Kelly Hoppen, the Dragon lady

Dragon Kelly Hoppen (Photo: BBC/ Andrew Farrington)

Dragon Kelly Hoppen (Photo: BBC/ Andrew Farrington)

With fiery, curled hair, freckled skin and almost always dressed in black, Kelly Hoppen is the stern-but-fair Jewish businesswoman billed as the poster girl for the latest series of Dragons’ Den on BBC2.

On last Sunday’s programme, Hoppen nostalgically recalled her South African roots as she chewed on a piece of cured meat and compared it to growing up eating biltong.

But to the untrained ear, her crisp accent reveals nothing of the 54-year-old’s Cape Town upbringing. As a toddler in 1960, she moved to Chelsea with her parents and older brother Michael, who owns the Michael Hoppen Gallery.

Her mother, Stephanie Shub, is descended from Lithuanian Jews, and her late father, Seymour Hoppen, was a member of the Weinstock family who lived in Dublin.

Seymour Hoppen died unexpectedly when Kelly Elaine was just 16. She returned to South Africa to sing in a band — before she was arrested and imprisoned for one night under apartheid laws for mixing with black musicians.

But music was not her calling and despite being bullied for her dyslexia at school, by the time she turned 17, Hoppen had capitalised on friendship networks and was designing homes for celebrities including actor Martin Shaw.

Her multi-million pound interior design empire, from the popular Kelly Hoppen Design School to her retail range at BHS, collaboration with leading tissue brand Kleenex and shop in Fulham Road, is testament to her commercial acumen.

Hoppen — who received an MBE in 2009 for her work as an interior designer, received the top Andrew Martin Interior Designer of the Year, European Woman of Achievement and Grazia Entrepreneur of the Year awards among others— has famously not revamped a property for less than £300,000.

She counts David and Victoria Beckham as close friends and clients. The so-called Queen of Cream, due to her love of beige pieces, worked closely with Jewish developer Paul Eden, founder of London-based Regal Homes, to rejuvenate close to £50 million worth of property. She also led the Channel 5 series Superior Interiors in 2011.

Celebrity trysts with footballer Sol Campbell, radio presenter Jamie Theakston and Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx has also brought Hoppen into the public eye. Two years ago, she accepted £60,000 in damages from News International over the phone-hacking scandal.

Hoppen has a 30-year-old daughter Natasha, a cookbook author and vegetarian chef, from her first marriage to restaurateur Graham Corrett, whom she married aged 22. She also married and divorced banker Ed Miller and helped raise his children— actress and model Sienna Miller and her fashion designer sister, Savannah .

When she is not designing or socialising, Hoppen is usually exercising. The fitness enthusiast has even put co-Dragon Duncan Bannatyne on a strict diet.

Of her new role as a Dragon, Hoppen says: “When asked how I feel about taking the place of a fellow businesswoman (Hilary Devey) on the show, I tell them that it shouldn’t be viewed as such. What I hope to do is bring a different perspective into the Den and add my own creative energy”.

Last updated: 10:24am, August 27 2013