A day in the life of David Lloyd: The former tennis pro who's swapping his gym kit for an apron and chef's hat

Inside the diary of the health club entrepreneur
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The Independent Online

Two weeks into his Christmas break with his parents in Palm Springs and David Lloyd has had to set his alarm clock. But considering every day is a holiday for the multi-millionaire former tennis pro, the 5am start is not too much of a hardship. He is up to catch a flight to Sarasota, Florida, where his latest business venture awaits.

Not content with juggling a possible sale of Next Generation, the health club chain he set up after selling his David Lloyd Leisure group to Whitbread, and the potential acquisition of London's prestigious Queens tennis club, this energetic Essex man is pouring his pent-up energy into bringing the UK a new concept in ready meals. For now, though, he contents himself with a quick coffee, saving eating for the four-hour flight.

7am (still Pacific Standard Time)

The tanned 58-year-old (it was his birthday on Wednesday) is flying to Florida for a series of meetings aimed at getting his latest project off the ground. Called Dinner's Made, the spin off from the US-born Dinner's Done will offer anyone from harassed housewives to aspiring amateur cooks the chance of being Nigella Lawson for a day and solving a month's worth of dinner dilemmas to boot. Wannabe chefs pre-select their recipes, pay £3 per head for the food, and turn up at an industrial-sized kitchen to knock up ready meals to rival Marks & Sparks.

"It's sweeping America. It will be gangbusters in the UK," says a characteristically enthusiastic Mr Lloyd. All the hard work - the shopping, the chopping - will be done in advance, leaving the apron-clad Gordon-Ramsey-in-waiting to follow a "colour-coded, idiot-proof" recipe. Once home, pop the end product in the freezer and bingo! a handy supply of calorie-counted, prepared meals that will make that stockpile of Goodfellas pizzas a distant memory of 2005.

12pm (Eastern Standard Time)

It's only two hours into the flight (but seven hours into his day since the jetsetter is an acolyte of the change-your-bodyclock-quickly school of handling jetlag) and already Mr Lloyd has had his fill of his new Toshiba laptop. His first brush with the digital age came wrapped up on Christmas Day from his girlfriend, Anne (he is recently divorced). "I was an unbeliever before," he says of the not-so-new technology. "My New Year's resolution is to learn to e-mail." It is Dinner's Made that has forced the change of heart. With his four business partners, spanning the globe - mostly down to the fact that Mr Lloyd has houses on America's west coast, in Barbados and in Surrey - he needs e-mail to check menus, prospective logos and dial up Dinnersmade.com (following its April launch in the UK).

It is typical of the entrepreneurial ex-sportsman that he is cementing plans for his attack on the ready meal industry in the very month that is make- or-break for Next Generation. Before boarding he made time for a quick call to his son, Scott, who runs the chain. Being only six days into January, the club is in peak membership drive. So far, so good. "Everybody's New Year resolution is to come to the gym and get fit. January is the benchmark for gyms." Mr Lloyd chairs Next Generation but steps in only on questions of strategy or if there are any problems.

For the club, the biggest strategic question since opening up in Australia is yet to come. The shareholders behind Next Generation, who include the Irish horseracing brotherhood of Dermot Desmond, John Magnier, J P McManus and Michael Tabor, as well as Scottish & Newcastle and Billie Jean King, have hired UBS, the investment bank, to assess its options. All remain open, according to Mr Lloyd who sees 2006 as "a year of consolidation among the good players - that's us, David Lloyd Leisure and Esporta". He adds: "There will be talks. How they will pan out I don't know. Will we be buyers or sellers? I don't know. I'm in a fantastic position of having very nice, very wealthy shareholders who don't have to rush for their exit."

Lunch is taken on board the plane, timed to coincide with when Floridians sit down to eat. It's nothing special because he is saving his appetite for his belated birthday dinner. Anne is lining up an edible surprise. The film buff also sneaks in a quick DVD - ah, the wonders of technology!

2pm

The plane lands in Sarasota in good time for a packed afternoon of meetings. It's 18C, humidity is a bearable 51 per cent and the sun is winning its battle with the clouds. The reason for the destination is because this is where Anne lives and where the first of Mr Lloyd's US kitchens will be based.

As well as acquainting him with the world wide web, Anne also introduced her beau to Dinner's Made and is his American business partner. She fixed a private cooking party for him and five couples and he was instantly hooked. "Men who've never cooked went away thinking they were Jamie Oliver," he recalls. Even his sceptical sister-in-law Deborah has come round to the venture after recently hearing her "ladyfriends raving about it in the gym".

2.30pm

The agenda for the afternoon is meeting his architects, his electrical engineers and his equipment supplier; the aim to get everything signed and sealed in time for an early dinner.

During the afternoon he has a conference call with his fellow Dinner's Made investors, who include Steve Cox, the part-owner of the luxury Bejan hotel, the Lone Star, and John Law, his marketing partner. They choose a logo from a shortlist of four and run through the financials once more.

The main plus is that even if the kitchens are only half full each month, they will still handle 9,000 covers - more than any restaurant - giving the new business enormous buying power. The plan is to open 10 venues very quickly and take it from there.

6pm

By now, it's mid-morning in southern Australia and semi-finals day in the Adelaide International. The warm up tournament for the Australian Open is being held in a Next Generation club so Mr Lloyd is closely tuned into its progress. He puts in his daily call to the other side of the world for an update. Unfortunately Andy Murray crashed out in the second round on Thursday.

Just thinking about British tennis riles Mr Lloyd. He is famously at odds with the Lawn Tennis Association, over, well, just about everything. Fired from his captaincy of the Davis Cup team by the LTA in 2000, he is having to deal with the organisation again at the moment over their sale of Queens. Although Mr Lloyd is still in the bidding, he is convinced the club's members will secure the tennis trophy in the end.

"From a PR point of view I think the LTA has to sell it to the members if their bid is there or thereabouts," he says. For what it's worth, he thinks the LTA, which is selling the club to fund its new £40m headquarters in Roehampton, has wasted its "best asset" for the past half century. Then again, he blames Britain's utter tennis incompetence on the LTA. "I wish some one could grab British tennis and do something with it. We can't be so unlucky not to have had a championship winner since 1936. I just don't believe in those sort of odds."

7pm

Just as well it's time to relax over his birthday dinner. Were he in London, the self-confessed foodie's destination of choice would be Caprice. As it is, it's Anne's choice. His holiday can start.

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