ONE of the country’s best-known businessmen spoke of his vow never to retire during his 60th birthday party.

Hundreds of people attended the function for multi-millionaire businessman and the star of television’s Dragons’ Den, Duncan Bannatyne.

Headlining the party was British soul diva Beverley Knight, with a surprise appearance by one-hit-wonder Chesney Hawkes.

Guests included former supermiddleweight boxing world champion Joe Calzaghe, who earlier appeared at a sports dinner in Darlington.

Entrepreneur and philanthropist Mr Bannatyne held his party in a converted warehouse in Darlington.

Ms Knight entertained the crowd with tracks from her recent album, Music City Soul, and some of her greatest hits, including Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda and Keep This Flame Burning.

Chesney Hawkes sang his hit The One and Only, and a version of Barry Manilow’s classic Mandy, retitled Duncan, about trying to get an investment in the Dragons’ Den.

Mr Bannatyne said: “This may be a milestone birthday, but it does not mean I am close to retirement.

I do not think a true entrepreneur ever retires, because there is always a new opportunity on the horizon.

“Retirement is not even in my vocabulary and anyway, as far as I am concerned, 60 is the new 40.

“In fact, there are plenty of entrepreneurs who are in their forties who struggle to keep pace with me.

“I have had many careers in my time from ice-cream man and naval stoker to health club operator and TV personality.

“There just might be a few more things I want to try.

“The party was fantastic and I want to thank Beverley for the fantastic performance she gave for me and my guests. She has an amazing voice and is a real talent.

“Holding the party in Darlington was also special as I have great affection for the town and its people.”

Darlington was chosen as the location for the party to demonstrate the success Mr Bannatyne has enjoyed running his business interests from the town. At least six of the town’s significant employers can trace their roots to his involvement in their founding.

Among them, his Quality Care Homes company, which he sold in 1996, became Four Seasons Healthcare and Southern Cross Health Care.

Both retain major operations in the town, employing hundreds of people.

The Bannatyne Group, which employs 3,000 people across the UK, has its head office in Darlington, from where it operates its nationwide chain of health clubs, hotels and wellbeing spas.

Other investments included a radio station and a hotel.