Celebrity Charity Champion: Duncan Bannatyne, winner

He started with an ice-cream van and is most famous for breathing fire on Dragons' Den, but the Scot would prefer to be remembered for his philanthropic work.

Duncan Bannatyne, who was on holiday,  sent a video message to the awards ceremony
Duncan Bannatyne, who was on holiday, sent a video message to the awards ceremony

When Duncan Bannatyne started his career, he had one aim: to grow as many businesses as possible and to make each one more successful than the last.

What started as the purchase of one ice-cream van for £450 grew into a thriving ice-cream business, and a couple of decades later Bannatyne has amassed a fortune estimated at £310m through the establishment of a string of other successful enterprises. He sold his nursing home business Quality Care Homes for £46m in 1996 and the children's nursery chain Just Learning for £22m shortly after that.

But ask Bannatyne what he wants to be remembered for and it's not the millions in the bank, the TV fame on the BBC's Dragons' Den or the authorship of two best-selling books; it's for his philanthropy and his commitment to helping charities establish real and sustained social change.

"I'd be horrified if people thought of me as someone who only made a lot of money," he says. "If I have any say in it, I'd like to be remembered as a philanthropist, as someone who could connect the business and the charity worlds. Creating business is fantastic, but what's the point if you can't do something serious with it? What's the point of having a fortune if you can't give it away and do some good with it?"

Philanthropy hasn't always been a driving force in Bannatyne's career. Until 1993, he admits, he was solely driven by the desire to expand his business empire. But then he was approached by a Newcastle policeman who had visited one of his children's nurseries and wanted to tell him how it compared with the horrors he had just witnessed at an orphanage in Romania.

Bannatyne agreed to help him fundraise and, two years later, travelled out to see the orphanage for himself. What he witnessed affected him profoundly, he says.

"It was an experience that really shook me," says Bannatyne, who himself grew up in relative poverty in Clydebank, Scotland.

"There were HIV-positive children who had been abandoned by their parents and who were tied to beds in the orphanage - and there were only two toilets for 90 people.

"It was a terrible, inhumane way to live."

On his second visit to Romania in 2002 he met Magnus McFarlane-Barrow, the chief executive of aid charity Scottish International Relief. McFarlane- Barrow told Bannatyne that he wanted to build a new orphanage for those children and the many others like them, but he'd need £120,000 to do it.

Bannatyne told him he could have the money but that he'd need to have the orphanage built by Christmas. McFarlane-Barrow accepted the challenge and the orphanage is still operating. "When you go back now, all those children that we wanted to help are teenagers or older," says Bannatyne. "They want to start their own families, and we can make sure they get the medical support they need to make this a reality.

"Their lives will go on, and it's unbelievable to think that we were able to play a driving part in making this happen for them."

Bannatyne has shared a close working relationship with Scottish International Relief ever since. As well as supporting its work in Romania, he has helped to fund educational and feeding programmes for children in Malawi.

McFarlane-Barrow says: "The thing about Duncan is that he was willing to take the risk in Romania, and he was involved with it every step of the way.

"And Duncan's ongoing assistance for our work has been tremendous. Through his very public support of our work, we have received help from other philanthropists, and he has acted as a role model for other people in his industry, so they can take a similar approach to doing something proactive and lasting with their legacies."

Earlier this year, Bannatyne announced that he intended to give his £310m fortune to charity, and has set up the Bannatyne Foundation to help him do this. It will operate in part as a grant-giving foundation to support charities such as Scottish International Relief, but Bannatyne says he wants to create his own programmes of work as well. He says his focus veers towards supporting disadvantaged children, but he rules nothing out.

"With the foundation, we're currently looking at all aspects of where and what we can help," he says. "I don't want to be tied to one thing. I'm just going to get going and see what happens."

Annie Kelly

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