WHEN ex-Dragon Duncan Bannatyne was asked to front a documentary about fellow Glasgow businessman Sir Thomas Lipton, he reacted the same way most people do at the mention of his name.

“I said – oh, the tea man?” smiles Duncan. “After reading about him, I realised very quickly there is more to Thomas Lipton than that…”

The title of a new documentary about Lipton sums up the impact the grocery entrepreneur had, both at home and abroad.

The Man Who Charmed the World tells the remarkable tale of a young Gorbals businessman who became a jet-setting A-list celebrity, changing the way we shop and winning the hearts of both the Scottish and American public along the way.

“Tommy Lipton was a terrific man, who remained very likeable and gentle, despite running this huge business empire – he just won over everybody,” explains Duncan.

“He could talk just as happily with celebrities and Royals as he could with the people he met in his shops.”

Duncan grins: “I think that’s his Scottish roots, of course. The Scots are just generally lovely people.”

Duncan, founder of the successful health club chain Bannatyne’s and a former star of Dragon’s Den, was born and raised in Clydebank, in similar circumstances to Lipton.

He says: “Yes, there are similarities in that neither of us had much to begin with but that’s where it ends. When I started my business, it was much easier than in Lipton’s time – I had a far superior road and rail network, the internet…how he did what he did, how he got around from Glasgow to America to his tea plantation in India just amazes me.”

Lipton’s parents moved from Fermanagh in Ireland to Glasgow in the 1840s, setting up a small grocery shop on Crown Street in the Gorbals. At the age of 15, Thomas got a job as a cabin boy on a steamship, which sparked in him an interest in sailing, and a desire to see America.

He moved to New York and worked in a department store called A T Stewart’s. The experience it inspired him to return to Glasgow to run his own business.

Duncan explains: “In America, it was all about low mark up, high volume goods to keep the price low; set prices, no haggling. He brought those ideas back to Glasgow and really started to revolutionise retail.”

Back in Glasgow, Thomas had to convince his father this was the way ahead.

“I love this part of the story,” says Duncan. “I think Lipton had a need to prove to his father that this could work.

“My own father was a working class man, who believed you worked for your living a certain way, and that was that. Lipton’s father was the same – and Thomas wanted to prove him wrong, that it could be done his way but also, he wanted to make him proud.”

Duncan adds: “Making my father proud of me was my driving force. He was immensely proud of what I achieved, and that was what kept me going. That and the desire to be able to help my parents financially.

“I wasn’t considered intelligent at school – it turned out later that I had dyslexia, but we didn’t know it back then. I found it difficult to learn anything, but I knew I wasn’t daft.

“So when I got a job, I worked hard, seven days a week, built up an ice cream van business and realised – I’m good at business.”

One of Lipton’s biggest strengths was his eye for good marketing. He opened a chain of shops in Britain and Ireland, celebrating each new one with huge fanfare. From parading pigs up the high street to giant billboards proclaiming ‘Lipton is coming’, he created a stir of excitement around his business.

“It’s impressive,” says Duncan. “Wish I’d thought of half of it. But it is incredible – what would take a whole PR team nowadays, he did all on his own.

“I can imagine if Lipton was alive today, he’d have loved to be on Dragon’s Den. He’d have been fun to watch.”

Duncan left Dragon’s Den, the BBC series in which would-be entrepreneurs pitch ideas to leading business figures in a bid to win their backing, after 12 years.

“I should have left after 10,” he states. “I don’t miss it. I had 10 fantastic years, in which I loved being part of it, but when it stopped being fun, I should have gone.”

Duncan now divides his time between Portugal, where he lives with his new wife Nigora, and Miami, where Nigora’s daughter goes to school.

“It’s a busy life but a good one,” he says. “I don’t have any other TV work coming up at the moment – the last thing I did was the hugely enjoyable I’m a Celebrity…, which was a great experience.”

He adds: “I enjoyed doing this documentary. Learning about Tommy Lipton and visiting his grave in the Southern Necropolis was great.

“It’s a remarkable place.”

Glasgow author and founder of the Sir Thomas Lipton Foundation Laurence Brady hopes the documentary will bring Lipton’s achievements to a much wider audience.

“I’m always amazed people don’t know much about him,” says Laurence. “He was one of the world’s first global entrepreneurs, and he also went on to challenge the America’s Cup five times.

“He loved sailing, and thought it should be for all, rather than simply an elitist sport. He was charming, made friends with Royalty and politicians, and entertained them on his yacht.

“But he was always humble and kind, and never forgot his roots.”

In 1928 in New York, a dinner was held to pay tribute to pioneers of American industry – the people who shaped American business life. Seated at the top table were Thomas Edison, George Eastman (founder of Kodak), tyre tycoon Harvey Firestone, Henry Ford – and Thomas Lipton.

“That really sums up how important Lipton was,” smiles Laurence.

Colin Mackie runs Friends of the Southern Necropolis, an Evening Times Streets Ahead awardwinning group based at the cemetery where Lipton is buried. Recently the group launched an official t-shirt on Lipton’s birthday, toasting the great man with Lipton tea and cake.

He says: “Of all the many characters buried within the Southern Necropolis, Lipton is the one asked about the most.

“Through his hard work and Gorbals spirit he became a household name, and delivered a brand name and service that the public could rely on and trust. He was way ahead of his time.

“I remember my grandmother telling me Lipton used to sleep inside his shop. He is proof determination and optimism can help you achieve your dreams.”

The Man Who Charmed the World is on BBC TWO Scotland at 9pm on Tuesday, September 25.