Dave Fishwick to watch Netflix make a movie of his life

Incredible story of Dave Fishwick, the poor lad from Burnley’s cobbled streets who grew up to be a local hero – and turned up in a £225k Ferrari to watch Netflix make a movie of his life

  • It’s a classic rags to riches tale and now the story of Dave Fishwick is to be filmed
  •  Last week, the 50-year-old was photographed arriving on the set of the Netflix biopic of his life called the Bank of Dave in his £225,000 scarlet Ferrari
  • Here, he talks about his humble beginnings turned to extraordinary wealth  

The little boy squints in the sunshine, his hand-me-down uniform misshapen and crumpled. His modest, terraced home in Burnley – in the very heart of the industrial North – still had an outside toilet in the 1970s. There was no money for a television, and the toys he and his brother played with along the town’s cobbled lanes were nailed together from scrap found at the tip.

In the decades since this black-and-white photograph was taken, Dave Fishwick has often thought back to how difficult those early days were – albeit full of love and at the centre of a supportive and caring community.

Indeed, it’s hard today to reconcile that grubby child with the well-groomed multi-millionaire businessman he has become.

It’s a classic rags-to-riches tale in the style of Billy Elliot or The Full Monty, but with a heart-warming philanthropic twist.

For while Dave pulled himself up by his bootstraps to make his fortune selling vans and minibuses, he also launched an astonishing mission to make sure everyone else prospered alongside him.

For while Dave pulled himself up by his bootstraps to make his fortune selling vans and minibuses, he also launched an astonishing mission to make sure everyone else prospered alongside him.

Last week, the 50-year-old was photographed arriving in a very different setting. Stepping out of his £225,000 scarlet Ferrari, Dave was visiting the film set where his extraordinary life is being turned into a big-budget Netflix biopic.

Eleven years ago he fought London’s elite banking institutions to set up a community bank – fondly christened ‘The Bank of Dave’ by locals – in his beloved hometown, lending money to those in need to help businesses survive in the wake of the financial crash.

Today the grateful people of Burnley have got used to seeing their local hero mingle with the stars of the film, including Rory Kinnear, who will play Dave, and Bridgerton actress Phoebe Dynevor, who takes on the role of a feisty doctor, Alex.

Despite Dave’s trappings of success, they mainly remember him as the man who helped them when the banks would not.

Dave, who has also been the subject of a Channel 4 documentary, has always shied away from talking about his poverty-stricken background. But in an interview with The Mail on Sunday, he describes how it not only motivated him to work hard for his staggering wealth, but made him determined to help his community, too.

‘I know what it’s like to have absolutely nothing. There is only one way from there and that’s upwards. I truly believe hard work puts you where some good luck can find you. But I have never forgotten what it’s like being poor – and the drive and determination from that helps push you forward.

‘I wanted to make a real difference to the people of Burnley and across Lancashire.’

The film is, he says, ‘one of the biggest things to happen in my life’. But that’s modest given the extraordinary drive that has brought Dave to where he is today.

He now lives in Sabden, just six miles from his Burnley roots in the heart of the picturesque Ribble Valley, but in a beautiful house a world away from the terraced home where he grew up.

He met his wife, Nicola, a biochemist, 27 years ago at a garage he owned while he was building his business empire, and the couple have two grown-up children, Sarah and Connor. Along with the Ferrari, he also owns – and pilots – a helicopter which once belonged to the Duke of Westminster. Some say Dave himself is now worth a cool half a billion, but there’s little trace of it in his affable manner, the Lancastrian accent still proudly intact.

Instinctively private despite his fame, Dave has never spoken in public before about the childhood that shaped him.

In 1971, when he was born, Burnley was like many Northern towns – slipping into decline with the collapse of the once-booming textile industry and the closure of the coal mines which had supported so many families for generations.

Dave Fishwick and brother outside our house on the back street [dave is on the left], where he played with the gas tar on the cobbles and built old gokarts

Dave credits his father, Tony, for his work ethic, which ‘definitely rubbed off on me’. Tony worked two jobs, waking at 4.30am for his first shift as a farm labourer before going on to his second job, as a supervisor at a mill, at lunchtime. He left work at 10pm every night.

Christine, his mother, worked as a weaver in the same mill.

‘I would play in the back streets with my elder brother Andrew, melting tarmac with glass between the cobbles – too poor for plasticine,’ Dave recalls.

‘We’d visit the local tip to gather pram wheels, wood and bricks to nail it together to make go-karts and bikes. Dad’s long hours meant I hardly saw him.’

Tormented at school by bullies because of the thick NHS prescription glasses he wore, Dave learned an important lesson when he snapped and hit a bully back.

‘It stopped – and I realised bullies don’t like being challenged. It’s something that has always stuck with me.’

There was little in the way of career options outside the mill or building sites for teenagers in the late 1980s, and 15-year-old Dave, fed up with school which made him feel daft, chose the latter.

For 18 months he earned £5.50 a day for the hardest graft he’d endured. ‘I was carrying cement up ladders. It was brutal. I remember sitting in the back of a lorry filled with sand, it was blowing in my face, and I thought, ‘There’s got to be more to life than this.’ 

But it taught him skills such as how to pebble-dash a house and, crucially, some business acumen. It was an incident in a fish and chip shop that awakened his entrepreneurial instinct.

After ordering a chip butty, he realised he was a few pence short and persuaded the girl serving to give him a discount in return for skimming off a few chips.

But instead of putting them back into the fryer, he watched as she threw them away. ‘It was outrageous she put those chips in the bin. What a waste! I vowed never to behave like that.’

With a long-standing passion for cars, Dave decided to embark on his first money-making experiment. Still only 17, he went round garages, asking them to take a chance on him. One let him clean up and sell a Vauxhall Cavalier. Any profit over £70 he could keep. The offer changed Dave’s life.

‘I sold it for £97, making £27 – a week’s wages in a couple of hours. I was on to something.’

He wanted to do more of the same thing, yet borrowing money proved almost impossible. The banks, he says, simply wouldn’t lend him anything. So he vowed to do it his own way – avoid debt and pay upfront for everything. Living at a friend’s house, sleeping on a roll-up mattress in the front room, he repeated the trick with more cars and supplemented his income by performing as a DJ.

‘I learnt the ropes, borrowed equipment and did nights people didn’t want – but I could make £30 in two hours. I did that for a few years, often six nights per week.

Stepping out of his £225,000 scarlet Ferrari, Dave was visiting the film set where his extraordinary life is being turned into a big-budget Netflix biopic

 That was my money to eat and live.’

But he kept the money from his car sales for the future. Soon he had enough to buy his own garage in nearby Nelson, selling cars himself. But even that didn’t slow him down. He took on a third job selling clothes at a market in Manchester, going with a friend at 3am who was driving there anyway to buy produce for a hotel.

It didn’t matter that he had no experience. ‘I was making the most of a free ride and could make another £20 or £30.’

At the time, property in the area was comparatively cheap and Dave made another wise decision which would cement his future earning power. With £4,200 savings he bought a two-up, two-down – albeit one with structural problems.

With his characteristic can-do approach, Dave set about doing it up himself.

‘There was a huge bulge – a ‘belly’ – in the wall. I decided I could fix it. I ditched DJing and started doing this house up at night. Eventually I let it out and was getting £2,000 annual rent – a yield of around 50 per cent.’

It earned him enough to buy another house, followed by another.

‘A real turning point was when I bought a farm for £100,000, paid for it upfront as the banks wouldn’t lend to me, and I transformed it and sold it for £500,000.’

But cars remained his first passion and he soon spotted a gap in the market for companies which sold vans and minibuses.

It was a no-brainer: he set up his own company, David Fishwick Minibus Sales, which became a roaring success. The business still operates, selling vehicles around the world. Dave even taught himself Spanish to haggle with buyers from one of his biggest markets.

‘After three years, I became fluent,’ he adds, modestly.

But in 2009 the company hit an unexpected crisis. The financial crash caused the banks to withdraw loans to his customers, preventing them from buying and threatening the future of his business.

‘The customers weren’t doing anything differently and were still able to repay. It was the banks who were having the problems, and lowering the bar.’

Frustrated, and already a self-made millionaire, Dave decided to take matters into his own hands – and began lending his own cash to his local clients.

‘Banks were being incredibly harsh. Community businesses were struggling terribly.

‘Most of those businesses paid the money back on time. The default rate was low. I wanted to help.’

It was such a success that he opened his own bank – which later became Burnley Savings And Loans – in September 2011.

That he had no experience in banking, or a banking licence, did not faze him.

Actor Rory Kinnear on the set of the Netflix biopic Bank of Dave

Such licences can take years to secure. In the past 100 years, only one – for Metro Bank – had been granted before Dave’s. But while he waited, he set up in the town centre, and – unable to call himself a bank without the licence – erected a sign bearing a slogan that simply said ‘Bank on Dave!’

The Bank Of Dave employed a unique lending model.

It linked savers in Burnley earning paltry interest on their deposits with local businesses desperately in need of loans. Borrowers with a good credit record were charged 8.9 per cent interest, while investors could make five per cent on their savings. Any profits went to charity. Applicants for loans were assessed by a local bank manager who made decisions based on deep personal knowledge rather than the algorithm used by major banks to accept or reject applicants.

At the beginning, Dave even personally vetted each one himself.

‘I have a 97-98 per cent repayment rate and I think it’s because I always tell customers that for every £1 they don’t pay back, that’s £1 I can’t lend to anyone else,’ Dave said at the time.

He also battled class snobbery, which he shrugged off.

One expert told him: ‘If you went to the right school and had the right parents you might be considered a fit and proper person to go into the banking industry… there is no evidence you are.’

‘That was shocking,’ reflects Dave, ‘but it made me want to succeed even more.’

And that’s exactly what he did. The enterprise has been a runaway success. After six months of trading the bank had already returned a profit, which Dave passed on to various charities, including food banks and community centres.

In the past ten years it has lent nearly £30 million, and has a three-year waiting list for customers to open a savings account.

Some local shops know they probably would be out of business but for the Bank of Dave.

Despite remaining humble, Dave has no reservations about enjoying the perks of his wealth.

Dave, who has also been the subject of a Channel 4 documentary, has always shied away from talking about his poverty-stricken background

‘When I was younger, my brother came home one day and said he was working on this incredible property. Later in life, I ended up buying it. Andrew is a fantastic joiner and did most of the woodwork.

Then there’s the helicopter. I learned how to fly it in my 20s, with second-hand books.

‘It’s a practical tool to get around – I recently flew to France – but crucially, it’s the only thing that switches my brain off from other things. I feel at peace. Otherwise, my mind constantly goes over and over like a Rubik’s Cube.

‘The success has been great, as it’s opened doors, but it’s hard to have a normal life at the same time.

‘Success wasn’t handed to me. I think, for that reason, people are not bothered that I have a helicopter and a few fancy cars.’

His wife, Nicola, also keeps him grounded. ‘I’ll meet celebrities, and she’ll say, ‘Never mind that nonsense. What do you want for tea? Pie or beef hash?’ ‘

Their children, now in their 20s, work as a policeman and with animals after Dave told them to get a job doing something that ‘ideally benefits society’.

The latest project Dave is turning his ‘demon drive’ to is helping Netflix bring his story to the screen accurately. ‘It’s been marvellous getting to know Rory and the rest of the cast,’ he says. ‘I think he’s a fine actor and he has completely nailed my Lancashire accent. Rory has become more me than me.

‘Last weekend we filmed a scene that sent a shiver down my spine. I looked around the room, and thought, wow, this is happening to me.’

But the other star of the film, which Dave is determined to do justice to, is his beloved Burnley and the people who live there.

‘I hope it’ll show Burnley in a positive light on the world stage,’ he says. ‘It’s a wonderful town with a close-knit community and I’m blessed to call it my home.’

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