Deborah Sonia Meaden (born 11 February 1959) is a British businesswoman who ran a multi-million pound family holiday business, before completing a management buyout, but is now best known for her appearances on the BBC Two business programme Dragons' Den, and is currently starring in her ninth series on the panel.

Meaden is currently starring in the eleventh series of the BBC One talent show Strictly Come Dancing.


 [hide*1 Early life

Early life[edit]Edit

Meaden was born in Somerset. Her parents divorced when she was young and her mother moved Deborah and her older sister Gail to Brightlingsea in Essex. Her mother remarried and had two more daughters (Cass and Emma) with Brian, the man Meaden calls Dad. Meaden went to the Godolphin SchoolSalisbury, for a brief period and then to Trowbridge High School.


On leaving school when she was 16, Meaden studied business at Brighton Technical College, after which she worked as a sales-room model in a fashion house. After graduation, she moved to Italy at 19 and set up a glass and ceramics export agency, which sold products to retailers including Harvey Nichols. The company failed after just 18 months.

I consider it a failure to slog on with a business that is going to die sooner rather than later. And that's a skill I've had from my very, very early days. It's very difficult to realise that you're not going to make any money out of something. A lot of people are blinded. They think, "I can't give this up. I'd feel like a failure."

Meaden and a partner bought one of the first Stefanel textile franchises in the UK, and which was based in the West Country; she sold out two years later to her partner for £10,000. She then had several successful leisure and retail businesses including a spell operating a prize bingo at Butlins in Minehead.

In 1988 she joined her family's business to run its amusement arcade operations and in 1992 joined Weststar Holidays, a family holiday park operator based in ExeterDevon but with its major sites based in South West England. In 1999 she led a management buyout and acquired the majority shareholding. By the time she sold the company 6 years later the Weststar was providing holidays for more than 150,000 people each year with an EBITDA in excess of £11m. In 2005 she made a partial exit when Weststar was sold in a deal worth £33 million to Phoenix Equity Partners, and in August 2007 her remaining stake in Weststar Holidays was liquidated when the firm was sold to Alchemy Partners for £83m, valuing her stake at about £19m.

In 2009, Meaden acquired Fox Brothers, a West Country textile mill established in 1772 and still based in Wellington, Somerset along with fellow shareholder, Douglas Cordeaux, former design director at Pepe Jeans London. She was also involved in a collaboration with BBC conductor Charles Hazlewood, 'Play the Field', a weekend of classical music on Charles's farm in Somerset over the August bank holiday weekend 2009. In October 2011, Meaden launched 'The Merchant Fox', an online store selling British-made luxury goods with provenance.


Dragons' Den[edit]Edit

Meaden is most famous for her appearance as a "dragon" on the BBC Two programme Dragons' Den. She took over from Rachel Elnaugh in the third series of the show, which commenced on August 3, 2006. Like Elnaugh who preceded her, Meaden was the only female "dragon" on the programme, although this changed in subsequent seasons with the arrival of Hilary Devey to replace James Caan. So far in the Den she has agreed investments in 34 businesses to the value of over £2m. Only Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis have invested more than Meaden, although they have been on the show for longer.

Other appearances[edit]Edit

Strictly Come Dancing[edit]Edit

Meaden took part in the eleventh series of the BBC One dancing show Strictly Come Dancing, which began on 7 September 2013. Meaden has been partnered with professional dancer Robin Windsor.

Week # Dance/Song Judges' scores Result
Craig Revel Horwood Darcey Bussell Len Goodman Bruno Tonioli Total
1 Tango / "Money, Money, Money" 6 6 6 6 24 Safe
2 Cha-Cha-Cha / "Respect" 5 7 6 6 24 Safe
3 Quickstep / "(Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher and Higher" 7 7 7 7 28 Safe
4 Jive

Personal life[edit]Edit

Meaden met her husband Paul in summer 1985 while he worked at Weststar during his university break. She didn't want a family so they separated, but after she took a trip to Venezuela, she returned to London and they married in 1993. The couple have no children, and live on a restored model farm in Somerset with numerous animals. The couple also have a home in Primrose Hill, London.


Meaden published Common Sense Rules (Random House) in the UK in May 2009.

Other work[edit]Edit

In November 2009, Meaden featured in a short film to promote Somerset to businesses, commissioned by Into Somerset, having previously recorded two other short films for the inward investment agency in February 2009.

Meaden is a member of the Council of Ambassadors of the World Wildlife Fund.

She does a lot of work with the Dogs Trust charity.


In 2009, a planning inspector criticised Meaden's evidence to his enquiry as "implausible" in a dispute over the granting of village green status to a field on which Mudstone LLP, a firm in which she is a partner, wished to build 48 homes.


In July 2010, Meaden was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Exeter Business School. She also received an honorary degree from Staffordshire University in the same month. She was also given an honorary degree at Keele University in July 2013.

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