Why Piers Linney took the chance to be a dragon

THE latest gadget, a smartphone and a tailored suit are all surely on the priority list of any entrepreneur wanting to strike it rich.

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Piers Linney joins the team for another series of Dragons' Den, this time wearing Alexander McQueen
Piers Linney joins the team for another series of Dragons' Den, this time wearing Alexander McQueen

Not so, for Dragons' Den star Piers Linney.

"I didn't own a suit - although I do have one now. I got invited to 10 Downing Street and it said 'lounge suit'. I had to apologise because I don't own a lounge suit," he admits.

The 43-year-old, dressed in all-black by British brand Alexander McQueen, joined the BBC Two show in 2013, taking over from Theo Paphitis. Working out his on-screen wardrobe proved to be his toughest challenge.

"For the first season, I thought, 'I'm going to be a Dragon. What do I wear?' It's quite hard to work out - I want to be comfortable, but I also want to be smart and serious," he continues.

"Last series, I wore jeans, brogues and a shirt. It's quite safe - it's not really me. I don't usually dress like that. This series, I am kitted out head-to-toe in Alexander McQueen. That's more me, so I feel much more comfortable in my own skin. They make you buy three of everything for consistency."

Linney, the co-CEO of cloud-based IT business Outsourcery, reprises his role on the investors' panel for the 12th series alongside "great friends" Kelly Hoppen (who made her debut alongside him in 2013), Peter Jones, Duncan Bannatyne and Deborah Meaden.

"We get on really well. What happens in the den stays in the den, so you might see us have the odd serious argument but [it's forgotten] once we get to the green room," he reveals.

"I'm getting into the flow of things now. The first season, you're trying to work out the Dragons, their personalities and their tactics, so you probably see more of who I really am this time. Also, last year, people didn't really know who the new Dragons were, but now they do."

While he remains tight-lipped about what deals he's invested in, he reveals: "The other Dragons were saying that the quality is higher than ever in this series.

"I'd like to see more technology in the den. Real, deep technology can be hard to pitch in that environment, but you're seeing more tech-related start-ups - e-commerce and online retailers."

Linney, who launched his first business aged 13, had no doubts about returning to the den.

"It's a fantastic experience. You are getting involved with entrepreneurs, making investments, spending time with them and working in new sectors," he says. "I tend to do technology, media, telecomms, and now I'm in various sectors.

"The profile is quite good for business, it's also good for my charitable interests as well. I did think about it, but it was the right decision to make. I've always been a fan, so to be on it is quite amazing."

But the married father-of-two admits it took some persuasion before he signed up.

"When they approached me, it wasn't an immediate yes. I had a long, hard think about getting involved, the time commitment and the profile - the downside is you become public property. I also had to talk to my board - probably the only Dragon who has to talk to a board," he says.

"I was away with Sir Richard Branson on his private game reserve Ulusaba when the producers called. I asked him what he thought, and he said, 'Just do it'."

BEING on the programme has meant that Linney, who previously appeared in Channel 4's The Secret Millionaire, is more recognised.

"It's weird that people think they know you. Being on TV never crossed my mind. The Secret Millionaire was quite personal, so people would stop me on the street and ask about my mother," he says.

"You get pitched to every-where - by the pool on holiday and in bars. Cab drivers watch Dragons' Den. I haven't met a cabbie yet that hasn't pitched me an idea. You'll be having a great unconnected conversation and it'll err down a certain path, and you hear the pitch coming.

"I think it's good. Everybody has a business in them and it's fascinating to hear what people think of doing."

The most bizarre pitch he has heard is by the Bulgarian inventor, for a self-filled bath, in the 11th series: "Enough said! That will take some topping, but you are going to have to watch this series to find out."

Linney, who is half- Barbardian and half-English, is launching a not-for-profit Work Insight scheme to help provide students with employers. The project is in its pilot stages, with hopes it will be rolled out nationally in 2015.

"My experience is, if you define me as black, I am the only black guy in the room wherever I go," he explains. "That is something I want to change with Work Insight - people of all races and all backgrounds can get access to the workplace, so I'm not the only black person in the room."

But he has no interest in becoming the next Lord Alan Sugar and featuring in his own version of The Apprentice.

"I think Dragons' Den is the programme on television that communicates the best example of the business process, so I'm quite happy to do this for the foreseeable future.

"I'd rather be anonymous, but I think that ship has sailed..."

l Dragons' Den BBC 2, Sunday

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