Celebrity and former MP Gyles Brandreth
BLM met with the 2015 Business Leader Awards host Gyles Brandreth to find out more about his varied career and the consequences of saying no to Sir Richard Branson.
Can you tell readers about your career?
“I have had a very varied career and it’s difficult to say what has been my favourite profession as I like what I’m doing next and good at living in the moment. I enjoyed being an MP but am glad I am not one anymore.”
And your business career?
“When I was 17 I knew Sir Richard Branson, and he asked me about going into business together. He wanted us to publish magazines, and he reminds me when I see him that I turned him down!
“I remember saying you’re going nowhere. I can’t pretend to know much about business, but I have met lots of successful business people, and as an observer I know what it takes to achieve.
“I did also start a business with a friend from Oxford University, and after being involved for a while felt it was going nowhere, so I gave my share to him. It was an electronics business and he sold it a few years later for £70m.
“So the lesson is, don’t back anything I’m involved in. Take my awards but not my money.”
Where does your passion for words and numbers come from?
“I do have a passion for numbers and words, and I have appeared on countdown more than 300 times.
“Words are fundamental to how we communicate and so important in business for example, and so vital for success.”
What do you believe are the secrets to business success?
“I have been very lucky in that I have interviewed lots of famous people and business leaders, including Sir Richard Branson and Sheikh Mohammed, who is behind Dubai’s extraordinary success story.
They all share the same secrets of success, which I believe are:
• Clarity of ambition
• Bold and brave
• Great attention to detail
• Doing it yourself; they pick up the phone and do their own work
• Determination; they just keep going
• Energy; they have boundless energy
• Focus and a sprinkle of genius too.”
Do you think we celebrate business success in this country enough?
“I do believe we celebrate business owners enough in this country, but we don’t want to forget we’re British, and we don’t want to start beating our chests too much. Better to be doing it than talking about it.
“To be honest business people are the engine of the country, and if business isn’t creating wealth, we can’t pay taxes and have a health service, schools and public transport.
“Gatherings like the Business Leader Awards are important, as we get to celebrate successful business owners.”
You were once an MP, do you still admire politicians?
“On the whole I admire politicians. Having been one I know what it’s like. Politicians make a noise, but business leaders make a difference.
“With this in mind my message to business owners is to carry on regardless of politicians and achieve things despite us, because politicians mean well but often just get in the way.”
Why do you think more people with business experience aren’t entering politics?
“It’s a shame people go into politics too young and don’t enter the profession with more experience.
“The best way would be for people to enter politics in their 50s and 60s, having been successful in business and had experience in the real world.
“We need more people going into politics from ordinary backgrounds, and the best way would be to stick in business from the age of 20 to 50 and then spend the twenty years after that giving something back.”
Gyles Brandreth is a writer, broadcaster, former MP and Government Whip – and one of Britain’s most sought-after award ceremony hosts and after-dinner speakers.
A reporter on The One Show on BBC1 and a regular on Radio 4’s Just a Minute; his many books include The Oscar Wilde Murder Mysteries and the No 1 best-seller; The 7 Secrets of Happiness.
Favourite holiday destination?
“The South West of England and all of the beautiful gardens of Somerset, Devon and Cornwall.”
“I read lots so it changes every week. But at the moment it is a wonderful book called Old Wives Tales by Arnold Bennett.
“Also the Oxford Dictionary of humorous quotations. The chapters are very short but there is a chuckle on every page.”
“The Ruggles of Redgrap.”
Favourite actor or actress?
“Felicity Jones. She played Stephen Hawking’s wife in The Theory of Everything. She reminded me of my wife.”