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Founder of Dating Direct talks about being single, flying helicopters and how he became a gold card holder...on Monarch
Internet dating entrepreneur Darren Richards is a self-confessed ‘petrol head’ who can choose from some of the most expensive cars around when he needs to drive to a business meeting.
"I live in Worcestershire and have to drive from my home, but I admit to being a bit of a petrol head. I’ve got a collection of cars: a Porsche 997 Turbo, a Range Rover Vogue SE Supercharged and an Aston Martin DB9. I’ve got an Arial Atom, which was tested by Jeremy Clarkson and is one of the world’s fastest cars, a Caparo T1 and a Ferrari F430 Spider. I also have a villa in Tenerife, where I’ve got a Lincoln Navigator, a 1966 Ford Mustang and a new Ford Mustang convertible."
Richards, 42, made his fortune by starting the dating website Dating Direct and then selling it to French company Meetic for £30 million in 2007. He has since set up propertyindex.com, which has 56 employees and helps estate agents sell overseas properties. He travels frequently and divides his time between the UK and Tenerife, where he has properties and bars, and Cape Verde, where he also has properties.
You’re not exactly green are you?
I’ve got to spend my money on something and anyway, I think I’m actually helping the planet. I’ve taken nine cars off the road and can only drive each one occasionally. If they’d gone to nine different people, they’d be driven far more often and cause a lot more pollution, wouldn’t they?
Have you had any mishaps in the cars?
Not in those, but I once had a Jeep Cherokee with bull bars and was lucky to escape with my life when I had a scrape with a burglar. I pulled up at my flat and got out to open the garage doors. I was standing between the car and the doors and suddenly a man jumped in the car and started revving it wildly. He was trying to get it into gear but luckily he didn’t – if it had shot forward I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale. I managed to get round to the front and grapple with him, but he ran off. It was really quite shocking, but the police weren’t interested.
I’ve got to ask, did you find the woman of your dreams through your website?
Well, I’m still single. But I have had various long-term relationships and I haven’t had any trouble meeting people.
Do you ever use public transport?
Yes, I use the train if I’m ever going to London. Ken (Livingstone) did a good job of putting us all off driving in the capital. But I do hate the Tubes. I know they are a fantastic feat of engineering, but they get too crowded for my liking. So, if I’m in town, I’ll get a taxi.
What’s your view of the train service?
It’s OK, but incredibly expensive. If I leave it to the last minute and buy a return first class ticket from Worcestershire to London, it costs around £200.
What about flying in the UK?
I do have a helicopter, but it is more for pleasure than business. It’s nothing flash. It’s a Robinson R44, which is the cheapest four-seater you can buy, the Ford Mondeo of helicopters. Flying into London is impossible. The landing fee at Battersea is £450 and then you pay £450 an hour when you’re there. There isn’t anywhere else you can land in London, so you’d have to land on the outskirts and get a train in, which pretty much defeats the point. I have used it for meetings in the Cotswolds. I landed in the grounds of a hotel and the whole trip took 20 minutes door to door. But when you’re using 18 gallons of fuel an hour, it is a bit of a luxury.
Any scary moments while flying?
Touch wood, there haven’t been any yet. But I’m still learning and need to pass a couple more exams before I qualify as a pilot.
How do you fly abroad – private jet?
No, far from it. In fact, I’ve never set foot in a private jet. If I’m going to Tenerife, I’ll fly Monarch. I’ve been with them so often, I’ve now got a gold card. I can fly to Tenerife and back for £200, which is great value. There isn’t the option to go first class, but you can pay for extra leg room.
What about long-haul travel?
I’ve just come back from Australia and flew business class with Emirates – I couldn’t get first class on the flight that I wanted. I get bored very quickly on flights. I’ll take four or five car magazines and magazines about gadgets. My pile will include Top Gear magazine and Autocar and Auto Express magazines. I’ll watch a film to pass the time and I recently saw Batman – The Dark Knight; Heath Ledger was superb and deserved the posthumous Oscar.
Do you drink alcohol on flights?
No, usually I’ll just drink water. Don’t get me wrong, I do drink – I own bars – but not on flights.
You could spend time anywhere – why Tenerife?
I like to live with what I call real people. If you go somewhere like the South of France, or Puerto Banus in Marbella, you do meet a lot of pretentious people, which is not my scene.
What do you look for in a hotel?
I’ve stayed in some four or five star hotels that I haven’t rated. I booked into the Grosvenor House in Park Lane, London but I felt the rooms weren’t particularly nice. I’d rather stay in a new Holiday Inn Express or Travelodge. All I need is somewhere that is comfortable and clean because I’ll go out and make my own entertainment. I like to go out and discover the local restaurants.
What’s your favourite place?
Well, I said I didn’t like the south of France, but I do love to go to the grand prix in Monaco. For the past two years I’ve rented a yacht down there to watch the race and the cars come past within 10 feet of the yacht. Afterwards we go to the Amber Lounge and meet the drivers, and I’ve had a chat with Lewis Hamilton. I’m a car fanatic, so it was a big thrill for me.
Do you pack heavy or light?
I try to pack light. In Tenerife I’ve got a villa so when I go there I’m usually taking a lot of stuff to fill it up. I also take items for the bars that I have out there.
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