Scotsman Obituaries: Entrepreneur who became famous on Dragons' Den

Hilary Lorraine Devey CBE, businesswoman and entrepreneur. Born: 10 March 1957 in Bolton. Died: 11 June 2022 in Morocco, aged 65

Former Dragons’ Den star Hilary Devey has died aged 65, her publicist has confirmed.

The TV star died on Saturday, after a long illness, in Morocco, where she had a property, her publicist Benjamin Webb told the Press Association news agency.

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She joined BBC Two programme Dragons’ Den in 2011 and left in 2012, going on to present Channel 4’s The Intern.

Hilary Devey combined a straight-talking nature with warmth (Picture: Stuart Wilson/Getty Images)
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Hannah Wyatt, managing director of factual entertainment and events at BBC Studios, said: “Hilary Devey will always hold a unique place in the hearts of Dragons’ Den viewers and the programme team. We are all extremely saddened by her loss and our thoughts at this time are with her family and friends.”

Kate Phillips, director of BBC unscripted content, added: “When Hilary entered the Den in 2011 she was formidable, fiery and completely unforgettable.

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“A tough-talking Dragon who never minced her words, she also always saw the person behind the product, and was such an encouraging mentor and investor to so many entrepreneurs.

“A hugely successful businesswoman and television expert, she will be missed by all who knew her and benefited from her wise words and experience.”

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In 2013 Devey was made a CBE, honoured for a career in business and for her charitable work.

She founded multi-million-pound freight distribution business Pall-Ex after selling her home and car in the 1990s to finance it. Her charity work included her position as vice president of the Carers Trust and she was also a patron of the Stroke Association, having herself suffered a stroke in 2009.

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Juliet Bouverie, chief executive of the Stroke Association, said: “We are sad to hear that Hilary Devey has died after a long illness.

“After having a stroke herself, she was a long-time ambassador of the Stroke Association and we are very grateful for all the support she gave us over the years.

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"Hilary was keen that all stroke survivors received the help and support they need to rebuild their lives after stroke. We send our heartfelt condolences to her family and friends.”

Devey also appeared in The Business Inspector on Channel 5, and featured in Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire in 2008.

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Describing being made a CBE for services to the transport industry and to charity, she said at the time: “In every sense of the word, this is a great honour and I am equally flattered and flabbergasted. It is wonderful to receive such recognition, but this should be less about me, and more about the charities that I support and the amazing transport sector in which I am privileged to work.

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“So I dedicate my honour to the Carers Trust, the Stroke Association, and Fresh Start – New Beginnings, and the other charities that I have tried to support, as well as to the lorry drivers, forklift truck drivers and everyone else who works in the logistics sector: the unsung heroes of British industry.”

Hilary Lorraine Devey was born in Bolton, and from the age of seven started helping out in the pubs and corner shop run by her parents.

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She left school at 16 and later moved to London, where she worked in logistics for companies including TNT. Devey came to public attention when she replaced businessman James Caan on Dragon’s Den, later saying her best investment had been a mattress/duvet for caravans, boats and trucks.

In 2017, Devey gave up cigarettes after reportedly smoking “at least 20 a day for over 40 years”.

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“I’ve been hooked on cigarettes and ignoring the damage – even though I know the harm I’m doing,” she said at the time.

“I’ve found it extremely difficult to quit for good.”

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She published her autobiography, Bold As Brass: My Story, in 2012, which charted her life from her humble beginnings as a Bolton girl remembering the bailiffs calling when her father’s central heating business went bankrupt, to the multimillionaire businesswoman she became with properties in Spain, Marrakech and Florida.

Dragons’ Den star Duncan Bannatyne, who was on the show for a decade, appearing alongside Devey, tweeted: “Sad to hear that Hilary Devey has passed. So young. Too young. Rest in Peace Hilary.”

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Prominent businessman Theo Paphitis, who also appeared on Dragons’ Den at the same time as Devey, also remembered her. He tweeted: “So sad to hear of the passing of the lovely Hilary Devey. She left us all with some fantastic memories, may she rest in peace. My thoughts are with her family.

BBC Radio presenter Greg James tweeted: “I’m so sad to hear the news about Hilary. An absolute inspiration for woman in particular who wanted to make their mark in male-dominated industries, like she did in haulage.

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"She was also so much fun. And an absolute fashion icon.”

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