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Tony Banks: Crisis-hit Tayside Aviation owner’s journey from Dundee to TV fame and business fortune

The former Balhousie Care Group boss hasn’t been far from the public gaze since 2009 when he appeared in the sixth series of hit Channel 4 show The Secret Millionaire.

Tony Banks.
Tony Banks.

As a working-class boy from Dundee who later fought in the Falklands War and became a millionaire businessman, there are few challenges that faze Tony Banks.

He has lived, judging by the attention his story has attracted from TV producers and publishers as an indicator, an extraordinary life.

And the former Balhousie Care Group boss, 61, hasn’t been far from the public gaze since 2009 when he appeared in the sixth series of hit Channel 4 show The Secret Millionaire.

14 years on, he is in the headlines once again – and this time the spotlight is on his doorstep.

Last week his firm Tayside Aviation collapsed into administration, with the immediate loss of 22 jobs.

As a result, hundreds of students have been left in limbo and out of pocket.

The company, founded in 1968 and bought by Mr Banks in December 2021, was described by directors as “an incredible business that has made Dundee an aviation hub for over 50 years”.

Industry sources say it is a “huge blow” for the city.

It can’t have been an easy decision for the ex-paratrooper, who bought his first care home in Angus in 1992 and built Balhousie Care Group into a business that had 26 homes and more than 1,400 staff.

‘It’s not about the money’

The independence supporter has spoken previously of the importance of leaving a legacy in business.

In a 2017 interview, Mr Banks told Insider: “It took me a long time to decide to do it but it made me realise I had become a millionaire without realising it and what I had created.

“It made me think more about putting more efforts into the charity work and inspired me to do better things with the business.

“Also I wanted to use my position to meet prominent people and influence policy as care for the elderly is a huge issue for society which is not going to go away.

“The first 10 to 12 years this was a lifestyle business for me. I had grown it to the size where I was comfortable but I would rather have had three skiing holidays a year.

Tony Banks receiving honorary degree at Abertay University in 2014.
Tony Banks receiving an honorary degree at Abertay University in 2014. Image: Kim Cessford.

“Maybe it was a bit of a mid-life crisis thing but I thought I should really get my finger out.

“It is now about leaving that legacy and it’s not about the money.

“I could sell today and be more than comfortable for the rest of my life but how much money does one man need? It doesn’t buy happiness.

“So it’s about creating that legacy and a company which is recognised as being a leader in its field.”

Money may not be God for the man who has a net worth of running into the tens of millions, but it has allowed him to buy his own helicopter, donate to the SNP and travel the world watching his beloved Celtic, which Tayside Aviation was a sponsor of.

From Dundee to the Falklands

Mr Banks grew up as the youngest of four children in Dundee.

His business journey began at the age of 11 when he delivered copies of The Courier while studying at St Saviour’s High School.

He had planned to study accountancy but an advert in the Evening Telegraph changed everything.

It was for the Territorial Army’s parachute regiment and Mr Banks, whose father had been in the RAF, decided to join.

He was deployed to the Falklands as part of 2nd Battalion, Parachute Regiment (2 Para) and later detailed his experiences of the conflict in Storming The Falklands: My War and After, published in 2012.

The book is dedicated to Mr Banks’ late father and brothers Ernest, or Ernie, and Roderick, or Roddy.

Tony Banks wrote book about his experiences of the Falklands conflict
Tony Banks wrote book about his experiences of the Falklands conflict. Image: Abacus Books.

In it, he details the horrors of war and describes witnessing the deaths of some of his closest friends.

He writes: “Returning from the Falklands in 1982, I was in a mess. Not physically, because I had gone through that war in the South Atlantic with barely a scratch.

“But the experience had deeply affected me in ways I didn’t understand.

“It was great to be home in one piece and among my loved ones, but I was struck by how normal everything looked.

“People were just getting on with their lives. They had no idea what we had seen and been through, and I thought most of them were probably not that interested, either.”

Tony Banks’ business career begins

He soon became an insurance salesman but other opportunities were just around the corner.

His biography on the website of Abertay University, where he had dropped out of an accountancy course years earlier, says: “While working as a medic on the oil rigs he discovered that the private sector did not have the capacity to cope with the country’s ageing population.”

It wasn’t long before he scraped together enough money to buy his first care home in Kirriemuir, Angus, in 1992.

Balhousie Dalnaglar care home in Crieff.
Balhousie Dalnaglar care home in Crieff.

According to his book, the dad-of-three and his ex-wife Alison (they split in 1999) invested everything they had in the venture, even moving into the house above the facility.

Business was also an escape as he coped with the death of his father in 2001 and between 2003 and 2011 he opened a further 19 care homes.

The next chapter

TV fame came in 2009 on Channel 4’s The Secret Millionaire, which pulled in more than 3 million viewers per episode.

It saw him go undercover on the streets of Liverpool to meet people living on the breadline, with the businessman handing out a six-figure sum to good causes.

A year later Mr Banks – who has owned homes in Perth and Kirriemuir – made an emotional return to the Falklands for BBC1 documentary From War To Peace.

Of his trip to Merseyside, he said: “I met some lovely people. It was a great feeling to be able to do something which helped others.”

In 30 years at the helm, he grew Balhousie’s portfolio to 26 care homes and 1,400 staff before selling a majority stake in the Perth-based business last year.

The tycoon – who retains a minority shareholding in Balhousie – also owns Dundee firm Affertons Funeral Care.

Tony Banks also owns Affertons Funeral Care in Dundee
Tony Banks also owns Affertons Funeral Care in Dundee. Image: Affertons Funeral Care.
Tony Banks' sister Terry collects Courier Business Award on his behalf.
Tony Banks’ sister Terry collects a Courier Business Award on his behalf. Image: Steve Brown/DC Thomson.

His stewardship of Balhousie Care Group earned him a Business Leader prize at last year’s Courier Business Awards, with the judges recognising him for his strong management during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Collecting the award on his behalf, his sister Terry said it was a “fitting” way for her brother to bow out from the company.

Last September, he told The Courier’s business editor Rob McLaren: “I’m very proud of what we have given to so many local communities.

“To be an employer and a community player is a big responsibility but it also brings great rewards.”

Tony Banks buys Tayside Aviation

He expanded his business interests when he bought Tayside Aviation late in 2021 for an undisclosed sum.

The historic Dundee flight school was established more than half a century ago, delivering the RAF’s air cadet pilot scheme for decades.

After the takeover, Mr Banks said: “We look forward to building on Tayside Aviation’s stellar reputation and to working with the team to take the company to even greater heights.”

Sadly, his ambitions have not materialised.

Administrators were called in by the Dundee Airport-based business on April 20 and they cited “ongoing working capital requirements that are unable to be funded” for the demise of the firm.

As well as job losses, the collapse has left students thousands of pounds out of pocket and facing an uncertain future.

The Courier revealed on Friday April 28 that administrators will consider charges placed on Tayside Aviation – including those by Tony Banks personally and a company he controls – in the weeks before the crisis erupted.

He finally broke his silence on the situation on Tuesday May 2, 11 days after the firm’s collapse.

Through a spokesperson, Mr Banks – who is taking legal action against former owners Jim and Kate Watt – said calling in administrators had been “personally devastating” and had cost him £3million.

The statement read: “Unfortunately, the business was unable to overcome the impact of the significant liability for prepaid flying courses, which existed at the time of purchasing of the business.

“The delivery of which has crippled the company’s ability to generate income from new sales, as man-hours and air slots were being utilised to honour legacy prepaid courses.”

This intervention, however, is unlikely to have eased the worries of the others impacted by Tayside Aviation’s demise.

This article was published on Monday May 1 and has since been updated to reflect developments in the story.