A FAMILIAR household name and popular TV personality was mobbed by Winston Churchill students when he delivered his inspiring ‘School of Life Tour’ on Monday.
Bubbly businessman, musician and chef, Levi Roots, was on top form when he gave GCSE business and music students talks on their respective subjects. And there were shrieks of delight and surprise when he took to the stage with his guitar for an impromptu set in front of the hall’s lunchtime crowds.
Mobbed on his way out, as pupils were high-fiving him, Levi went on to give a cookery demo – Caribbean-style, of course.
Little was known about the entrepreneur until a couple of Dragons warmed to him, his guitar and his Reggae Reggae brand as he strummed his way into the BBC’s Den seven years ago.
Levi, who’s now 56, said: “I didn’t speak – I just played my guitar and sang. The music and sauce merge together. If I had gone in without my guitar, the Dragons would have slain me.”
While three of them opted out of investing, Peter Jones and Richard Farleigh took a punt. Shortly after the episode, Sainsbury’s announced they would be stocking the sauce in 600 stores.
Levi added: “Peter Jones gave me the most fantastic advice. After making the deal, I asked what I should change to get on in the business world – he said: ‘Don’t change a thing – just be you. And never be afraid to make mistakes – I just take them as feedback.’ Keep it real.”
That was the message Levi passed on to the business pupils and explained how important it is to have a mentor. He also said: “It doesn’t matter who you are, where you’re from or what your background is, anyone can be an entrepreneur.
“You just have to boldly go to places you haven’t been before and be true to yourself. We wanted to be the biggest Caribbean food brand in the country and I think we have done that.”
Now Levi is netting a cool £35 million, and has launched more than 50 brand products in only seven years. He advised music pupils to extend their options and learn an instrument – a good voice alone isn’t enough.
He explained that drums are the backbone of any band – the heartbeat and, while he played his guitar and sang, a couple of pupils took it in turns to come in on the drums to demonstrate this.
From humble roots in Jamaica, Levi – who’s real name is Keith – was the youngest of six children. He lived with his grandmother until the age of 12 when he came over to Brixton, where he still lives today.
He said: “Keith is the one who keeps me grounded. You don’t take your money and run. I’m the same old Levi in the community. The most important thing is what you give back and try to inspire others.”
As well as his passion for music and food, Levi had entrepreneurial tendencies from a young age. He said: “At school I’d take in a packet of biscuits and sell them individually – I became legendary. I had my own record label at 16.”
His Reggae Reggae Sauce was a version of his grandmother’s jerk recipe. He designed the labels, took his sauce to the 2006 Notting Hill Carnival and sold 4,000 bottles.
Levi’s passion and enthusiasm is never-ending. He added: “We are now looking at restaurants for a Caribbean food chain – called ‘Rastaurants’, of course.
“We are also hoping to make the Reggae Reggae brand international and take it to the US. “Keeping it real.”