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Deborah Meaden's thoughts for 2013 turn toward philanthropy

PUBLISHED: 09:12 28 February 2013 | UPDATED: 21:02 05 April 2013

Deborah during a recent trip to India

Deborah during a recent trip to India

One of Somerset's most successful businesswomen has been sharing the secrets of her success with the nation through Dragon's Den, but her priorities for 2013 lean more towards philanthropy, as Abi Butcher discovers...

Deborah Meaden's thoughts for 2013 turn toward philanthropy


One of Somersets most successful businesswomen has been sharing the secrets of her success with the nation through Dragons Den, but her priorities for 2013 lean more towards philanthropy, as Abi Butcher discovers...

Photography by: Richard Dunwoody / The Brooke

When I catch up with Dragons Den star Deborah Meaden, it is at the end of a cold, wet January and she is busy juggling horses between fields on her farm in Somerset.

Theyre each having two hours out, so Im doing a lot of swapping around today, says the 54-year-old businesswoman, admitting: My horses are really spoilt.

We had met the week before in a plush hotel in London, where Deborah was fresh from filming a piece on the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) for the BBC, and looking far more feminine and approachable than her Dragon persona would have you believe.

The wellbeing of horses and animals all round the world is on the top of Deborahs agenda for 2013. She has been an ambassador for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) for four years, campaigns against mega dairies for WSPA and has been a patron of the Tusk Trust for two years. Late last year the entrepreneur turned her attention to equine welfare, working with a new charity called the Brooke to raise funds and awareness.

Ive always loved animals, I dont know why, but I look around and think it would be a sad world without them, says Deborah, who last December travelled to India to see for herself the work the Brooke is doing with working horses, donkeys and mules.

Over eight series of Dragons Den, she has invested 2 million in 33 enterprises over half of which are owned by women

What I like most about the Brooke is that it goes in to a community with the express plan of giving people the tools and knowledge to look after their animals, empowering them with that, and then leaving, she said.

I could really tell which communities the Brooke had been working with the horses were visibly more healthy, the people felt ownership of their animals, they were proud of them and keeping them healthy gave them a sense of being.

Back home in Somerset, Deborah keeps five horses three of which she rescued 13 micro pigs she rescued last year, along with a menagerie of ducks, geese and chickens. Perhaps surprisingly for someone who campaigns for animal welfare, Deborah and her husband Paul raise Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs for meat.

Its an interesting debate Im quite sentimental, but my pigs live well and they die well, she explains.

Theres something intrinsically wrong about raising an animal for vanity, I ended up with the two micro pigs as I was given 35 to rehome because they had got to big. We managed to rehome 33, but ended up keeping the last two Donna and Marshall May. Two days later, Donna had 11 piglets.

Deborah says she hopes her work with charities that help animals both domestically and internationally will highlight the issues she feels so passionately about wildlife crime, campaigning against mega dairies, improving the lot of working horses to name but a few. A lot of people know whats happening but feel helpless, she says, while for others animal welfare simply doesnt cross their radar.

If I talk about it, and tell people what Ive seen such as tigers in living among the community in India or horses being worked in the brick kilns of Delhi, then it crosses their radar. People cant care if they dont know so the best thing I can do is talk about it, she says. Stop buying ivory trinkets in Thailand for one they were probably made from elephants that were poached!

But the Dragons Den star draws the line between emotion and business when it comes to her investments. However passionate she is about animals, Deborah says: I am very clear that business is business.

Its being successful in business that has allowed me to do the things I do, and have the charitable interests that are so important to me. I wouldnt invest in a project just because it was involved with horses, for example I always ask myself is this a good proposition? she explains.

One good proposition was the Fox Brothers & Co textile mill in Wellington. Deborah and her long-standing friend and textiles expert Douglas Cordeaux, took ownership of the business in 2009 when it was, she says, on its knees.

Three years later, the last textile mill in Somerset is going from strength to strength, with the recent launch of a retail range now being stocked in Libertys of London, and at a successful pop-up shop in central London over Christmas.

Were really excited the business would have failed if we hadnt stepped in, says the businesswoman.

Over eight series of Dragons Den, she has invested 2 million in 33 enterprises over half of which are owned by women.

It wasnt intentional, of course I support women in business but I dont talk about it, because I think women should stop thinking of themselves as women in business and just get on with it, she explains, candidly.

I meet hugely successful women every day not least when I was in India with the Brooke. The women are so tough, they are all entrepreneurs and they survive and get on with it its something I admire enormously.

For more information on the work of The Brooke, visit www.thebrooke.org.uk or call 020 3012 3456.


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