He's one of the regions' few multi-millionaires. So why would businessman John Elliott want to live on just £11 per day? Mark Tallentire finds out.

JOHN Elliott doesn't associate with many millionaires. He'd rather be "normal", he says. "The people I associate with have all got less money than me, so I've got to handle that by being normal. If I went into a pub every day and bought every round it wouldn't work."

Being "normal" will certainly help him in his next role. On Wednesday, and for the second time in two years, the boss of water cooler giant Ebac will risk humiliation on national television.

Last year, the 62-year-old - who has a personal fortune of £70m - and his wife Margaret appeared on Bring Your Husband To Heel, a reality show in which Margaret used dog training techniques on her husband.

John makes his return to our screens in the Channel 4 show Secret Millionaire, in which millionaires pay £50,000 to swap their swanky lifestyles for a poor one. They spend the programme under cover and only reveal who they are at the end, when they decide who will be most worthy of their £50,000.

To take part, John gave up his mansion near Crook, in County Durham, with its five bedrooms, six bathrooms, swimming pool, bar and games room, to spend ten days in a rented flat in Liverpool, living on just £11 per day.

"I liked the idea of giving money away," he says, lying back in an executive chair in his Ebac factory, in Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

"I totally believe in a capitalist society - that we should have free wages and that you should pay people what they're worth. Alan Shearer wouldn't have been paid as much if he had played for Hartlepool or Bishop Auckland. But I also accept that some people - like me - are overpaid. So I think you've got to re-distribute that money.

"I liked the idea of this show because, although I give money to various charities and causes, I've always felt there are some professional charities who are just good at taking money off people, giving it to other people and taking some for themselves.

"I liked the idea of going out and trying to find people who deserve help but don't get it - people who deserve to be made a little bit happier."

Sound sentiments perhaps, but maybe he could have made his 300-plus employees a little bit happier with the money instead?

"Some people here have said to me 'why didn't you just give me ten grand John?' But you can't do that because you've got to run a business like a business. If you go to someone on the shop floor and give them something they're not entitled to, it's patronising and it never works. They feel uncomfortable."

But if anyone understands humble circumstances it is John, who grew up in Morley, near Bishop Auckland, in a two up-two down terraced house in a family of six. Up until a few years ago, he still caught the bus to work, even if he could afford to drive a Ferrari.

But as well as his strong work ethic, his background appears to have given him strong views on who should and shouldn't be receiving benefits.

"For able-bodied people, you've got to get them off it," he says. "Whether you give them three weeks or three months, I don't know, but you've got to get them off it.

"The benefit system in this country isn't working. It's meant to be a safety net but it's become, for some people, an alternative way of life - something they choose. You can live on benefits. I know you can't buy foreign holidays or things like that, but you can certainly survive."

He says this last opinion was confirmed in his mind by taking part in Secret Millionaire and surviving on a meagre £11 per day.

"I didn't even spend it all," he says. "I thought I've got £11 a day, so I'm going to spend £5 a day for the first few days, then I can go berserk for the last couple.

"I had a good breakfast, then a sandwich-spread sandwich for lunch - I'd forgotten how good that is - and then meat and vegetables and rice pudding at night.

"I wouldn't say it's easy to live - I'd no clothes to buy, or pots and pans. But there's enough to survive on. I got £77 a week and some people get more than that. Imagine that - you can live quite nicely then."

John also meets other people living in the Kensington area of Liverpool, one of the most deprived in the country, to help him decide who deserves to get his money.

The self-made millionaire visits a pub, church, launderette and bingo hall, and befriends a local family. But perhaps his most enlightening visit is to a drop-in centre for asylum seekers.

"I disagree with illegal immigration on every level," he says.

"Firstly, it's against the law, and you don't choose the laws you want to follow. Then it's funded by gangs that move people round the world, which has got to be wrong."

However, he admits being moved by what he saw.

"It really got to me that the people running the centre were such tremendous people. Just nice people, trying to do a difficult job."

John was a prominent campaigner against replacing the pound with the euro, and later against an elected North East Regional Assembly, and in the programme he's described as a life-long supporter of the Conservative Party.

He says that description's not quite accurate, but nevertheless, he's clearly a political person. It's perhaps surprising that the question which finally leaves him speechless is whether he has any political ambitions.

He takes a deep breath and pushes the answer out slowly.

"No," he says.

Then another pause followed by: "In my weaker moments."

And then he's off again.

"I haven't got the balls to do it. It's a tough job, you know. I feel sorry for local government because they're controlled by Westminster," he says, before setting out his plans to revolutionise the police force.

John says he wants to work until he's 80, and although he seems to have plenty on his plate, he refuses to rule out a return to television.

"It wouldn't be my main business," is as far as he'll go.

"I was told I was crazy for doing this."

Crazy maybe. Certainly not normal.

* Secret Millionaire is broadcast on Wednesday at 9pm on Channel 4.