A bottle of Levi Roots Reggae Reggae sauce
Reggae Reggae Sauce entrepreneur Levi Roots says the best financial decision he ever made was to hire a top-class corporate lawyer before he entered the Dragons’ Den in 2007.
The multi-millionaire also credits his mentor and Dragon investor Peter Jones as the reason he has never made any mistakes with the fortune he has built up since taking part in the hit BBC TV series.
He reveals he received a phone call in 2007 from Sainsbury’s then chief executive Justin King telling him his sauce was outselling Heinz Tomato Ketchup, and says that he has never really got over that moment.
Now 61, he lives with partner Martina and seven-year-old son Christopher.
What did your parents teach you about money?
That it slips through your fingers like water, so you need to clench your fists. I come from a long line of great savers, my mother in particular.
My parents came to the UK from Jamaica with nothing. Hard workers like them were wanted.
It was after the war and Britain needed fixing. My mother had three jobs: at a hospital, on local transport and cleaning toilets.
Every year, they sent for one of us six kids to come over. I was the youngest and arrived last when I was 11.
Life was difficult. Money was tight and my parents struggled. I didn’t have the gym kits and everything I needed for school.
We lived in half a house in Brixton, South London – another family lived upstairs – so we didn’t have a lot of space.
My brother and I had to share a bed. I used to get a lot of kicks and blows from him because I was a bed-wetter. It was a terrible situation for us both.
Levi Roots attending the National Prince’s Trust and TK Maxx & Homesense Awards 2019
What was the first paid work?
When I was 16, I left school and got a job at an engineering firm with my brother, manufacturing book-binding machines for £15 a week. I gave it all to my mother.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes. The worst time was the five years just before I went on Dragons’ Den. I had a number of low-paid jobs: for a laundry company, as a driver for Parcelforce and for agencies.
I earned very little, probably less than £10,000 a year. It was tough because, previously, I’d been quite a well-known reggae singer.
I had even been nominated for a MOBO award.
Then I went on tour and became close to my manager. But I wasn’t prepared to give up my bachelor life and sacrifice everything for love.
That led to some changes in my life and my income.
One day, when I was working in the warehouse of Plumbase in Brixton, I remember thinking, ‘I’ve got to get out of this job and do something with my life.’
My plan had always been to try to make money from my music. But people kept saying, ‘You’re really good at cooking and making recipes.’
So I decided to merge my two loves: cooking and music. I gave the sauce the name of Reggae Reggae Sauce and wrote a song about it.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
No, absolutely not. That doesn’t happen to people like me. No one from my background is ever paid silly money for a job.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2007. That was when my stock went up from being a dreadlock rastaman, who sings a little bit and cooks a tad, to being a man who gets a personal call from the chief of Sainsbury’s, telling me that Reggae Reggae Sauce was outselling Heinz Tomato Ketchup.
That was a big moment for me. That ketchup is the biggest selling sauce in the whole b***dy world. I don’t think I will ever be able to top that.
What is your biggest money mistake?
I haven’t made any money mistakes. I didn’t have the money before Dragons’ Den, and since then I’ve been lucky to have a fantastic mentor in my life.
He is 6ft 7in, wears stripy socks and is one of the most astute businessmen in this country.
His name is Peter Jones and for me, he’s up there with those two iconic black heroes Bob Marley and Nelson Mandela. It is entirely thanks to him I have not made any money mistakes.
The best money decision you have made?
Getting a top-class corporate lawyer before Dragons’ Den.
I went to his office and said, ‘I’m going to slay those dragons! Show me what to do.’
I was one of the few entrepreneurs who walked into the den with that kind of support.
Then, after I took Peter’s money, I hired a brilliant accountant, HW Fisher, to advise me.
A good lawyer and a good accountant are the greatest investments you can make in your business.
Do you save into a pension?
Yes. I think planning for the future is important and I now put the maximum I can into my pension every year.
I do not invest in the stock market outside of my pension. I see that as gambling.
I’m an entrepreneur. I invest in my own business, not stocks and shares.
Do you own any property?
No. I rent a flat in Brixton. It’s the same one I’ve lived in for 27 years. I’m very happy here. Everyone who matters to me lives close by.
What is one little luxury you treat yourself to?
I have these regular retail therapy sessions in Savile Row, London.
If there is ever a time I need therapy, I find myself down there, particularly in Ozwald Boateng’s store.
I also go to Jamaica three times a year, to get inspiration for my cookbooks, and I always travel first class. It’s a brilliant way to fly.
If you were Chancellor what would you do?
I would raise the threshold for income tax so that lower earners pay less tax. As a higher earner, I wouldn’t be too fussed about paying more tax as a result.
As long as I knew the extra money I was paying allowed the lowest earners to have a bit more in their pocket, I would be fine with that.
Do you donate money to charity?
I donate both my money and my time. I think it is important to give both.
What is your number one financial priority?
I have a seven-year-old son, Christopher. He is my main priority and not just financially-speaking. I also try to spend a lot of time with him.
Before Christopher came along, I thought I was finished having kids and was on to being a grandfather. My oldest child is in his 30s. There’s a massive age gap.
Suddenly, I was blessed with Christopher and a second chance to live my life as the best father in the world.
I was a rubbish father before, I admit that. Now I have learned how to be a dad and I am so enjoying it.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.