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Dragon' Chanelle McCoy as 'driven in career as AP'

Chanelle McCoy has given a fascinating insight into the challenges of being married to a "selfish" sports star - and revealed how it was only after her husband AP McCoy retired from racing that he realised just what an accomplished businesswoman she is.

The mum-of-two, who is a director of Chanelle Pharmaceutical Group, which has sales of over £85m a year, also said many people assumed she was a sporting WAG, and had no idea she had her own successful career.

"People would often say: 'Really, you work?'. They would look at you in shock," she said. "I think people thought I had this idyllic life, that I just followed AP round the country and was glamorous and it was all very rock and roll.

"But actually I was building up a business while he had to live with things like starvation (to keep his weight down) and injuries - he's had over 700 broken bones in his career.

"I used to joke with him over the years and say to him: 'Do you actually know my job? Do you actually understand my business?'

"Now, he hears me talking about trying to get the products registered in Sudan or trying to get money out of Saudi Arabia, and so it's great now because he quietly says: 'God, you're quite good at what you do'."

Chanelle (40), who has a daughter Eve (10) and son Archie (3), said being married to a highly focused sportsman brought particular challenges.

Speaking after being unveiled as the newest Dragon on RTE's Dragons' Den, she admitted: "They are selfish because they have to be to be number one. So, in a way, AP didn't have a lot of time to dedicate to what was happening in my life because he was so self-absorbed, and I say that with respect.

"So actually I got a lot of my self-confidence and my self-esteem from my workplace. I wasn't seeking that reassurance from him. I wasn't seeking that level of attention from him, because, do you know what, I got my fix in work.

"So I understood a lot about pressure and trying to achieve goals because I was going through it myself."

She revealed how on one occasion she was abroad on business when she was told that her husband had been seriously injured.

"I remember being in Germany and getting a call to say, 'AP's broken his back, he's in an ambulance, he's in a critical condition', and all you're thinking is 'I have got to get through this meeting and I've got to get the first flight back'."

She has been responsible for driving the human generic drugs division at Chanelle Pharmaceutial Group, which her father Michael Burke set up initially as a veterinary drugs company. She sees human medicines as her area of the business and veterinary as her father's.

"Now, dad and I are neck and neck with turnover. Which is really exciting," she said.

"I'm quite proud to say that I have products now in 69 countries around the world. My father is in 80 countries in veterinary (products). So that's my next goal, really."

The company, which is based in Co Galway, employs 385 people but expects that to increase to 500 in the next few years.

Both Chanelle and the company are named after a shop the family lived over for a time. One of five children, her father started off life as a vet before opening a veterinary shop and later getting into manufacturing generic veterinary pharmaceutical products. It was very much a family enterprise.

"Every Saturday we were up there as kids sweeping the floor, we were relabelling products, we were packing bottles into cartons. There was always that work ethic and I just was fascinated with the business and by what dad had done.

"From a very early age, I always wanted to come and work in the business," said Chanelle, who now spends one week a month in Galway and the rest of the time in the UK.

After studying marketing and finance in college she left Ireland to work in London aged 21. She joined pharma company Wyeth to work in sales, which she found to be a good learning ground but also hard graft.

When she came back to Ireland a couple of years later, she outlined to her father her belief that the company should expand into human generic drugs, a much larger global business.

"My one objective was I wanted to make dad proud and I wanted to replicate what he did - and I wanted to show him that I was a high achiever and that I could be successful. So that kept me motivated all the time. I didn't want to fail."

Chanelle's other business interests include a boutique, Mojo and McCoy, which is near her home in Berkshire. She owns it with friends including Camilla Parker Bowles's daughter Laura.

Although clearly a fan of fashion, Chanelle knows her limits and recalled her partners talking about stock she had bought, asking 'who bought that rubbish left on the sale rail?'.

"The girls know that my good contribution to the shop is managing the cash and managing the books and they're brilliant at buying and front-of-shop."

Last week Chanelle was with AP at Cheltenham, but she has never let horse racing come ahead of her career. She added: "For me work always came first, before any race meeting. Touch wood, we have a very strong marriage and I think the making of us has been that I have had my career going in parallel to his. I've never lived my life through his career."

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