Somerset has long had an association with dragons and whilst the symbol may have made its way over here with the Romans, there have been many later alleged sightings of the fire-breathing beast as recently as the mid-19th century.
Duncan is no stranger to hard work, having realised from a very early age that it takes dogged determination and perseverance to reach a goal, and it is only when you speak to him that you realise just how similar he is to the hungry fire-breathing symbol that has come to represent Somerset.
But we can now say beyond fear of contradiction that we have a true-to-life 21st-century dragon in the county of Somerset, in the form of Duncan Bannatyne, probably best known for being on the panel of BBC TV’s Dragons’ Den. However, the formidable voice that has so often been heard to say ‘and for that reason I am out’ is now being put to a slightly different use.
His voracious appetite for the success of his business empire is now being extended to promote the benefits that Somerset has to offer both visitors and businesses alike as he embraces a new task – his recent appointment as Ambassador to Somerset.
Since August 2010, when he took on the role, Duncan Bannatyne has been championing the cause to not only promote the huge range of business and industry that exist here but also the advantages of living and working in a county that has excellent transport links to the rest of the UK but is at the same time, the rural idyll that many find irresistible.
But what made a native Scottish entrepreneur worth in excess of £300 million want to extol the virtues of a county so far from home?
Whilst Duncan didn’t bring anything new to the table because rather reassuringly for the STA, he liked what he saw, he was keen to point out that one of the first things that struck him about the STA is the great affection they have for the area and how very keen everyone is to promote the region to a wider audience.
It was a happy coincidence that led to Duncan discovering why the county has so much to offer. Having decided he wanted to expand his hotel portfolio, his quest to find somewhere that had the spa facilities that form an essential part of his hotel branding, led him to the Charlton House Hotel in Shepton Mallet. With the prospect of imminent closure, the hotel needed not so much a dragon as a knight in shining armour, and with Duncan’s investment the hotel is returning to its former glory and popularity.
There is even a very personal Bannatyne stamp on the Charlton in the form of Duncan’s Den, a suite that has been conceptualised, designed and overseen by Duncan himself. From the double bath and shower unit to the built-in champagne bucket, every aspect of the room has been thought out in great detail. There is even an HD television with DVD player that is mounted on a swivel system so you can watch your favourite TV show from anywhere in the room, even whilst relaxing in the larger-than-average bath!
But don’t be put off, even though the room is of Duncan’s making, it is still available to hotel guests should they wish to enjoy the opulent comfort during their stay in the Charlton.
So having found the ideal property, it was simply a matter of time before Duncan realized it was also in the ideal location and never having visited Somerset before (even though fellow Dragons’ Den member Deborah Meaden lives here), he was completely bowled over by its beauty and the majesty of such jewels as Wells Cathedral.
The Somerset Tourism Association (STA), which also boasts Michael Eavis, the man behind the International Glastonbury Festival and Martin Roberts of BBC’s Homes Under the Hammer, was quick to seize the opportunity of adding another high-calibre personality to the Association, and whilst Duncan receives hundreds of invitations to join myriad organizations, he didn’t hesitate in agreeing to fill the role.
The STA, which replaced the Sedgemoor Tourist Association in July 2009, is chaired by Bob Nicholson who has over 50 years’ experience in the tourist industry. The organization encourages local tourism businesses to come up with ideas on how the industry is run and it is the driving force behind the regional tourism trade. It aims to magnify the region’s marketing profile across the UK to attract more customers and visitors to the area and therefore generate additional business and income.
The STA issue a guide outlining the function of an Ambassador, but with his existing skills in enterprise, combined with his celebrity status, Duncan had the foundations ready laid and he will be using his excellent credentials to help promote Somerset as the leading visitor destination in the UK.
With the Charlton House Hotel so close to Cheddar, the famous gorge is at the top of his ‘must see’ list of fascinating places.
Duncan sees his job as promoting what already exists and using his renowned reputation to influence people’s thinking, not just because of his celebrity status although the attraction of his presence is inevitable, but because he is a successful dynamic businessman with a proven track record.
With some imaginative PR work and a dynamic advertising campaign, he hopes to further raise the county’s profile across the UK. He will also take time to personally support the STA when he comes down to Somerset to stay in Duncan’s Den at the Charlton House Hotel.
He sees the Association as being an organic body that will grow in both strength and credibility, helping to boost the tourism industry at a time when everyone is looking for ways to make the most of what they have around them. And whilst no one can say for sure what lies ahead, Duncan will take each day as it comes to see how his role evolves over the coming years. With Government cuts aimed at the subsidised tourist boards, the extra support from the Duncan will be very welcome.
So with his roots now extending to Somerset has he visited any of our extraordinary attractions? The magnificent Wells Cathedral left its impression on him and with the Charlton House Hotel so close to Cheddar, the famous gorge is at the top of his ‘must see’ list of fascinating places. He may also find the mythical town of Glastonbury and its legendary association with King Arthur worth a visit.
But with his jet-setting lifestyle and having travelled throughout much of the world, is there a particular aspect of Somerset he most enjoys? The spectacular scenery and being able to breathe fresh air are at the top of the list, and having plenty of space without having to face the congestion of London, is a close second.
And what about Somerset’s famous savoury snack – Cheddar cheese and the liquid gold of cider? That may take a little longer to warm to though, as Duncan is a fan of smellier cheese and a glass of red.
Perhaps there’s an opportunity for one of our many celebrated cheesemakers to create a Bannatyne special and one of the many regional wine producers to find the perfect red accompaniment!
If he had to think of a slogan for the STA, to encourage people to visit the area, what would it be? Without hesitation, Duncan summarized it perfectly: “Somerset is so much better.”
Written by Sarah Ford Journalist at Somerset Life courtesy of Archant Life.