Bonkers ideas and mischievous colleagues – Sarah Willingham on joining Dragons’ Den

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WOW! Did that just happen!?! I'm sat writing this from my desk at home soon after finishing filming series 13 of Dragons' Den, and already it seems like I might have actually dreamt the whole thing.

It has been one of the most fun and challenging things I've ever done. Whether it's the inspiration we get from an incredible entrepreneur who walks through the door; the giggles we have at the crazy/bonkers ideas; the intense battle of the bidding between us Dragons; or just to sit and listen to another Dragon talking about a specialist business area and soaking up their knowledge like a sponge. It has been quite a ride!

 

I walked into the Den on day one and it hit me just how intimidating it is for the entrepreneurs who walk through those lift doors. We must be terrifying, and from the start I managed a big smile for everyone who was brave enough to enter.  At the start of every pitch I would sit and silently will them to be their best and not crumble under the lights and the surly stares of the Dragons.  

I was waiting for one of those crazy 'umbrella on a hat' pitches and we definitely had a few of those. My favourite pitch was by Howard from Rain Diva – a kind of shower cap to keep your blow dry safe from the rain…. Say no more. And of course I have to mention 'Gold Disc Dave' from Stoke – what an opener he had! I loved him, but you’ll have to wait to see why!

Then there are those who walk in and have NO IDEA about their numbers or their market, and you just sit there shaking your head, saying “Have you not SEEN the show?! Surely you know we're going to ask about your business?!” 

The other Dragons are fantastic, and I found myself finding my sixth gear really quickly. Sitting and analysing business after business, day after day with four of the most brilliant business minds is an experience I never thought I'd have, and I valued every second of it.  They are four of the most brilliant and inspiring people I've even met, but also warm, friendly and hilarious fun to be with.  

The other two new Dragons - Nick Jenkins with his accents, and Touker Suleyman with his 'Touker time' (think MC Hammer!) - caused moments of hysteria during filming.

As for the existing Dragons, Deborah Meaden is full of twinkle and mischief, so impressive in the Den when she analyses the businesses, and manages to stay nothing but fair throughout. And of course the very tall Peter Jones, who knows so many industries inside and out and has an amazing ability to cut through everything to find the root of the issue, whilst staying respectful to everyone the whole time.

By far the toughest thing about filming Dragons was being away from my family and my businesses. In my 'normal' life I work from the office at home, do as many school runs as life will allow and have a day or two out and about meeting with our businesses. The filming is all consuming, and it's possible to get to the end of a day and not manage to catch the kids between coming home from school and bed time, and it’s possible to go a week and only communicate via email with my businesses. But I wasn't alone – Peter has five kids and Touker has two daughters.  

I can't wait for the show to air now and show my kids what I was up to during those weeks away!

Sarah Willingham is an entrepreneur and Dragon on Dragons' Den.

Dragons' Den starts on Sunday, 12 July at 8.15pm on BBC Two. Each episode will be available in BBC iPlayer for 30 days after broadcast on TV.

Comments made by writers on the BBC TV blog are their own opinions and not necessarily those of the BBC.

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