Twice losing millions and cheating death, he’s bounced back.
Dale Grant Stephens made and lost two fortunes and twice cheated death before penning a best-selling book of poetry.
His collection of colourful verse and photography Let Your Heart Talk has shifted more than 8000 copies in New Zealand alone.
He’s also released two CDs of NZ country ballads set to music by former Crowded House and Split Enz keyboardist Eddie Rayner, who’s a big fan of his words.
These days Stephens lives the quiet life, renovating a historic stone homestead at Fairlight near Kingston.
But the larger-than-life 68-year-old is never short of material for his muse after a roller-coaster journey that’s taken him from being a self-made millionaire to hitchhiking around the world flogging his poems.
“For many years, I’d been accumulating businesses and property and never had the time to enjoy them,” he says. “I had to learn the hard way that you don’t have to own the playground to enjoy the swings.”
Originally from wealthy farming stock in Hawke’s Bay, dad-of-two Stephens first made money running successful finance companies in Australia and NZ.
By his early thirties, he was minted and owned luxury homes all over the country.
But his first empire collapsed after he nearly died from heart problems and then lost his cash to a con man.
“I spent seven months in hospital and during that time had got into religion,” Stephens explains. “I then got involved with a lawyer who convinced me he needed financial support.
“He turned out to be a crook and eventually went to jail – but not before I’d lost the equivalent of a few million dollars.”
Within a decade, Stephens was back at the top of his game – but again it all fell apart.
Exhausted from rebuilding his businesses, his previous heart trouble returned with a vengeance and once more it was touch-and-go over whether he’d survive.
This time, the health scare also cost him his 15-year marriage to wife Barbara and the financial crash of 1987 wiped him out for a second time.
“Even after all that, I was still determined to succeed again and travelled the country giving seminars on risk management and international diversification on behalf of large accountancy firms,” Stephens says.
“But my children reminded me I’d always advised them to do what they loved doing and asked why I was still involved in business.
“I eventually realised they were right. I sold off a farm I had left in Cambridge and took off to live in Britain for three years.”
It was then that Stephens began to concentrate more on his writing – something he’d first started dabbling in as a young man while working as a shepherd on a South Island sheep station.
In the 1990s he travelled around Europe then Australia, selling his verse to help cover costs and recreating himself as a poet and photographer.
“Suddenly I had this freedom I never had before and it was an amazing feeling,” he explains. “I didn’t have to go into the office and I had no money to worry about.”
When his Let Your Heart Talk book came out in 2003, he was stunned at the response.
“To my surprise it gathered quite a following, especially among women, and I was told I had a bestseller on my hands.”
His wandering feet eventually brought Stephens to Nightcaps in Southland where he bought and renovated an old courthouse.
In 2007, he jumped at the chance to do the same when offered his current home at Fairlight.
He also still enjoys giving live recitals and writing topical poems for special occasions.
Stephens adds: “It’s been an interesting journey but I couldn’t be happier than where I am.
“I now just want to travel, do my poetry, listen to people’s stories and put them into ballad form.”