters home every day to my family telling them where I’d been and what I’d seen. These days I travel a lot with the charities I support, like my orphanage in Romania [Casa Bannatyne in Târgu-Mureş, a hospice for orphans with HIV and Aids],or with Comic Relief in Ethiopia and Mary Meals in Malawi. I still think safaris are the best kind of holiday you can have; but I still have to go to the gym every day.
Riding the Storm by Duncan Bannatyne is published by Random House Business (£18.99, Sept 2013)