Born In Somerset on February 11, 1959, Deborah’s parents divorced when she was young. Her mother moved to Essex taking along Deborah and her sister Gail. Deborah’s mother re-married (Brian) and they built a leisure park known as Weststar. Deborah and her sister, along with two stepsisters attended boarding school.
After graduating boarding school, Deborah attended Brighton Technical College studying business and then working part-time as a sales-room model. Three months later she left for Italy and at the age of 19 she opened her first business, with limited capital she launched a glass and ceramics import company supplying upscale stores like Harvey Nichols. After 18 months, financial problems plaguing the young entrepreneur, she chose to close down her business.
She later would be quoted as saying, “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 realize 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.’ ”
Walking away from her first business venture and determined not to give up on her entrepreneurial dreams, Deborah along with a partner bought a franchise in the Italian footwear and clothing company Stefanel. This would be the first Stefanal franchise in the UK. She recalls what a fantastic experience this was because it helped teach her a lot about retail marketing and the franchising industry.
Nevertheless, after two years she wanted to move on and having become dissatisfied with the business, she sold her share to her partner for £10,000, deciding to try her hand at other ventures. After several successful ventures, her Mother and Brian offered her a position at the family’s amusement park WestStar Holidays. Within two years, she became managing director and built the company up from one to five holiday parks, providing more than 150,000 people per year a family holiday.
During this time, she married a former employee of the park, Paul. As she became more involved in Weststar, she decided in 1999, to take over the business. Securing the funds from Lloyds, she finally was able to exercise full control over the business and establish it as the best. She sold two of the smaller parks, keeping the larger, more profitable sites. She described this transformation of the company into a ‘lean mean fighting machine’.
In 2005, after receiving several offers from interested parties, Deborah sold a 77% stake in Weststar to Phoenix Equity Partners for £33 million. She held a 23% stake and an active role within the firm. In 2007, She sold her remaining stake in the business when Parkdean Holidays bought Weststar for £83 million.
Currently she is a Judge on the BBC2 edition of Dragons Den; a reality based show that has entrepreneurs come on TV to pitch their business ideas. Deborah has invested personally in several of these ideas. Her and her husband, Paul, reside in Somerset on a restored model farm with their two horses and three cats. The couple also has a home in Primrose Hill, London.