To millions of fans, he is TV's toughest dragon but beneath Duncan Bannatyne's ruthless image lies a surprising secret which reveals an altogether softer side.
The snarling Scotsman has been known to make Dragon's Den contestanats cry but few of his 'victims' know that a group of children several hundred miles away in Romania regularly reduces him to tears. Duncan, 60, built Casa Bannatyne, an orphanage for HIV-positive children in Targu-Mures, Romania, in 2004, and recently flew out to the wedding of Adela Bodor, 19, one of its first residents.
Duncan, a dad-of-six, says: "When I received my invite to Adela's wedding, I was filled with a mixture of emotions, the overriding one of which was great excitement. "I felt so happy for Adela and her fiancé Csabi, 19, a local businessman who is also HIV-positive. "This was for me the event in my diary that I have been looking forward to most; even though my calendar includes a number of special occasions, such as lunch in the sober surroundings of Chequers and, by contrast, Sir Elton John's flamboyant White Tie and Tiara Ball. "Adela was one of the first children to be housed in the orphanage I fund in Romania, Casa Bannatyne. Infection Hospital in the town of Targu Mures. "Adela looked radiant, and to my surprise and delight, asked me to give her away. It was one of the proudest moments of my life and one of the most fulfilling things I have ever done."
It was a chance meeting with runner Steve Cram's wife in 2002 which first set Duncan on the path hands-on philanthropy. Duncan recalls: "I sat next to her at a fundraising dinner and she told me about some amazing people she had met in Romania through UNICEF. "I decided to see for myself and encountered Magnus MacFarlane-Barrow, founder of Scottish International Relief. "He said he needed £120,000 to build a desperately-needed orphanage for HIV-positive children and a further £30,000 a year for operating costs. I told him I would foot the bill but gave him a deadline to finish the project within 8 months. "If I invest in something I don't just want to give money and leave it. The easiest thing when you are wealthy is to give money, the harder thing is to stick with it for the long term and make it work."
Within months the first children were in. Duncan, who built up his own £320 million leisure and hotel empire from a fleet of ice-cream vans, says: "Those kids wouldn't be alive today if it wasn't for the orphanage and the extraordinary people who now work there. "We have 20 kids now and I'm proud of each and every one of them. I am so inspired by them and in that respect, the orphanage is one of the best investments I've ever made." Duncan admits walking Adela down the aisle on June 27 almost reduced him to a blubbering wreck.
Her story is typical of many of the HIV-positive children Duncan's orphanage is helping. Adela contracted HIV during a blood transfusion at birth. Her father died just before her 5th birthday and two years later her mother abandoned her at the High Infection Hospital. She promised little Adela that she would come back for her but she never did.
Prior to Casa Bannatyne's existence, the hospital was the place many infected children called 'home'. Duncan says: "The High Infection Hospital is an ugly concrete building and when I went there in September 2002, the garden and the exit doors had dirty old mattresses and broken metal beds strewn around. "We went in through a small door and walked up 7 floors to get to the room where children like Adela, abandoned and suffering from HIV, were housed. "It was a terrifying place of little hope where some of the children were left to rot until they died. "The staff had no training in how to look after HIV-positive children and were reluctant to make physical contact with the children - so hugs were non existent. "
Adela lived there until 2001 when she was rescued by Magnus. "Magnus had formed a charity called Scottish International Relief and through that charity had purchased a house and converted it into an orphanage which was called Casa Iona and was to hold 10 of the children from the hospital. "Adela and the other children asked often about the children left behind and when Magnus approached me and asked me to finance the construction of a 2nd Orphanage I was happy to do so. "None of us will forget the words of the doctor and the hospital's manager when he was told we were building an orphanage. He said: 'You are wasting your time, these children will be dead before you have finished it'"
Thanks to loving care, better nutrition and much-needed anti-retroviral drugs, many of the children are now thriving. Duncan says: "For Adela to live through all of this journey with no bitterness in her mind, to beat the challenges that faced her, to find a loving boyfriend and to even consider marrying him is a triumph of great proportions. "Now she and Csabi plan to have children, who can be born safely and free of the HIV virus thanks to incredible advances in medicine. "I feel incredibly honoured to have played a part in that journey and look forward to many more Casa Bannatyne weddings in the future."
Duncan's own upbringing was far from privileged. He grew up on Clydebank, Glasgow, one of seven children. He recalls: "We didn't have designer clothes or TV, we walked a couple of miles to school and, looking back, how great was that? It wasn't that tough. We had parents who strove for us." And he has been keen to give his own children a sense of proportion by showing them his work in Romania. He says: "My own children all have trust funds but I still want them to experience the real world and I intend to give the rest of my money away. I'm good at making it and I want to keep passing it on to deserving people."
Total amount donated so far £2,242,892.94