Noel Edmonds, broadcaster and businessman who is taking legal action against Lloyds bank, over losses to his companies, career and reputation
On the evening of January 18, 2005, Noel Edmonds closed the door of his Devon manor house and walked towards the nearby woods, intent on ending his own life.
Broken and lonely, he was barely recognisable as the irrepressible, pullover-clad TV host who had for decades appeared on our screens in Top Of The Pops, House Party and Multi-Coloured Swap Shop.
In his pocket was a stock of prescription pills he had been hoarding for a year, and in his hand a bottle of vodka, grabbed from his drinks cabinet to wash the tablets down.
This was a Noel Edmonds in the depths of despair, a man whose seemingly gilded life had come crashing down around his ears. And his persecutor? Shockingly, he says, it was a high street bank – Halifax Bank of Scotland (HBOS) – and one crooked banker in particular.
To Noel, a man who once had everything, it seemed as if there was simply nothing left to live for.
He says: ‘HBOS had robbed me of my marriage, my family, my businesses, my long-standing friend and business partner; my income, my investments, my self-respect, my reputation, my privacy, my physical and mental health. It cost me my security, my image rights, my collection of classic cars – and very nearly my life.’
Today, in a hugely emotional interview, Noel, 68, opens up for the first time about an episode that came close to destroying him – and about the behaviour of a banking system he now condemns as evil.
After years of struggle, he finally feels strong enough to seek redress for the financial and emotional damage he has suffered.
He is claiming £300 million from Lloyds, which bought HBOS at the height of the financial crisis. That’s how much he believes he has lost from the potential earnings he believes he would have had from his once-flourishing business interests.
Noel accuses the bank of saddling his companies with ‘crippling fees and interest charges’ and of making unreasonable demands for personal guarantees that put his home and treasured possessions at risk.
It is a legal battle that is being watched closely by scores of other, non-famous business owners, who also believe their firms were pillaged by rogue bankers who effectively looted a series of sound businesses and blew the proceeds on exotic holidays, sex parties and prostitutes.
Broomfield Manor in Devon, home to Noel Edmonds, this image was taken in 1988
Looking back on the day that was so nearly his last, he explains that he chose the woods because they were powerfully associated with the memory of his late mother.
‘After she died, I took her things to a particular area that had power for me, where I had always felt comfortable, and one day I set fire to them,’ he recalls.
‘There was a mound in the wood and I remember dousing my mother’s clothes and paperwork and setting fire to them. It went “whoof”. I looked up and thought, “Mum, I hope you don’t mind, I hope you understand.” There was a bang, and an aerosol can flew out of the fire and missed me by an inch. I thought: “Oh damn, Mum, you didn’t want me to burn that stuff.”
‘Two years later, that was the place I went to try to kill myself.’
Was he, in his desperation, trying to reunite with his mother? ‘No. I don’t know,’ he stumbles. ‘I’ve thought a lot about that dark place I got to. Thankfully, it is beyond the comprehension of most people.
‘Yes, people suffer from depression. But it is not quite the same as the space you go into when all reason goes, when rationality and logic and hope vanish. Life without hope is no life. There is no logic. How illogical, when you adore your children and family, to do that.’
The destruction Noel suffered at the hands of what he calls the ‘HBOS criminals’ was both personal and financial.
Not only had the dispute laid waste to his business empire, but it precipitated the end of his marriage, too.
Before taking what he thought would be his last steps into the forest, Edmonds had written a letter to his then wife, Helen, and recorded messages on Dictaphone tapes to each of his daughters, Charlotte, Lorna, Olivia and the youngest, Alice, who was just seven.
Does he remember what he said on the tapes? ‘Yes, but how much do you want me to cry?’ he says quietly. ‘It was goodbye.’
To understand what pushed the previously effervescent Edmonds to the depths of attempted suicide and the battle for justice he feels he is waging today, you need to delve beneath his television persona of Mr Blobby notoriety.
From the late 1970s, he had been building a business portfolio in parallel with his TV career, a decision he says was based on a fascination with the corporate world sparked when he was asked to host conferences for big firms such as the delivery group DHL.
Even as a young radio DJ – he filled in on Radio 1 for Kenny Everett from the late 1960s – he says he had a business-like approach.
‘Some disc jockeys would turn up 15 minutes before the show, while I probably put in four hours of preparation work for every show I did,’ he says. ‘I took it very seriously.’
Liz Davies and Noel Edmonds pictured at the TV Choice & TV Quick Awards at the Dorchester Hotel, Park Lane, London in September 2009
By the early 1990s, Noel believed his attempt to merge his broadcast fame into the business world was starting to pay off.
He was one of the first celebrities to establish himself as a brand – a common idea now, but ground-breaking back then. He set up his first company, providing sponsored helicopters – Noel is a qualified helicopter pilot – in 1985.
By the end of that decade he had conceived the idea of the Unique group of businesses, ranging from independent radio production to talent management.
His hit show Noel’s House Party had reached the end of its hugely successful ten-year run and after 30 years at the BBC he says he wanted to spend the next ten years of his life concentrating on his Unique businesses, seeking ‘a more meaningful life.’
Noel had just turned 50, and his plan was to make a smooth transition out of television and slot into a second career as a businessman at the helm of his Unique group.
His lawyer and friend Paul Pascoe was installed as the chief executive and the financial brains while, thanks to his TV fame, Noel could open doors and pique the interest of potential customers and partners.
Yet those hopes of a golden late middle age, he says, were ‘totally destroyed’ by ‘unscrupulous employees of HBOS’, in particular Mark Dobson, 56, a former manager later sentenced to four-and-a-half years for his involvement in the ‘HBOS Reading’ scandal.
Edmonds also names David Mills, 60, a consultant at a firm called Quayside Corporate Services which claimed to specialise in turning around troubled companies.
Mills was jailed for 15 years for bribing bankers at HBOS Reading with sex parties and expensive watches to push firms to use Quayside’s services. But instead of helping them recover, Mills and his cohorts were squeezing them for huge fees and stripping them of their assets. HBOS has written off £245 million worth of loans relating to the affair.
Noel says that Dobson and Mills ‘targeted me and, operating in the most cold, calculating and evil fashion imaginable, totally destroyed the group of companies in which I had invested so much of my time, reputation and money.’ He adds: ‘I use the word “evil” because there is no other way to describe the people who wrecked my life and now perpetuate my agony.’
Edmonds was never a client of the Reading branch. But he says in 2004 his previously good relationship with the bank began to deteriorate when Dobson, a specialist in ‘distressed assets’ or businesses in difficulty, was put in charge of running Unique’s borrowing.
Noel believes that subsequent events, in the form of the convictions of the HBOS Reading bankers and outside consultants, prove Dobson was orchestrating the destruction of his business for their profit.
‘What they did to me – they upped the fees, they upped the interest charges. They knew the assets were there.
‘In my case it was property assets. They knew exactly what I was worth. They targeted businesses owned by people who had worth, and that were functioning well enough that they could withstand additional fees.’
Did he break any banking agreements, default on any payments, or fall into arrears? ‘No. We were servicing all debts and overdrafts at all times. We had a £1.5 million facility and we probably went quite close to it, but what’s the point of a pint of milk if you don’t use all the milk?’
Desperate to wrestle free of the bank’s control, he decided reluctantly to sell shares in Unique Broadcasting Company that the lender held as security. The proceeds of these shares, for which he had received several lucrative offers, would have wiped out his debt entirely. But he claims the bank forbade the sale – he believes in order to keep him in its clutches and take even more in fees and charges.
The shares subsequently fell in value. In the end HBOS invoked a personal guarantee from Noel and he felt forced to hand over £1.6 million. He says he believed at the time the move was unjust, but agreed because of the intense pressure he was under. The bank’s seemingly inexplicable actions, he explains, had drained him of all confidence: ‘I wondered whether I was just a crap businessman.’
Even worse, the bank’s action was set to cost him Broomford, the beautiful estate he regarded as a haven for himself and his family.
Noel is convinced his companies could, given time and the right backing, have grown into a serious empire. His talent agency had expanded into comedy, with artists on the books such as Rob Brydon and Steve Coogan who have gone on to huge fame, and into the lucrative voice-over market.
He believes it would have been one of the most successful agencies in the industry, and adds that it only needed one format to come good for his TV production outfit to become immensely valuable.
‘Bankers are financial terrorists,’ he declares. ‘Money is their god and greed is their faith. They see no other logic than the pursuit of their religion.’
The public should, he says, have been able to trust men such as Fred Goodwin, the former chief executive of RBS at the time of the financial crisis, and James Crosby, who ran HBOS during that period.
‘Goodwin and Crosby ought to be investigated. Neither of them have been properly investigated.’
Today Noel has once again found happiness with his third wife Liz, 48, who he first met as a make-up artist on Deal Or No Deal. Liz, he laughs, has given him some face-powder so he doesn’t look too shiny in the photographs.
But it is a rare moment of light relief and for the most part the mood is sombre, when we meet.
He can barely bring himself to talk to me about the destruction of his earlier family life, but in his submission to a review by Professor Russel Griggs of entrepreneurs who claim their firms were driven to the wall by HBOS, Noel gives a soul-baring account, saying it ‘shattered my most precious gifts, my marriage and my family.
‘The stress that I was suffering was also – despite my best efforts – seeping into my family like poison and making all our lives joyless,’ his testimony continues. ‘My daughters should have been enjoying happiness, stability and security.’
Happier days: TV Presenter Noel Edmonds pictured with his racing car to be entered for the Le Mans 24 hour endurance race. He said that HBOS ‘robbed’ him of his loves, his business interests, his self-respect and his mental health
While he and Pascoe, the chief executive, were concentrating on the business, ‘my wife increasingly became both a distressed and unwilling passenger. Our whole world, which we had spent years building, was in the process of disintegrating at the hands of a bank which should have been our ally’.
In a desperate attempt to relieve the pressure on himself and his family, he began selling off his most treasured possessions including his collection of classic cars, which he was buying as a pension.
These, he says, had to be sold for less than they were worth. They subsequently achieved ‘significant’ values at auction, he says. He estimates his losses at a minimum of £7 million plus interest.
Noel also had to dispose of his music collection, broadcasting memorabilia, paintings, antique furnishings and personal items adding up to £1 million at today’s prices, by his reckoning.
‘Probably the most ironic thing was selling my name,’ he says, talking of the sale of his image rights for £1.3 million.
‘Well, it’s not your own name because I don’t own my name. I think we have it back now, but for a while I didn’t own it.’
In late 2004, he instructed his land agent to find a buyer for the Broomford Estate. And as he put it: ‘The loss of family life in our Devon haven was indescribably painful for all of us.’
Unable to withstand the ‘maelstrom of stress’ the marriage fell apart. He and Helen divorced in July 2005 after 19 years, a parting that he describes as a ‘tragedy’ that it ‘is impossible to exaggerate’.
As the strain mounted, Noel was drinking more than usual and admits he was using wine as a crutch. ‘I am not a big drinker but I was undoubtedly drinking far, far too much, though never to a point of being incapable of doing anything,’ he says.
Was he a functioning alcoholic?
‘I don’t think so. But what is an alcoholic? A person who needs alcohol to get through the day – yeah I did. I would look forward to having a bottle of wine in the evening.’
His depression mounted over ‘a pretty grim’ Christmas.
And then, in January, came that dark walk to the woods and the moment when he was determined to end it all.
He has no recollection of what happened after he swallowed the pills and the vodka, though he knows now he was found by a security guard and rushed to hospital in Exeter.
His first memory after the failed attempt was of being driven from Exeter to the Priory Hospital in Bristol, by a friend, Brian Cameron.
There, he was placed on suicide watch, which he describes as ‘a truly humiliating experience,’ and stayed for weeks until he felt strong enough to face the world again.
He took out an injunction preventing any media reporting, but this year decided to speak out, partly because he believes too many people, particularly men, are tempted to take their own lives.
He has made generous donations to The Samaritans and drawing on the optimism and perseverance instilled in him by his parents, Noel has somehow clawed his way back to a positive mental state. ‘They were part of a very strong energy that got me through,’ he says.
‘Having hit the very bottom, I have huge strength on the way up. The dark force that is Lloyds cannot beat me and people like me.’
A Lloyds Banking Group spokesman said: ‘We cannot comment on individuals, but our first priority remains getting compensation to customers affected by the fraud.
‘We have already made offers to over half the customers participating in the review.
‘While we continue to believe that the review is the best way to get swift and fair compensation to customers where detriment has occurred, for those who choose not to participate, we will seek to resolve these matters outside the review as appropriate.’
For help with mental distress, contact The Samaritans online at www.samaritans.org or call 116 123 in the UK or 116 123 in the ROI.
Star blames jailed banker for financial collapse
Mark Dobson was part of a cabal of corrupt bankers and consultants connected to HBOS’s branch in Reading, Berkshire.
Mark Dobson who was was jailed for four-and-a-half years for his part in a £245 million loans scam alongside other corrupt financiers who squandered the profits on high-end prostitutes and luxury holidays
He is also the man that Noel Edmonds blames for destroying his business empire, in a separate case.
Dobson and five others were jailed in February for a total of nearly 50 years for what the judge described as ‘an utterly corrupt’ £245 million fraud that left hundreds of small business owners ‘cheated, defeated and penniless’. Many of them also lost their homes.
Dobson worked for Lynden Scourfield, a senior HBOS banker who gave inappropriate loans to businesses, which allowed his associate, business consultant David Mills, to make huge profits from high consultancy fees at the expense of small businesses the bank was supposed to help.
Mills’s consultancy loaded its victims with unmanageable debt before taking them over and stripping them of their assets.
Scourfield was rewarded with bribes of luxury foreign holidays, watches, cash and sex parties, while Mills bought a £2.5 million super-yacht on the proceeds of the scam.
Noel Edmonds says his business Unique Group collapsed due to the actions of HBOS, in particular Mark Dobson after he took out a business loan with the bank.
Edmonds believes some of his business assets were passed by Dobson to Mills.
I even blame them for my prostate cancer
Noel was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2013 and believes that the stress of dealing with HBOS triggered the disease.
‘I am absolutely sure the negative forces acting on me impacted on my health,’ he says.
‘There is a wealth of information from various clinical studies of a direct link between stress and cancer. I am absolutely certain there was a link in my case.
‘I don’t say cancer was caused by the stress, but that my health deteriorated to such an extent I got prostate cancer.’
‘I always had good health. People, to this day, very kindly say, “You must have a portrait in the attic because you never seem to age,” says the TV presenter, who does indeed look a decade younger than his 68 years.
Thankfully, he has been in remission since 2015 and believes that a return to his customary optimistic outlook after a decade of stress and depression helped his recovery.
‘I am certain that positive energy assisted my doctor’s work in ridding me of the cancer,’ he says.
Noel was treated by renowned oncologist Professor Mark Emberton of University College London Hospital, a champion of High Intensity Focused Ultrasound or HIFU therapy.
HIFU destroys cancer cells – but not healthy cells – by, in effect, cooking them at 70 to 80 degrees while leaving the prostate gland intact.
The treatment claims a very high success rate.
Nonetheless, Noel says: ‘It is very unpleasant. It wiped me out, but I avoided the chemo and being radiated. In June 2015 I was given the all clear.
‘What’s left of the mass of the tumour is looking OK now. I was very, very fortunate.
‘I had none of the classic symptoms but fortunately I have six-monthly medicals so it was picked up.
‘I wanted to keep it quiet, initially, but so many men die of ignorance each year.’
Edmonds does not, however, like to use the word ‘cured’.
He also believes – in contrast to accepted medical wisdom – that everyone has the disease in latent form and that it could be triggered at any time.
‘I am in remission. There is no such thing as a cure for cancer. I don’t say I have a cure for cancer, because the best you can be is in remission.
‘We all have it and you never know when it’s going to come and have a nibble.’
Sorry we are not currently accepting comments on this article.