THEO Paphitis won’t reveal exactly how many cars he owns — “Mrs P might be shocked if she read the true figure” — but, he admits, “it might be more than 20”. At his sweeping palace on a private estate in Surrey, almost a dozen immaculate motors are kept lovingly polished by his driver of 11 years, nicknamed Kato.
Squeezed among a Jeep used in the D-Day landings, a gorgeous scarlet Austin-Healey, a cream Mercedes 190 SL, a Jaguar XK150 and a fetching E-type is a brand-new F-type Project 7 (main photo, and video below) that the retail mogul recently acquired. “They only made 250 and just 80 have stayed in Britain,” he says. (The price was a mere £137,000.)
Cars have been a lifelong joy — and expense — for Paphitis, who was arguably the most likeable panellist on the BBC business show Dragons’ Den, in which he appeared from 2005 to 2012. This newspaper’s Rich List calculates his wealth at £280m, thanks to his ownership of high street staples including Ryman, Robert Dyas and Boux Avenue lingerie.
Paphitis, who grew up on a council estate in a British-Cypriot family, left school at 16 and worked as an insurance administrator. “I was useless,” he insists. “Wrong school, wrong accent.”
His first motor was a 1968 Mini: “The original front had rusted off and been replaced by fibreglass held on by rubber straps. If it rained, your feet got wet. I paid 50 quid for it in 1977 when I was 18.”
But it represented freedom: “I could have my girl next to me — she went on to become Mrs P — and we didn’t have to take the bus.” Alas, the car gave out after six months and Paphitis could not afford a replacement; he was back on the Routemasters.
It was a miracle he passed his driving test at all: his dyslexia is so severe he sometimes struggles to read road signs. He failed twice: “The examiner would light up his fag, open his folder and ask me questions about the Highway Code. It was a nightmare.”
Yet a good car has always been part of his image. In 1982, as his business began to take off, he bought a Volkswagen Golf GTI. “It cost me eight grand that I didn’t have. But it was a confidence boost. If you have a nice car, you feel good — without that, you’re sunk.” Within a couple of years he was driving a Porsche, and says he has “burnt through” dozens of cars in the intervening years, especially Jaguars, BMWs and Mercedes.
Today his “runaround” is a silver Land Rover Defender, one of the last built in Britain before production stopped earlier this year. “It goes through anything: ice, rain, snow. It never gets stuck. Even I can work on it.” Day-to-day, though, he tends to be driven in a chromed long-wheelbase Range Rover SVAutobiography.
He also has “six or seven” cars on his wish list, including a Ford Capri 280 Brooklands: “It won’t be huge money but it’s something I salivated over as a kid.”
Perhaps surprisingly for a man so motivated by finding a good deal, Paphitis says he would sell one of the cars in his collection only to replace it with a better specimen. “I buy cars because they’re sexy and they’re works of art. In some ways, I don’t even care what’s under the bonnet — I just imagine going nice and fast in them with Mrs P next to me in the passenger seat.”
Theo Paphitis: My life in cars
- 1977: Mini
- 1982: VW Golf GTI
- 1988: Porsche 944
- 2004: BMW 7-series (chauffeur-driven)
- 2006: Maybach (chauffeur-driven)
- 2016: Jaguar Project 7
- My dream car: Mercedes 'Gull wing'
- 1977 Mini
- 1982 Golf GTI
- 1988 Porsche 944
- 2004 BMW 7-series (chauffeur-driven)
- 2006 Maybach (chauffeur-driven)
- 2016 Jaguar F-type Project 7
- My dream car Mercedes 300 SL ‘Gull Wing’