EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Sara Davies talks Dragons’ Den series 19 and her time on Strictly Come Dancing
Award-winning entrepreneur Sara Davies was a regular feature on British TV screens last year, interrogating business pros on Dragons’ Den and wowing audiences on Strictly Come Dancing.
Now, Sara’s back amongst her fellow Dragons for 2022 with a new series. That’s right, Dragons’ Den returns for a 19th series on Thursday, January 6 at 8pm.
We chatted to Sara about the impact of the pandemic on business, her experiences on the dance floor, and what to expect on Dragons’ Den series 19.
The world has changed so much since you became a Dragon. How have the last couple of years changed the pitches you’ve seen on the show since 2019?
What’s been interesting is we filmed this series in the summer of last year, after a full year of pandemic and lockdowns. We did film the previous series in Covid times, but all the businesses we saw had been recruited before the pandemic happened. What you’re going to see [this series] is people who have invented products that help with the pandemic: people have acknowledged the way the world’s changed and that they can deliver products or services that help with that.
Generally in business a lot of people are just full of doom and gloom [about the pandemic], but what we saw was people being proactive. There’s more money committed in this series than in the 18 series before it, and I honestly think that’s down to the calibre of businesses we’ve seen.
So you would say the pandemic is a good thing for Dragons’ Den?
I think it’s a good thing for business in general. When I started my business, it was in times of real economic prosperity. My business was in crafting and you had all these little craft shops opening up left right and centre. Everyone had cash, banks were loaning out money, everything was brilliant. A few years later, I traded my business through a global recession, and I saw loads of these businesses failed. The ones that are left come out stronger as a result of it, both because they’ve had to weather the storm and also they’ve picked up the opportunities that these failed businesses left behind. We’re seeing that in the den – the real fighters, both showing you how their business can succeed but then also the whites of their eyes.
There’s a new dragon this series – Steven Bartlett. I wonder if you could tell me what it’s like working with him and how he changes the dynamic in the den?
He massively changes the dynamic. When I came in, I was the youngest dragon. I’m a real people pleaser so I didn’t lord it over the other dragons in any way shape or form. He comes in, he’s even younger than me, and it felt really noticeable: the way he dresses, the language he uses, the body language, his mannerisms, and the business examples he drops when he pitches himself with the other entrepreneurs.
[Steven]’s got such a different skillset and comes from such a different world than any of the other Dragons had operated in. When he started to interrogate some of the businesses, I used to sit with my note book and write things down I wanted to look up later.
Were there any new business ideas that just sort of blew your mind this series?
Absolutely. We had some corkers. It was often the simple stuff, where you just look at it and you go, that’s so obvious, why has nobody done that?
In episode one there is a fantastic investment. As soon as they pitch it, it’s kind of a product kind of a service, and I just thought oh my word I am totally gonna be a consumer for this. I want this investment, I’m going to go for it. All five Dragons scrap for it. What a way to start the series.
Are there any products that you’ve discovered from the show that you now use in your everyday life?
There was one product this series which was so awesome. They didn’t pick me – they went for one of the other dragons, but I loved the product and we got free samples. I was using the free samples every day and then I was trying to sell them the other Dragons. I remember Peter saying to me at one point, “wait, you didn’t do that investment did you?” I was like, “no, I just love the product.” You’re really pleased for your colleagues, as they’ve got a great investment. You’re a bit bitter at the time, but you’re pleased for them later.
I was wondering about that. You’ve all got such strong personalities in the den, so is there ever any in-fighting?
It’s a bit like a boardroom setting. [In my business] we’re a husband and wife team. Me and my husband had a board meeting yesterday and there are not many things he and I agree on in our business. It makes for really good drama in our board meetings, yet we can then come out of that and go home and have a cup of tea and everything is normal. We know that to operate in business at a very high level you have to be able to have healthy conflict. That’s where people challenge each other and create results.
It’s the same in the den as it is in the boardroom. We can fight like dragon and dragon, but then as soon as we come out of the den, we have a grown-up conversation about it.
How would you say it’s different being on a judging panel on Dragons’ Den compared to being judged on Strictly Come Dancing?
Worlds apart – I was not ready for the judging on Strictly Come Dancing. The irony: that first dance I did on Strictly was a Dragons’ Den type sketch. So many of my friends rang me afterwards like, it’s like we were watching the screen and it wasn’t you.
I was just so far out of my comfort zone. The best way I can describe it is within business, you don’t always see the real me. You see the me that is appropriate for that situation. I’ve got the armour up – you’re seeing businesswoman Sara.
So what I tried to do when I started dancing was work really hard. I learnt the steps with the armour up, so when those judges say something to me they’re not going to get through it. Actually, it was not letting the armour down that hurt even more, because the comments and the criticisms were so harsh.
Basically what they were saying to me was you haven’t given it your all. I had given it my all in terms of learning the steps but I hadn’t let the vulnerable me go out there. That’s what I had to learn how to do if I was going to make it anywhere in the competition. I couldn’t be businesswoman Sara, I had to go out there and be this real me. Even if that meant being vulnerable, which was really difficult.
Now that you and Deborah [Meaden] have both done Strictly, are you going to try to convince the other Dragons to try it?
I’m sure the next time we’re filming, there will be glasses of wine flowing and we’ll be doing our best. The way Deborah used to talk so passionately about how much she loved her time on the show is a big part of [why I said yes]. She loved the experience so much. All the way through filming, she would be talking to me almost every day to ask how it was going and how I was feeling. She’s been a fantastic emotional support through it.