The next time Alistair Darling decides to drop a tax bombshell, he should keep an eye on the TV schedules. His changes to the capital-gains-tax regime coincided with the start of the fifth run of entrepreneurs show, Dragons' Den; and the dragons were only too willing to join the baying mob. Leading the charge was new recruit, James Caan, who slammed the Chancellor's reforms as "detrimental" to business "and to the British economy as a whole".
Caan, who made a fortune in recruitment before launching private-equity firm Hamilton Bradshaw, is a controversial choice; he replaces Richard Farleigh, who was recently unceremoniously ousted from the show and airbrushed from the cover of the accompanying book. The most likely explanation, says The Sunday Times, is that Farleigh was "too polite, clever and reasonable for a format which increasingly relies on rudeness and eye-rolling". Can Caan cut the mustard? He may be disappointingly personable. Fellow judge Duncan Bannatyne who, according to one contestant, "sneered at me in that way someone sneers when they see dog mess in the road" senses no threat to his own Mr Nasty niche. Caan, he says, "is different from the rest of us much quieter and more politely spoken but comes out with amazing comments".
One thing's for sure, the new dragon is far more of an international player than his peers, who mostly made their money in domestic industries such as caravanning, gambling, health clubs and mobile phones. Last year, Hamilton Bradshaw became one of the first Western investors to target Pakistan with a £100m fund, says the FT. Meanwhile, Cann's been mixing it up at home in the cut-throat world of commercial property, taking on Vincent Tchenguiz, no less, in the battle to acquire troubled property services group Erinaceous.
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Caan's interest in Pakistan is no surprise: he was born there, arriving in Britain as a small child in the early 1960s. "My father came to the UK and set up a leather manufacturing business in central London," he told The Sunday Times. "He's the man I respect the most, although he has passed away." Caan started out as a trainee recruitment consultant, "earning something like £30 a week". In his early 20s, he struck out alone, launching Alexander Mann with just £20,000 in 1985. He had seen an opportunity in the new market of IT recruitment and his hunch paid off. Within a few years, the firm was raking in profits, and survived a nasty blip in the recession of 1991 to become the cash cow for his subsequent private-equity career. "It's given me the platform for what I do today," he says. When he sold up in 2002, the firm was bringing in £130m a year.
These days, life is sweet enough for Caan, 46, who is married with two children and divides his time between London and Cannes. "I have all the normal kinds of things you'd expect," he says: "a yacht, cars, houses, designer clothes." Indeed, he considers spending a virtue. "When you work that hard, you need to reward yourself. Money for money's sake is not motivating. It's what you can buy with it that interests me." Admitting to "a fetish" for clothes, he drives a Rolls-Royce Phantom and once paid way over the odds for an Aston Martin formerly belonging to Elton John. Surely that flies in the face of his professed money mantra: "Take it seriously, and respect it"? Maybe, Caan concedes. "I think I just got carried away."
The price he'll pay for touching down on Planet Celebrity
Dragons' Den has its critics, says The Western Mail, but the show, in which "fledgling entrepreneurs lay bare their beloved brainwaves", certainly qualifies as "must-see TV". Caan says the attraction for him is that "it's real" rather than "reality" TV, offering successful candidates the chance to achieve a "spectacular result". He says his main concern is "could I work with you?", rather than "can I incinerate your business model"? And he retains a healthy respect for candidates, however hare-brained their schemes (this week's episode included a mobile gold-plating service and a David Beckham lookalike seeking to raise £100,000 for a celebrity doubles business). It's not easy "standing up in front of five professional, successful entrepreneurs", he says. "I bet if you asked any of the Dragons [to do it], they wouldn't find it easy either."
But however much he stresses the show's "real business" credentials, he has joined a select new group, says Martin Waller in The Times: "the businessmen (and women) who have made the transit to Planet Celebrity". Duncan Bannatyne, whose wedding featured in OK Magazine, regularly appears on late-night youth shows. His colleague, Peter Jones, complains that "lust-crazed" female fans send him knickers through the post. All this and more now awaits Caan, and he may do well to embrace it, says the Evening Standard. One reason why the unfortunate Richard Farleigh, who turned down an invitation to appear on Strictly Come Dancing, was dropped from Dragons' Den was that he "refused to be packaged as the modern all-singing, all-dancing... celebrity property'. He preferred to remain an expert and paid the price".
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