As she goes through her third divorce, multi-millionaire Dragons' Den star Hilary Devey talks about her terrible choices in men and why women can't have it all. All the drama of her life is featured in her new autobiography, Bold As Brass.
By Hannah Stephenson.
She may be super-rich and super-successful, but today Dragons' Den star Hilary Devey is not shouting about her achievements. Instead, she's whispering about her shattered private life.
After little more than a year of marriage, the 55-year-old entrepreneur is divorcing her third husband, builder Phillip Childs, but won't go into details.
"I wish I could talk to you about it, but I can't," she tells me in her deep, gravelly Bolton accent. "It's probably one of the unhappiest periods of my life. I will never marry again."
She's now living on her own with her son and a home help in the opulent wing she owns of the majestic Staffordshire mansion Rangemore Hall, originally built as a country retreat for Edward VII.
"It's bloody hard knowing that a third relationship has gone down the pan. What on earth can I say? I feel hurt, angry and just a little bit bewildered because I can't seem to get it right with men."
We meet to discuss her autobiography, Bold As Brass, which charts her life from her humble beginnings as a Bolton girl who remembers the bailiffs calling when her father's central heating business went bankrupt to the multi-millionaire businesswoman she is today with properties in Spain, Marrakech and Florida.
Indeed, her career success has probably affected her close relationships with men, she concedes.
"I've never had a male support by my side. Every man I've met has always wanted to walk in front. Maybe I've just not met anybody of equal intellect."
Jaw-dropping tales fill the pages of her memoir. Raped at 12 after an older girl who she trusted lured her to meet an Italian man near her parents' pub in Lancashire, she was too ashamed and terrified to tell anyone and kept her secret for 43 years.
"Throughout my life I've carried guilt attached with it and blamed myself in a way for putting myself in such a precarious predicament. I was just too young to deal with it. I mean, I'd never even been kissed."
Stories of her unfaithful father, her first two failed marriages and the violent abuse she suffered at the hands of one lover, the father of her only son, who unbeknown to her was married with five children, are also retold.
"I felt so desperately betrayed," she says. "For 10 years I never went out with a man afterwards. I focused on my career and my child."
As she charts how as a single mother she made her way in business, more drama follows with revelations of her son Mevlit's heroin addiction at 17, the most painful period of her life.
"I was so naive. I found out when I watched a movie called Chasing The Dragon. One of the fundamental features of it was that they (addicts) always spent a lot of time in the bath. And it just clicked."
By then she had become a successful businesswoman and for a time she gave him money for drugs while she decided what to do. Then she sent him to several rehab centres (he was kicked out of one after selling a TV she'd taken there for him and trying to buy drugs with the money).
For four years she locked up all her possessions because he stole anything he could to buy drugs, including food from the freezer, her jewellery, clothes and wine. When she gave him a petrol card for his car, he'd flag down cars and trade £100 worth of diesel to buy a £20 pack of heroin.
After seven years of addiction, in 2007 he finally had a drug-stopping implant fitted into his stomach and has been clean for five years. The implant has also been removed.
"He's trying hard and is getting his life back on track. He's working, doing carpentry, and it's right and proper that he should be doing it," she says.
"I worry about him morning, noon and night. My biggest worry is, God forbid anything happens to me, would he ever be that grief-stricken that he'd go back to it? Undoubtedly, I am his rock."
Does she ever wish she'd taken more time out from her career to be with her son?
"I've talked about this with Mev. If I wasn't with him his grandparents were with him and he was thoroughly spoiled. But he always craved my time and that was the one thing I couldn't give him in abundance. Of course I feel guilty about that."
But then Devey has been working since the age of seven, when she'd help in the corner shop her father bought and then latterly at the various pubs her parents ran.
She moved to London to work for a company that transported hanging garments and in 1996 launched her freight distribution company Pall-Ex. She's now reportedly worth an estimated £100 million, although she says she's never been motivated by money.
Since appearing on Dragons' Den, rumours of plastic surgery and other cosmetic enhancements have abounded, but Devey sets the record straight in the book.
Having suffered from alopecia in the late 1990s, she admits she still has hair weaved into her own because some patches have never recovered.
As for plastic surgery, she says: "Let me say now that I haven't had a facelift or cheek implant. I've had a bit of Botox in my forehead, some collagen in my lips, which to be honest I thought was a waste of time, and then a tummy tuck."
A near-fatal stroke in 2009 followed by seizures and a cardiac arrest left her left side paralysed and, to make matters worse, the tummy tuck, which was still healing, became infected. For now, she says, she's finished with cosmetic surgery.
"I'll be honest with you, if I could have a facelift tomorrow I would, but I wouldn't find a surgeon in the country prepared to do it because of the stroke. And I wouldn't jeopardise my health now."
The stroke has left her with no feeling in her left arm. She can't drive or do her hair, and because her left side is so weak it has affected her balance. But there's no self-pity.
"I'm patron of the Stroke Association and, believe me, there are millions of people in this country today who are in a far worse situation than I could ever be."
She says she'd like more 'me' time but her schedule is packed. She's currently filming a BBC series in which she meets female politicians, as well as running Pall-Ex.
Despite her business success, she remains adamant that women cannot have it all.
"Most women I know want a child, even those I know who are in gay relationships. It's in our genetic make-up.
"Immediately that woman goes off to have her child - unless you were like me where you'd starve and you'd have to go back to work - she wants to stay with that child. Women should just accept it and get on with it.
"I truly believe that if a woman wants to make it, in whatever industry you go into, you are up against chauvinism and misogynism - and it's down to you.
"Just shake your shoulders, laugh it off and get on with it."
:: Bold As Brass: My Story by Hilary Devey is published by Macmillan, price £16.99