Sir James Dyson : The “Gyro Gearloose” of British engineers

Like his creations, James Dyson (64), made famous by the invention of the bagless vacuum cleaner, is a rather unique prototype : as an engineer and designer equally interested by looks and functionality, he appears as a prolific inventor as well as a shrewd business man. Despite a fortune estimated by Forbes magazine at more than one billion pounds, a knighthood by the Queen and a guest starring role in popular American TV series Friends, he remains incredibly low key, and more likely to be found gardening than attending jet set parties. Here, the inventor reveals to Chic-Londres a few of his personality traits…

My main character trait: Perseverance.

The trait I most deplore in myself: Dissatisfaction, as it doesn’t make for an easy life.

The trait I am most proud of in myself: Obstinacy… I don’t give up easily.

If I had to change one thing about the way I look: Actually, I would quite like to change the way I see, as I still have to wear glasses despite braving laser surgery.

The quality I appreciate most in a man: Inquisitiveness, I like people who ask “Why?”.

The quality I appreciate most in a woman: Ditto.

What I most value in my friends: Honesty and a sense of humour.

Faults in others or myself that I am most likely to forgive: Making mistakes. In fact, this isn’t really a fault: it is how we learn and discover.

If I had to change one thing about the way I look : Actually, I would quite like to change the way I see, as I still have to wear glasses despite braving laser surgery.

My favourite pastime: Making things. Lots of people in England think that engineers fix things, when actually they do create them.

My idea of happiness: Being with my family.

My most beautiful memory: Family holidays in Norfolk and in Provence.

What I wanted to do when I was a kid: I wanted to be either a bassoonist, an actor or a painter. I even considered becoming an estate agent thanks to a clearly confused careers advisor! Nowhere did design engineering feature, and it was only through my indecision at the Royal College of Art that I was eventually seduced.

Which animal I would be: I think our cats have it pretty easy…

My favourite book: The Lunar Men by Jenny Uglow, which tells the story of a group of 18th century “discoverers” -artists, engineers and manufacturers- who effectively made the future.

My favourite artist : My wife Deirdre, who paints and designs exquisite hand woven silk rugs, which make for excellent wall art.

My favourite film: I would rather see a play, such as Spamalot, which made me laugh out loud. I hear that there is a Dyson in the new Transformers film, but I haven’t seen it yet!

My favourite heroes in fiction: As a child I looked up to the heroes of the Eagle revue, like Dan Dare, “Pilot of the Future”!

People I most admire in real life: British engineer Isambard Kingdom Brunel.

My most treasured possession: My Rotring pencil because I am constantly sketching ideas with it.

My favourite place: Provence.

What makes me really angry: Everyday things that are accepted, even though they don’t work properly. For example, hand dryers which don’t dry hands, or vacuum cleaners which clog and lose suction.

My greatest achievement to date: Other than a very creative family, I would say creating the first bagless vacuum cleaner. I thought it would be a six week job, but it actually took me five years and over 5000 prototypes to do it… And it then took another ten years to get it to market.

My definition of beauty: Something which works perfectly is beautiful to me. How something works is infinitely more important than how it looks.

My current state of mind: Questioning… I am constantly looking at how and why something works as it does. And then I look at ways to make it better.

My motto: Thinking of the wrong way to do something often brings you to the right way much quicker.