Passed/Failed: An education in the life of Duncan Bannatyne, entrepreneur and 'Dragons' Den' panellist

'I left school with no GCSEs, nothing'
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The Independent Online

Duncan Bannatyne, 60, appears on the BBC2 series 'Dragons' Den'. He founded the Bannatyne's Health Club chain and has just opened the Bannatyne Spa Hotel in Hastings. He presented 'Mind Your Own Business' and 'Bannatyne Takes On Tobacco', and is the author of 'Anyone Can Do It: My Story' and 'Wake Up and Change Your Life'.

The only thing I enjoyed at Dalmuir primary, a school in Clydebank, was maths. I had the ability to add up, but my maths teacher didn't have much time for me because I couldn't write down how I got the answers. I could see that the kids who went to high school had better toys than me. I made it my mission to do as well as I could, so that I could pass my 11-plus and get into the "posh school". I knuckled down, and when I passed – I was the only one in the family who did – my parents were incredibly proud of me.

When I started at Clydebank High School, it was immediately obvious that I was going to find it tough. I hated things like English – I was slightly dyslexic. I was hopeless at sport, too, having no coordination.

I started a paper round when my mother said I couldn't have an ice-cream because we were too poor. When I went to the newsagent's, he told me that there was no need for a paper round. I said that my mother would like her paper delivered, but he told me, "That's one person; I need 100." I knocked on 150 doors. When the ice-cream van came around again, I had enough money to buy ice-creams for my whole family.

I would get up at 7am and walk about one and a half miles to the newsagent's; the round trip took two hours. The woodwork teacher was always giving me the strap for being late. He said that I would never make anything of myself; he told me that very often. I was very, very good at woodwork, but he may have thought that I could have done better at school in general.

My dad was an Orangeman and arranged for me to learn the flute, so that I could take part in the marching band. I only ever marched once, but I did play the flute in assembly at school once and I remember that the girls liked that. Not that I had a girlfriend in those days, although I would occasionally walk a few girls home from school or carry their books.

There were no good qualities about the school that I can remember. No, I haven't been invited back to present the prizes! I left at 15 with no qualifications... no GCSEs, nothing. My entrepreneurship was dormant for 15 years – while I was in the Navy, in the five years when I was a garage mechanic, and in the five years that I was in the Channel Islands sowing my wild oats. It was always at the back of mind, though. When I was 29, I was on a beach with my girlfriend and we decided to go back to the mainland and make money. Both my parents lived to see me build up a business.

My teachers often asked me what I was going to do if I didn't pass my exams, so I told them I was going into the Navy. I learnt a little about mechanical engineering in the Navy. But at 19, I received a dishonourable discharge and nine months in Colchester military detention centre after I tried to throw my commanding officer off the side of an aircraft carrier. Someone bet me £5 that I wouldn't.