RIKKI Hunt believes we are shaped by our earliest deeds and experiences.

“When I was at junior school I used to get free meals. The system of the day was that it was two shillings and sixpence for dinner money.

“On dinner money day the teacher would call you out and you would have to pay your dinner money. I used to hate that day because every week I had to say, ‘free meals, miss’ in front of everybody.

“I only did that for six or seven weeks and then I’d say ‘Going home miss’, and sit outside at lunchtime and not have anything. It was better than baring your soul.”

The defiant child was to be a market trader at 15, a supermarket manager while still in his teens and Britain’s youngest oil company chief executive by the time he reached Swindon in 1991.

In Swindon, he was to become chairman of the football club, a prominent entrepreneur, an author and a ceaseless charity fundraiser whose most recent effort saw the 57-year-old come tantalisingly close to the summit of Everest, turning back only when the risk of death became too great.

Rikki is married to Laura and is a dad of two and stepdad of two, ranging in age from 17 to 22.

Originally from Kirkby in Liverpool, he was the fourth of eight children. His father worked for car parts firm AC Delco, and his mother was a factory worker at Kraft.

His schooldays were marked by non-conformism and an inability to resist a dare.

A challenge to jump from an upstairs window at the school cost him a broken ankle. Then there was the game in which boys would put their hand in the path of a slamming iron gate, competing to pull away at the last minute.

That cost him a fingertip, although it was retrieved by his brother and stitched back on after a bus trip to the hospital.

His public profile has lately been overshadowed by the spectres of his bankruptcy and his former leadership of Digital City, the wi-fi company in which Swindon Council is a major stakeholder, and which has been mired in political controversy throughout most of its existence.

The firm was set up to provide coverage for Swindon and Highworth.

Three years on, only Highworth is covered, debate rages over the council’s £400,000 investment and council leader Rod Bluh says a mystery investor has come forward to get the stalled project moving again.

Rikki, who handed over his Digital City stake to the council earlier this year, has long been in the firing line over the wi-fi project, but insists: “Digital City was a fabulous opportunity.”

Pointing out that it was backed not just by him but also by Coun Bluh, the council’s executives and technical partners aQovia, he added: “You cannot take risk out of life or business. You’re trying to minimise risk.

“What people do not appreciate is that I was talking for a long time about the concept, and the executive of the council approached me.

“We all looked at the risks and rewards and decided it was worth doing. It was a good idea and it still is.”

So what went wrong?

“It went wrong almost from day one. That was because some people didn’t agree with the internal process within the council to making this decision.

“Quite frankly the Labour Party decided to capitalise on some of the questioning that was going on around the policies. The rest is history.

“I don’t support any political party. I think some things Labour do are fabulous and some things the Conservatives do are fabulous, but once Labour politicised it...”

He paused before adding: “They had their stick in the hole and they wiggled it. Any problem they could find, they exploited it.

“Once I was being done to death by politicians, nobody would touch me. People were walking away.”

The bankruptcy, he is quick to point out, was nothing to do with Digital City, but stems from an investment he made in 2005.

He resolutely refuses go into further detail, beyond saying that he was led to believe it would provide excellent returns and that it did anything but.

“I have been battling for two years,” he said. “I have been trying to solve it for two years. I had a year of not sleeping.

“It was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life.”

He has vowed to bounce back, and will announce new projects later in the year.

He said of his bankruptcy: “It has been the most devastating loss I have ever had, but now I have to go out and win.

“I have never been beaten like that and it certainly won’t happen again.”