Gary Neville is best known for his football skills so it's no wonder people were surprised when he landed a guest role on the panel of Dragons' Den.
This series he joins forces with dragons Peter Jones, Deborah Meaden, Sara Davies, Steven Bartlett and Touker Suleyman in the den as one of them. Despite being known widely for being a footballer, Neville has proven himself in the world of business over the years.
Of joining Dragons' Den, Neville said: "I’m absolutely delighted to join the Dragons’ Den, even if it’s only for a very short period on an interim contract. I’m used to being an interim coach. I’m going to bring character, personality, drive, determination, hard work, all the things you’d want in a team player."
Football pundit Neville previously told dragon Stephen Bartlett that the word entrepreneur "makes my skin crawl a little bit" while appearing on podcast Diary of a CEO in 2022. However, the former football player has built up a business portfolio that landed him the spot in the den.
We take a look at some of his business successes...
At the age of 21, Neville made a splash into the world of property development but even now he is just as passionate about it. At the time, he was a player at Manchester United so he kept it a secret from his football boss Sir Alex Ferguson who notoriously wanted all his players to solely focus on the sport - something David Beckham talked about too in his recent Netflix docuseries Beckham.
In a previous interview, Neville told the BBC in 2018: "He would have seen it as a distraction." Going to great lengths to keep it hidden, the football legend remembered taking secret calls in the showers to avoid being overheard by Ferguson. "Physically I accepted I had to have a rest but mentally I needed to be stimulated," he explained of why he pursued property development while playing as a footballer.
Neville's latest property developments include the £200m St Michael's development in Manchester.
In 2011, Neville announced his retirement from football. Only a few years later, he would launch his investment business Relentless in 2015. Neville said the word relentless summed up his own personal approach to life and work. Keen to make his mark on the world as more than just a footballer, he said: "I didn't want to only be known as a former Manchester United player and I didn't want to think that my days of success, achieving things, were over."
In 2013, Neville teamed up with former Manchester United teammate Ryan Giggs to launch GG Hospitality. With all his experience of travelling the world, the former footballer had a vision and set his heart on bringing world-class concepts to his native Manchester. It was this feeling that spurred him on to launch GG Hospitality.
Football friends Neville and Giggs opened the doors to luxury Hotel Football on Sir Matt Busby way in 2015, with an impressive view of one of the most famous stadiums in the world - Old Trafford. It remains one of the few hotels in the world with a five-a-side pitch on the roof.
In 2017, Neville shone a light on how he was achieving goals with Hotel Football. He told The Caterer: "We wanted to prove ourselves as hospitality operators and I think we've done that. We shunned the corporate brands and that was the right decision.
"By creating our own management company, we've made it more personal. The football references in the hotel are not in your face, they are subtle. We welcome families, business people and football supporters for match-day experiences."
Having got the bug for creating luxury hotels, Neville and Giggs set their minds to a new project. In 2019, they opened the Stock Exchange hotel - a 40-room five-star boutique hotel based in a Grade II-listed building on Norfolk Street.
It boasts of signature suites, a penthouse apartment and event spaces for businesses. It is a building steeped in history as Manchester's Stock Exchange first opened its doors in 1906 and its final trade was in 1979.
The Man Behind The Curtain
A lover of food and drink, Neville was so impressed with his first experience at Michael O'Hare's restaurant The Man Behind the Curtain in Leeds that he wrote an investment proposal on the back of his bill. The former footballer invested into the restaurant in 2016.
By then the restaurant had been a success for two years, having first opened its doors to customers in 2014. It had made a huge mark on the food and drink industry, having won a Michelin star within a year as well as three AA Rosettes. Michelin chef O'Hare was appointed as Creative Director of GG Hospitality in 2016.
Salford City FC
Elsewhere the Class of 92 - Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Nicky Butt and Gary and Phil Neville - bought a stake of Salford City FC in March 2014 when it was a non-league football club. Fast forward a decade and it is now a League Two Club.
At the time of buying a stake in the club, Neville revealed why Salford FC was important for him. He said in 2014: "I had my first trial for Manchester United in Salford at age 11 and I will never forget how important that was to me. Salford City FC to me represents those early years – the commitment, hunger, enthusiasm, desire and spirit of football and I am very excited."
Businessman Gary Neville experience on Dragons' Den
And with all his wealth of experience in the business world, Neville admitted he was not prepared for the length of the pitches on Dragons' Den. Of appearing on the BBC show, Neville told The Mirror: "The thing that really stuck out for me was the length of the pitches. It really was a test of endurance - the concentration span needed was something I’d not thought about before.
"I think it’s becoming more and more normal particularly for the younger generation to want to change career paths and I think having that agility and flexibility in life is important. But also being bold and brave enough to do it. Being an entrepreneur by the very nature of it means that you are courageous and you take risks."
Neville also shared an insight into the close bond the dragons have off-screen. He revealed the dragons would eat together after every day of filming. He added: "They’d built this incredible team spirit together. I knew they would all get on as people do when they’re doing television shows, but I didn’t recognise that it would be as close a team as it was."
What TV bosses said
TV bosses revealed why they decided to have Neville and CEO of Good American Emma Grede as guest dragons on the show. Samantha Davies, Executive Producer, BBC Studios, said: "In our 21st series it’s hugely exciting to bring a fresh, new dynamic to the Den in the form of Guest Dragons."
She added: "Gary and Emma are both masters in their fields and it’ll be fantastic to see their different styles and perspectives in the business world. But our existing Dragons aren’t just going to sit back and let them snap up all the best deals, so viewers can expect all the usual competitiveness and sass in the Den."
Sarah Clay, Commissioning Editor at the BBC says: "Viewers have a lot to look forward to in the 21st series with the first ever Guest Dragons, a new set of bold entrepreneurs and as always, the five formidable Dragons. It is great to see how highly popular with audiences the show remains, with each new season bringing inspiration and surprises."