Chanelle McCoy is entering the Dragons’ Den and says she’s not there as a pretty face but as a well-established global businesswoman
Chanelle McCoy may be best known as AP’s wife, but she’s in Dragons’ Den for one reason only – to make money
It’s International Women’s Day and the lounges in the five-star G Hotel are thronged with members of a local mother and baby group who are marking the day with designer afternoon tea. The spring sunshine has lit up the room in brilliant sunshine, the unseasonable light bouncing off the signature silver orbs that hang from the ceiling in the grand salon. It seems fitting on such an important day that Chanelle McCoy – international businesswoman, wife to Champion Jockey AP and mother of two – should be officially announced as the new investor on RTÉ’s hit business series Dragons’ Den.
While many may know her as the woman behind AP, one of our nation’s most celebrated jump jockeys, as a businesswoman she has long since furrowed her own field.
Primarily she is a director of Chanelle Medical, a pharmaceutical company with 380 employees and a €106million annual turnover, which was set up by her vet father Michael Burke in the 1980s. She has also recently opened a boutique, Mojo & McCoy, in Hungerford, close to the couple’s 80acre estate in Berkshire, with Camilla Parker Bowles’ daughter Laura Lopes.
In short, she is more than qualified to take a seat in the Den. Her addition now makes RTÉ the only franchise of the hit show worldwide to have three out of five female dragons.
‘ The whole area of business interests me,’ she says with a smile. ‘I’m a bit of a nerd when it comes to business and stories of entrepreneurs and how they got started, like the story of Jeff Bezos of Amazon. I can honestly say I did [Dragons’ Den] because of a keen interest in entrepreneurs in Ireland and getting to see the calibre of people out there trying to make it.
‘I don’t think any other programmes would have been as attractive to me. I am incredibly proud to be part of a Dragons’ Den that has three women in the line-up. I think it’s brilliant for women in business and it’s brilliant to encourage young women, older women, in business to say that it doesn’t matter if you are a woman, you are absolutely even in that boardroom.
‘I’m very lucky that in the pharmaceutical business there’s huge respect for women and we have never felt that women are on the back foot in our industry. But I do know that there are industries where women do struggle. I have a sister who is a stock broker in London and that is a very male- dominated business and can be very difficult as a woman. Hopefully I can inspire young female entrepreneurs to go forward with their business ideas because they see three women there in the Den who have scaled up their businesses. I hope it will make men who look at the show think, you know what, women are pretty good in business.
‘Of course, we are absolutely equal in business – in fact, in some cases I think we are better.
‘I hope it will follow suit in other Dragons’ Dens globally and it is great that Ireland has taken the lead on this.’
Chanelle is sitting on a chair having her makeup applied. In the front room of the airy penthouse, her mother Mary sits and watches. She’s a big fan of the process behind magazine shoots and is quizzing the photographer on some of his recent shoots.
The air is thick with the scent of hairspray and the lingering aroma of coffee. For many, this sort of experience would be daunting but for Chanelle, it’s just part of being married to one of the country’s most famous sportsmen.
She has been rearing her daughter Eve and son Archie while AP cemented his legacy, riding a record 4,358 winners, making him Champion Jockey a record 20 consecutive times. His retirement in 2015 gave Chanelle many things she had long desired, most of all peace of mind and a more consistent home life.
‘It has definitely been fantastic,’ she says, sipping a coffee. ‘I have definite peace of mind now not having that nervous feeling every other day wondering has he had a fall, or the sick feeling when the call comes through that he has had a fall.
‘As the years went on and we had the two children, I found that much harder to deal with as the kids were getting older. When we got married and before we had children I was a bit blasé about the whole injury side of things and just accepted that it was part and parcel of the package and I was fine with it.
‘But there have been some serious falls in recent years that bring home the real danger of the sport. Obviously JT McNamara, unfortunately he has passed away now, but he was left in a wheelchair. Jason McGuire, who luckily survived but was resuscitated a number of times on the track when he fell. Robbie McNamara, who is now in a wheelchair, that is just such a tragedy.
‘So yes, life has been brilliant now that the risk and worry is gone. It has been really nice having AP around the house more and being able to go to things together. Even being able to eat together is a novelty.
‘ This year was the first Christmas we could have dinner together and he could have second helpings. For the first couple of months, Eve ➤
➤ was just in awe that daddy was at the dinner table for all our meals. She found that such a novelty. I’ve been watching AP going through the last two years now, watching him adjust to it, and he’s dealing with it very well – better than I thought. Probably the biggest benefit is that he’s very accepting of retiring.
‘ There are days when he struggles, especially on Saturdays when he sees the good horses winning the big races. You can tell that he misses the buzz and the excitement but he’s not angry or bitter. He’s a pleasure to live with.’
It hasn’t all been a bed of roses, however, as Chanelle admits that occasionally there are bizarre moments that ignite that competitive passion and desire in her husband.
‘Last week, Barry Geraghty had a bad fall in Kempton and is now sidelined for Cheltenham,’ she says. ‘Barry has taken AP’s position riding for JP McManus. AP was there when Barry was put into the ambulance. When he came home that night he said to me: “You know, I was looking at Barry and I was jealous. I wanted to be where he was. I wanted to be injured in the ambulance. I miss the danger. I miss getting a good kicking and being able to survive it and get through that.”
‘I suppose that’s built into any elite sportsman who has lived a dangerous sporting life. That’s part of the buzz but he definitely felt a bit of jealousy, which from a psychological point of view I found very intriguing. Or disturbing.’
Chanelle breaks out into a broad smile as she finishes the story. It would be easy to pigeon-hole her as a racing WAG who minds the children while pottering around her boutique. This, however, would be an error in judgement as Chanelle is as happy negotiating million- euro contracts throughout Asia, Europe and the Middle East as she is packing school lunches.
‘Day-to- day life is the same for me really,’ she says of the time since AP retired. ‘What has helped me as a mother is that he’s around more. He rides out most mornings and there’s the odd time he can do the school run. If I’m away on a business trip, he’s there to watch a movie with them or put them to bed and they don’t mind as much if I’m away as they used to. It’s a bit of an extra support mechanism for me so I can keep the head down with work.’
It’s clear that getting Chanelle was a major coup for the production company Shinawil. She joins Eleanor McEvoy, Alison Cowzer, Gavin Duffy and Barry O’Sullivan in the Den, replacing Eamonn Quinn, son of supermarket magnate Fergal Quinn.
‘I just feel that this format really is the only fit for me,’ she says. ‘I could have done more over the years if I’d wanted to build a profile. There was various offers to do TV projects but I never did them because they didn’t interest me. This is the only one that has interested me.
‘I’m happy not having a big profile and not attracting any unwanted media attention. Through the years, being with AP, you have an element where people are interested in a certain amount of your life because he was in the public eye. I was comfortable with the level of profile we had and my objective wouldn’t be to build up my own profile.
‘I’m very aware that people may know me just as being AP McCoy’s wife and may not be aware that I work in our family business and that I have a career myself. When I was approached to do Dragon’s Den I was very conscious of people looking at the TV wondering why is she on it? What has she done for herself?
‘But I feel comfortable in a boardroom challenging my team and really work is my comfort zone – maybe more so than home life in certain ways. I find it easier at times to run a business than manage the kids and run the home. I suppose that business is something that I have just grown up with. From five or six years old I worked for pocket money and that work ethic has never stopped.’
It isn’t just the public that Chanelle has to win over. Her first major hurdle was integrating with the current Den line-up. All five investors will ultimately go head-to-head to try and land the best deals possible, often fighting tooth and nail to try and out-pitch a rival Dragon.
‘I was conscious that my fellow Dragons wouldn’t necessarily be aware of my business exposure and I was going on there wondering how I would be received,’ she admits. ‘I was confident in my business background, it’s my industry and I know it inside out. But when you go into the Den you leave your comfort zone behind.
‘I was worried that I wouldn’t be as credible or as good as the other Dragons. I was the only new Dragon going in there and I wanted the others to respect me. I wanted to maintain the credibility of the show but there were a lot of things that I was apprehensive about.
‘I can imagine people saying; “She’s only AP’s wife, what does she know?” But I have worked in the company that my father set up and we cofounded the medical business together. I have now got our medical business in 69 countries globally so I have gone through taking a business from zero to 69 markets.
‘I have gone through periods where I was worried about cash flow and all the issues that face start-ups. I know the fundamentals because I have lived it. But of course the first day I sat in the chair, my stomach was so sick with nerves because I just didn’t know what I was going to be like. But as soon as the first person came in and they started talking about their businesses, I just felt that I hit the ground running.
‘I forgot about the cameras, I forgot about the other Dragons, I just started wondering if I was going to spend my hard- earned cash on this person. And believe me when it’s your money on the line you focus quite quickly.
‘ The challenge is that you have people coming in and they’re so investable as people but the business proposals just aren’t good. There was one or two who were so bright but they didn’t have a credible product.’
The new series will see some unique inventions and a broad range of products and services such as food, cosmetics, pets, well-being, medical needs and fashion pitched to the five investors.
‘Once you sit in the chair, you want the best investment and you will fight for it and argue for it – I never for a minute was not comfortable in fighting my corner. We are all comfortable doing that because that is what you do in business. That is the nature of the beast and in order to get the best deal that’s right for your company you have to negotiate.
‘Once we were out of the chairs and back in the dressing rooms there was great fun, respect and camaraderie. There were a few conversations going on where maybe you felt you needed to justify any argy bargy that went on. If you needed to take it off-line and discuss it then it was parked there. There were no grudges held and everyone knows that we are all out for ourselves and nobody took it personally.’
DRAGONS’ DEN will be broadcast from tomorrow until Sunday, May 8 on RTE1
Chanelle with AP and their children Eve and Archie