From York University to Dragons' Den and Strictly star, Sara Davies talks business, fertility issues and finding her feet on TV with new memoir

The Dragons’ Den crafting queen Sara Davies started a business while at York University. She talks to Hannah Stephenson about being on TV and her struggle to get pregnant.

As the youngest ever female dragon in Dragons’ Den, Sara Davies confesses that when she first joined the show in 2019, she was as nervous as the budding entrepreneurs pitching their businesses to her.

“I was terrified. People talk about imposter syndrome and I could totally empathise with the contestants’ walking through the lift doors.

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“I could imagine what it was like being in their shoes and how I would approach that situation. [Who] I couldn’t empathise with were the Dragons. It never crossed my mind that I would ever have the opportunity to be one of them, doing that role. I had to watch them and learn from them.”

Sara Davies of Dragons' Den has released her memoir. Photo: Nicky Johnston/PA

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The 38-year-old crafting queen, mother-of-two and Strictly fanatic brings an empathy to the cut-throat atmosphere of the den and exudes the same warmth away from the cameras.

She has now written her memoir, We Can All Make It, in which she charts her life, from her working class ‘ordinary’ beginnings in County Durham. There she picked up business acumen from her entrepreneurial father who had his own property and transport courier company and set her mother up with a wallpaper and paint shop.

Davies started her own crafting supply company, Crafter’s Companion, while she was studying business at York University, and launched The Enveloper, a bespoke envelope for handmade cards which set her on the road to millions.

But it hasn’t been all champagne and roses. The book details her successes and her setbacks, let-downs by buyers, patenting issues and legal battles. She’s worked hard to earn her fortune and learned a lot of lessons on her way up.

Away from business, one of the most challenging periods of her life came in her mid-20s when, desperate for children, she didn’t fall pregnant, she reveals. Her husband, Simon, who she has been with since they were teenagers and who gave up his career to join Crafter’s Companion, apparently despaired about how consumed she became.

“At the time, I didn’t even talk to my family about it. For years, I would say, ‘We’re so busy at work, we haven’t got time for kids’. We were trying but it wasn’t happening,” she recalls now.

“I felt there was pressure on me to give my parents grandkids. They knew what a big family person I was and were worried that I was losing sight of my ultimate goal which was to have a bigger family, because I was so focused on the business. The reality was it wasn’t happening for me.”

The stress of the situation resulted in weight gain, as she turned to chocolate and cake for comfort. “I’m one of the most positive people you could ever meet but it wasn’t happening and I couldn’t be positive about it. I really struggled with that which is why my weight spiralled out of control.

“We’d keep trying and I’d think, ‘I’m probably going to be pregnant by the end of this month so I don’t need to keep going to the gym or watching what I eat because I’ll be getting bigger anyway’. It would get to the end of the month and I’d get my period and be utterly distraught so I would comfort eat. And then the cycle would start again.”

This went on for two years as she rattled towards obesity, she writes. “My sister finally sat me down and said it wasn’t going to help – she wasn’t necessarily saying, ‘Let’s go on a diet and lose loads of weight’ – but that I needed to get my body in a good place.”

So she stopped trying for a baby, lost some weight, took the pressure off herself – and fell pregnant almost without trying at all. Now she has two sons, Oliver, eight, and five-year-old Charlie. After having Charlie, she was told by the hospital that she needed to get her weight under control or she could develop type 2 diabetes.

“I had gestational diabetes through both my pregnancies which puts you at a 50 per cent higher risk of type 2 in later life. I’m conscious of that now. When I take myself for an MOT health check every 18 months, I know I’m in a much better place in that I’ve got my BMI down to a healthy level, but I need to get it a little bit further still.”

She gets up at 5.30am to fit in 45 minutes of exercise before her working day. “I’m really happy with how I look. I know I’m a little bit overweight but I’m not body conscious. It’s alright to be slightly bigger and champion that. Women don’t need all stick-thin role models. But my drive to lose weight is to be healthy, not that I want to look thinner when I’m on TV.”

Her family, however, didn’t want her to do Dragons’ Den. “My mum didn’t want me to take the job because all she sees is that people who put themselves in the public eye just come in for a load of mud-slinging.

“Cheryl Cole had just been heavily criticised for her appearance and she’s from the north east as well, so my mum didn’t want me to do it for fear of them saying nasty things about me in the papers. I’ve never been the trendiest dresser so I was worried what people would say about that. But it was a huge opportunity and it comes with the territory. And actually, I didn’t have all of that (criticism). People champion the body confidence that I’ve got.”

Dragons’ Den and Strictly have raised her public profile, she agrees, with a new series starting in the summer. Retail magnate Touker Suleyman was her mentor at the beginning. “I met Touker when I did my screen test and he just seemed very nice and approachable. I immediately felt that warmth from him and didn’t feel intimidated by him. I asked if he would mentor me and he took that role so seriously.”

Peter Jones and Deborah Meaden were also very welcoming, she adds. “They both mentored me through that first season, especially Deborah,” she recalls. “Our call times were a lot earlier because of hair and make-up, when we’d chat about things. She helped me so much.”

She is careful to keep her family out of the spotlight – it should be their decision, she reflects. So, how does fame sit with her?

“That was the biggest driver of my family not being keen for me to do this. But with the opportunities I’ve had, both with Dragons’ Den and Strictly more recently, I’ve accepted that it’s a necessary evil that had to come with it. On the whole, people are respectful. Because I’m a northern lass and proud, people come up to me on the street and say they’re really proud of me.”

She remains friends with her Strictly partner Aljaz Skorjanec and his wife, fellow Strictly dancer Janette Manrara and is in touch with them almost every day, she enthuses. She spent a month on the Strictly tour and hopes to keep dancing.

“They have become a huge part of our lives,” she says of the professional dance couple. “On a Sunday, Aljaz will text us and ask what the score was in our Oliver’s football match. They live in London, we live up here (Teeside), so we can’t see each other but we are in touch a lot.”

We Can All Make It by Sara Davies with Alexandra Heminsley is published by Bantam, priced £20. Available now.