The NS Interview: Duncan Bannatyne

“Eventually, non-doms will be running this country”.

What's the secret to entrepreneurial success?
There is no secret. Just go and do it. Honestly, anyone can do it.

Do you think that enough is being done to encourage entrepreneurship in the UK?
I don't think you can encourage it by education. Entrepreneurs just have to have courage. People can look at me, or Richard Branson, and see that we started with nothing but a brilliant idea.

Do you think your TV programme, Dragons' Den, has changed business culture?
I hope it's encouraged people. I think it has. The motivation should be to build good businesses. If people just want to make money, or be on ­television, that's a completely different thing.

The show has turned you into a household name. Do you enjoy being a celebrity?
More people return my calls, and I get better treatment in restaurants. And I do get to speak to more government ministers and to be more influential. I am working really hard now with anti-smoking charities. The number of children damaged by their parents' smoking is disgusting. I want to do something about it.

Any downsides to fame?
Occasionally, someone approaches you with a business idea in a bar or something. I usually just give them my email address.

Who do you want to win the election?
At the moment, Gordon Brown is the best person to run the country, and I hope he stays in power. The trouble is that there is a much bigger picture. Non-doms are too influential. Eventually, they will run this country and the only people paying tax will be the workers.

What's the solution?
We should have a public list of everyone who registers as a non-dom. We should know who they are. There are far too many of them, and they are influencing all the parties as well as business.

If Brown loses, what do you expect from a Tory government?
If the Tories win, in ten years' time non-doms will have more control than they do now.

Who do you blame for the economic downturn? The government? The banks?
The banks were hedging money with each other, going round in circles and paying big bonuses. And one day the money just ran out.

Does the City still need to change?
We should make it against the law for banks to lend to each other - they should just lend to us. You don't have supermarkets lending each other vegetables. Why do banks lend to each other? They should be competing.

What about the accusations of greed levelled at banks and bankers?
The whole system is wrong. Bankers shouldn't get bonuses for lending; they should be for improving assets over a long period of time. And
if the company goes wrong, bonuses should be withdrawn. It's as simple as that.

What motivates your charity work?
I don't know. There's something about travelling in poor countries that really appeals to me. I only invest in a charity once I have thoroughly
researched it. I went to Romania ten years ago, and I was booked to go to Haiti recently. If the disaster had been one week later, my wife and
I would probably be dead - our hotel collapsed. But I want to keep going to places like that.

Celebrities are often criticised for doing charity work. Is that criticism fair?
I haven't had any, so I couldn't comment.

What has inspired your career?
At the age of 29, I was completely penniless and living on a beach in Jersey, having a great time. Then, when I fell in love, I came back to the mainland and got a job. The only reason was that I wanted to have a family.

Do you miss your former life?
I'm in a happy place. Whatever has happened has got me to this place.

What else made you who you are today?
We were just poor, and I didn't want to be poor. When I was 15, I joined the Royal Navy. Then, five years later, I came back home - to the same situation. I just didn't want to do what my father did and work in a sewing machine factory for the rest of my life.

Was there a plan?
I've never had a long-term sense of what I was going to do. I've been dead lucky.

Do you vote?

What do you regret?
Not a thing. The life I've lived has made me the way I am. So, no regrets.

Are we all doomed?
No, we are not all doomed. We need to look on the bright side a little more, all of us.

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article appears in the 19 April 2010 issue of the New Statesman, The big choice