dragonsNorth East health club boss Duncan Bannatyne is stepping down from the BBC2 show Dragons’ Den after 12 series.

The Darlington entrepreneur was one of the original team of business experts when the programme launched nine years ago and his departure leaves just Peter Jones from the starting lineup of Dragons.

He announced yesterday that the forthcoming series, beginning on 20 July, will be his last as he leaves the programme “due to other business commitments”.

In the programme Bannatyne, 65, and the other judges invest their own cash in ideas pitched by budding entrepreneurs.

He said: “I have had the time of my life as a Dragon, I have made numerous investments and taken part in a landmark TV programme that has promoted entrepreneurship to an entire generation of Britons.

“However, after the 2014 recordings I do not plan to make any further investments on the programme so I thought it fair to ask producers to offer my seat to somebody else. There are only so many times I can say ’I’m out’.

“The series that is about to be transmitted is my final season and I’m delighted that it is full of exciting, high quality pitches. I have made a number of investments and it really is must-see business TV.”

Bannatyne, who had a health scare two years ago, built up his fortune with nursing homes and nurseries before founding his health club and spa chain in 1997. He was awarded an OBE for his support of charities.

Mark Linsey, the BBC’s controller for entertainment commissioning, said: “Duncan has been the most formidable Dragon and we are going to miss him enormously. He has inspired many entrepreneurs to come on the show and helped make Dragon’s Den a huge success for BBC2.

“His seat is going to be a difficult one to fill, but he leaves the show on a high, with this next series being the best yet.”