The 'Del Boy billionaire' who bought Wilko: The Range boss Chris Dawson who has snapped up chain's brand (and saved just 36 jobs) didn't own underpants until he was 12 and learned to read at 27

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The Range’s Chris Dawson isn’t your standard billionaire business mastermind. 

Known as the ‘Del Boy Billionaire’ due to his distinctive DE11 BOY number plate on his £350,000 Rolls-Royce Wraith coupe, Mr Dawson’s life story from the humble beginnings of market trading to founding homeware giant The Range is every bit as exciting as his TV idol’s. 

Yesterday, Mr Dawson, 71, managed to save part of beloved High Street chain Wilko after finalising a deal to buy the name, website and intellectual property for £5m.

All 398 stores are still set to close with the loss of thousands of jobs however as part of his semi-take over 36 jobs at the store are set to be saved. 

Mr Dawson’s incredible story epitomises the rags to riches tale that seems to dominate the world of British business. 

Like Del Boy, Dawson makes no secret of his unabashed desire to be filthy rich once telling the Mail that as each person comes into his shop he thinks ‘ kerching, kerching, kerching!’

Wheeler dealer: The Range - which was set up by Chris Dawson (pictured) - finalised a deal to buy the Wilko name, website and intellectual property for £5m

Wheeler dealer: The Range – which was set up by Chris Dawson (pictured) – finalised a deal to buy the Wilko name, website and intellectual property for £5m

The Range was set up by Dawson in 1989 on a business park in his native Plymouth and now has 213 stores across the UK

The Range was set up by Dawson in 1989 on a business park in his native Plymouth and now has 213 stores across the UK

Dawson epitomises the rags to riches tale that seems to dominate the world of British business. He started life on the market stall in Plymouth (pictured) and used to sell upcycled furniture and scrap metal to punters

Dawson epitomises the rags to riches tale that seems to dominate the world of British business. He started life on the market stall in Plymouth (pictured) and used to sell upcycled furniture and scrap metal to punters

He is now at the helm of 213 chains nationwide and visits ten per day in his personalised helicopter

He is now at the helm of 213 chains nationwide and visits ten per day in his personalised helicopter

His humble beginnings saw him and his two brothers raised on a council estate in Hooe, Plymouth, with their labourer father Thomas and his cleaner mother, Elsie.

READ MORE: ‘Del Boy billionaire’ behind the Range saves the Wilko name (but only 36 jobs)

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Prospects were bleak – his younger brother still lives in the same house – and money was so sparse that he did not own his first pair of pants until he was 12.

As a boy, he struggled academically and was so severely dyslexic that he left school without a single qualification, unable to read and write.

‘Dyslexic is a polite way of putting it, I just didn’t have a bloody clue,’ he told the Telegraph.

It wasn’t until he was 27 that Dawson learned how to read. However, even at the age of 64, he still cannot write.

He struggles to understand the Sat Nav on his fleet of luxury cars and admits sometimes pretending to forget his glasses when checking into a hotel so he doesn’t have to fill out his form.

But, it is clear that Dawson’s business brain was switched on from a young age.

The budding entrepreneur started selling ice-creams at the age of seven, before taking on three paper rounds – two of which he subcontracted to friends.

He also earned money by doing early-morning wake-up calls for military officers in his garrison home town of Plymouth and began selling teas to builders on construction sites at the age of 14.

He later embarked on a career as a scrap metal dealer, ‘borrowing’ leftover scraps from his school technology class. 

Like Del Boy (right) in the classic BBC show Only Fools And Horses, Dawson makes no secret of his unabashed desire to be filthy rich

Like Del Boy (right) in the classic BBC show Only Fools And Horses, Dawson makes no secret of his unabashed desire to be filthy rich

Dawson is a self-confessed workaholic, sleeping only six hours per day and admitting he does nothing to relax, except work

Dawson is a self-confessed workaholic, sleeping only six hours per day and admitting he does nothing to relax, except work

When he was caught, a teacher apparently told him: ‘You’ll end up in prison or very rich.’

Dawson then began branching out in all sorts of trades. 

He was once asked to join the showbiz circuit as a warm-up act for Little and Large but, when he was told he would earn £500, he replied: ‘I can earn that in an hour.’

READ MORE: Del Boy billionaire Chris Dawson ‘switches his The Range discount store fortune to his wife to save £15m in tax’… just like Philip Green did with Tina

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He then continued to feed his money-making drive by selling watches from a briefcase on a market stall, later selling everything he could get his hands on from the back of a lorry.

It was with those wheeler-dealing profits that he was able to open his first The Range superstore at Sugar Mill business park in Plymouth in 1989.

It wasn’t long before he had turned the company into a booming chain of retail park shops, which is dubbed as working man’s John Lewis and sells everything from lawn-mowers to scented candles.

Now, his billionaire lifestyle includes a sprawling 30-acre riverfront estate near Plymouth, which has his own motocross track converted from a golf course.

His numerous garages are home to a Ferrari, a Range Rover and a Porsche and, when he visits London, he stays in the penthouse at the Corinthia hotel, splashing out £14,000 for the two-floor room, complete with a private butler. 

He is a self-confessed workaholic, sleeping only six hours per day and admitting he does nothing to relax, except work. 

He reportedly does not have a work email and instead communicates with employees in a regular early-morning conference calls, ensuring he is physically and metaphorically everywhere in the business at all times.

‘I’m like Anneka bloody Rice,’ he says.

It was through his wheeling and dealing that he met his wife of 35 years, Sarah, when he sold her a knock-off watch and then chased her for top-up payments.

She works as a buyer for the company, alongside their daughter Lisa, who is in her 30s. Their son Christopher – also in his 30s – works on store refits.

Dawson has described The Range as a poor man's John Lewis in the past

Dawson has described The Range as a poor man’s John Lewis in the past 

Mr Dawson was said to have left grieving relatives 'distraught' after his Range Rover (pictured) blocked a body from being taken into a funeral home

Mr Dawson was said to have left grieving relatives ‘distraught’ after his Range Rover (pictured) blocked a body from being taken into a funeral home

In 2019. the businessman is believed to have transferred shares in the firm’s parent company to Mrs Dawson after she moved to the Channel Islands tax haven in 2016.

This meant she did not have to pay the Treasury anything when Norton Group Holdings, which owns The Range, paid out a £39.5million dividend in 2018 according to The Times. 

It reported that this denied the UK as much as £15million in tax.

His life and career hasn’t been without the occasional mishap of course.  

In 2015 he was said to have left grieving relatives ‘distraught’ after his car blocked a body from being taken into a funeral home.

The deceased’s body had just been collected from hospital and driven to an undertakers in Plymouth, Devon.

But when the private ambulance arrived a Range Rover belonging to Chris Dawson was discovered parked outside the clearly marked entrance meaning the ambulance couldn’t be reversed in.

The Range later ‘apologised for any inconvenience’ the vehicle had caused. 




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