Retail entrepreneur Theo Paphitis hasn’t achieved his level of success by doing things half-heartedly.
And that familiar approach is now being applied to his new passion: historic racing. The Cypriot-born 56-year-old, who became a household name thanks to his place on the panel of TV’s ‘Dragon’s Den’, is a late starter to the game. And that’s something for which, you might expect, he has a plan.
‘When you’re devoid of talent, as I am, it’s all about testing, testing, testing!’ he says. ‘I’ve had a chauffeur for 25 or 30 years or so at home so haven’t driven very much at all. I’m really rusty!’
We caught up with him at the Motor Circuit during his first outing in Kerry Michael’s immaculate Ford Escort RS2000 that he’ll share with his fellow businessman in the Gerry Marshall Trophy saloon car race at the 74th Members’ Meeting on March 19-20.
‘I only got my racing licence in June last year,’ Paphitis reveals. ‘And my first time in a race car of any sort was at the Revival here in September. The Ford Anglia I raced in the St Mary’s Trophy was fun – it was a good way to start: not too much power for me!
‘The Escort moves the game on a bit; it’s a proper race car in comparison with the Anglia. It’s much quicker and got a lot more grip so I need to test, test, test!’
The problem, Paphitis admits, is having enough time in his schedule for his new love. Having rescued and revitalised a number of high-street brands over the years, he still counts a number of successful retail chains among his successful portfolio – all of which require much of his attention-to-detail skills and experience.
‘I’ve been bitten by the bug,’ he says, ‘but time is a problem. Business is going OK, but it’s been tough out there, as anyone involved will tell you. I’m still very busy keeping things on the right track. I don’t do ‘Dragon’s Den’ anymore, though, which hopefully will give me a bit more time for motorsport!
I’ve always been a car enthusiast, and have a few good ones in my collection. I treated myself to an original, and mint, Willys Jeep recently. I like quirky stuff, I suppose. As a teenager I enjoyed watching characters like James Hunt in Formula 1 in the mid-1970s.
So, how did he get on in the Escort for the first time?
‘It was a bit slippery this morning.’ That’ll be February, then, I offer. ‘Oh yeah!’ he replies with a wink. ‘It was more Driving Miss Daisy than racing,’ he adds. I hope – and need – to do a few more laps before the Members’ Meeting…’
Kerry Michael’s team will be running two Escort RS2000s in the Gerry Marshall Trophy and plans to paint one in Marlboro colours and the other in Castrol livery – to reflect two of the period colour schemes.
The final word goes to Paphitis: ‘I’ll be in the one going slower!’ he says with the self-deprecation of a man who’s comfortable in the knowledge that he’s new to this industry, for now. Somehow, though, we suspect he’s going to apply himself to it with that trademark passion and dedication that’s got him a long way with his first love.
Photography by Tom Shaxson