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Rachel Elnaugh (born 12 December 1964) is a Britishmarker entrepreneur, who came to prominence as an investor on the first two series of BBC Two TV show Dragons' Den, in which hers was the sole female perspective alongside four male entrepreneurs known as the Dragons.

Early life

Her family lived above her father's electrical shop, and she attended Chelmsford County High School for Girlsmarker. She originally wanted to take art history, however she was rejected at five universities, and she became an accountant and tax consultant with Arthur Andersen.


Red Letters

Wanting to run a gift business, she had difficulty finding and presenting her father with tickets to go and see the England cricket team play India at the Lord's Cricket Groundmarker for his birthday. She put the tickets in a series of boxed "clues" and, using the term "Red Letter Days", she developed the idea of orientating birthdays around special events into a viable and, at first, successful business. Aged 24 in 1989, she founded Red Letter Days, which provides unusual "experience" gifts such as tank driving, record production and aircraft flying.

Dragons' Den

The company grew to a £17.5million turnover, and in 2001/2 Elnaugh was a finalist in the Veuve Clicquot Businesswoman of the Year and Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year, which resulted in her joining the BBC's Dragons' Den.


After a poorly made strategic and financial choice of expanding via supermarket distribution, Red Letter Days went into administration on 1 August 2005; the remaining assets and goods were bought by fellow Dragons' Den judges Peter Jones and Theo Paphitis. Although Elnaugh was at the helm before and at the time of the company's failure just days after the birth of her fourth child, she blames the problems on the actions of the last CEO who she appointed in 2002, while she took a non-executive role.

Elnaugh takes some responsibility, admitting to Director magazine in 2008 that the business was no longer a priority. "It brought lots of money, attention, awards and fame. But deep down, I knew my passion for RLD had gone and I was just managing a machine, just doing it for the money. I thought, 'I want to float this and sell out, make millions'. But we never quite got round to selling it."

ITV1's "Tonight Programme" had more critical explanation of the demise of Red Letter Days, including unpaid suppliers and disappointed purchasers. The programme suggested the business model failed to escrow or earmark supplier payment equity, instead using it for working capital. However this failure may well be laid at the door of Red Letter Day's bankers who placed £3 million in a bond which they refused to release for use by the firm despite the fact that it related to vouchers that had expired and were not recoverable against the business

Leaving Dragons' Den

As a result of disputes with various Dragons (Jones, Paphitis and Duncan Bannatyne), and the resulting uncomfortable position of the BBC if it allowed a perceived "failed" businesswoman to be on a business panel, she agreed to leave the "Dragons' Den" panel.

Motivational speaker

Elnaugh is now working as a venture capital adviser and business speaker. She has also written a book about "the entire business life cycle and the kind of lessons you learn along the way - through bitter experience - not just through my own experiences but through the eyes of the other entrepreneurs". Reviewed by Jonathan Guthrie in the Financial Times newspaper Part of the promotion of Rachel's business involves spamming email accounts with offers to 'join me and other high profile entrepreneurs' at some sort of fund raising gig.
It is unlikely that Ms Elnaugh would have created a business with £17m in turnover without the towering self-belief that also makes her such a sore loser. When she was starting out, she endured countless rejections from potential business partners. Advised by friends and family to "go back to accountancy", she stuck to her guns instead. "Interestingly," she notes, "every person or company who was abusive to me in those early years either went out of business or came to a sticky end".


  • Business Nightmares: When Entrepreneurs Hit Crisis Point... May 8 2008, Crimson, ISBN 185458409X

Personal life

Elnaugh presently lives in Bakewellmarker, Derbyshiremarker with her five sons: three from her first marriage - Mark, Paul, Eddie; and two from her second - Michael and Jack.


  1. (link via Internet Archive)
  2. Page 169 of Business Nightmares by Rachel Elnaugh

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