Dame Mary Perkins is a vision of carefully coiffed silver hair, sensible shoes, neat little legs and a half-price electric blue shift dress — ‘Oh, I do love a Hobbs sale. I’ve got one in purple, too!’
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She could have one in solid gold and another studded with pink diamonds, if she fancied. Along with personal jets, choppers, private islands and 300ft yachts galore.
Because 73-year-old Mary, founder of the Specsavers Opticians empire, is Britain’s first self-made female billionaire. She’s worth an estimated £1.6 billion — nearly three times more wealthy than the Queen.
But Mary isn’t the sort to splurge — other than in the Hobbs sale or on a new bike and two state-of-the-art new knees that have left her as light and bouncy as a girl.
She works seven days a week, enjoys walking holidays, cycling and reading and sings in her local choral society. (‘We’ve a big concert coming up,’ she says.)
She bikes to work every day from her modest four-bedroom house in Guernsey, eats in the staff canteen and always gives her home a quick ‘once over’ before the cleaner comes.
‘My family always say: “For goodness sake, leave something for her to do!” But I’d feel awful if it were a mess.’
The other day she nearly died of embarrassment when a shop assistant curtseyed before her, saying: ‘Nice to meet you, Dame Mary.’
‘I felt dreadful. Really dreadful! I always say: “Please just call me Mary,” ’ she says, blushing all over again at the very thought.