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Authors: Michelle Mone

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BOOK: My Fight to the Top
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It was one thing after another from then on. I can’t remember us having a normal Christmas after that. It was always spent around my dad’s hospital bed at the Royal or in the Chinese restaurant across the road from his ward. I can’t even remember my mum being pregnant. It must have been while Dad was having all his operations. All I can see when I look back is my mum, lying on the couch, heavily pregnant and then the next thing I know, she is rushed away in an ambulance. I went with my Aunty Margaret to the hospital but my family wouldn’t let me see my mum. I started screaming and crying and my aunty had to hold me down.

‘I want to see the baby, I want to see my brother,’ I cried.

But my family had formed a wall and I wasn’t getting through. ‘Calm down, Michelle, you’re not seeing him.’ Aunty Margaret sat me down.

‘I want my mum, I want my mum,’ I sobbed. I screamed and cried for my mum and brother for several days. My throat felt like sandpaper and I could barely speak. When my mum finally came home, she didn’t have my brother with her. Her eyes were bloodshot from her tears and her face was as white as ash. My mum was too sad to speak to me. She just wanted to lie on the couch and watch television. Sometimes I wasn’t even sure if she was watching the screen or just staring into space. I was met with a wall of silence from the rest of my family. No explanations – nobody told me anything. It was how things were back then; you just got on with it. I knew in my heart my baby brother hadn’t made it, but it wasn’t until years later that I found out he had died from spina bifida.

I don’t remember the funeral and I can’t seem to remember anything else about the death of my brother. Perhaps because there was so much going on at the time, too much heartache, I just blanked it all out. I think that’s why my dad went to the pub all the time – because there were too many tears and fights going on at home. There was drama all the time. I was always on tenterhooks, always on the watch for what was coming up around the corner.

You had to grow eyes in the back of your head if you wanted to survive in my neighbourhood. I learnt this the hard way when I was eight years old. Something happened to me I can never forget. I was playing on my roller skates in the next street with my friend. She needed to get something from her flat on the top floor.

‘Hang on a minute,’ I called after her, as I still had my skates on.

I started climbing the concrete staircase in my boots, carefully side-stepping so as not to roll backwards. Suddenly, out of nowhere, I felt a big hand clamp around my ankle like a vice. I spun around to see a man with a creepy smile across his face. I screamed and I tried to run up the stairs, but I couldn’t. I kept falling down because of my roller skates. The man grabbed my leg and tried to pull me into his flat. I was screaming and wriggling as he dragged me down the stairs.

‘Leave me alone, leave me alone,’ I screamed. My nails were scratching across the concrete as he dragged me. Suddenly, I found my strength and I kicked him in the face with my roller skate. He fell crashing back and I got away. I don’t know how I managed to run up those flight of stairs so quickly.

I was hysterical as I came crashing through my friend’s door. My whole body was shaking with terror. If he had taken me into his flat, I think I would have been raped. I could barely get my words out so my friend’s dad explained the attack to my mum and dad. My mum flew around there. My dad was too poorly to climb down the stairs, which was probably a good thing, as god knows what he would have done to the guy. I never knew what happened to him, apart from that it had been taken care of. Mum said she went around there and ‘gave him a warning’.

I was terrified of going to go to see my friend after that. I waited for her on the street outside. I never had a peaceful night’s sleep after the attack. I always felt fearful. I became like a dog, always on the lookout. I became so streetwise – I learnt to read body language, I could tell when someone was about to attack and I learnt how to suss out situations within seconds. I knew where to go and where not to go. Some areas I knew never to go near, like the high-rises by the steamy. You had to know, to survive in the East End. Without a doubt, my intuition is the reason I’m a success in business. I know how to deal with anyone in front of me. I know how to negotiate with them. I would not be the person I am today if I hadn’t learnt those life lessons growing up.

It was my other gran, my mum’s mum, who first noticed there was something different about me. ‘I’m telling you, that Michelle, she’s going to be someone some day,’ she’d tell my mum.

Gran Philips was the posh gran. She was from Dumbarton. She used to iron her banknotes and that’s where I get my attitude to money. Whenever I get cash out, I have to put them in numerical order before I can do anything else. All my notes are crisp and organised.

Gran had a heart of gold. She would put everyone else before herself. She used to fold up £10 notes and slip them into the palm of anyone she thought needed it more than herself. And not just money either: whenever she heard a baby was born she gave a blanket. Even if she didn’t know the family, she would crochet a little hat. She was such a kind, incredible woman – she was like Mother Teresa and everyone knew of her.

My gran was a nurse for many years. Her husband left her when my mum was a wee girl and Gran never met anyone after that. She was a single mum bringing up three kids and working constantly – night shifts at the hospital. I think that was why she became an alcoholic. But Gran nearly burnt the house down when my mum was little and she never touched a drop after that. She joined Alcoholics Anonymous and even though she was sober for 45 years she would always tell you she was an alcoholic. She wouldn’t even touch the trifle at Christmas time because she warned us that ‘the taste of it will send you straight back’.

Back when I was growing up, my gran would get the train into town once a week on a Saturday and we would all go for a Chinese or a high tea together. I remember going to a restaurant with her and my mum when I was seven and scowling at the paper table cover. There were food stains all over it. ‘I’m not eating off that,’ I said. My mum and gran stared at me in disbelief. It wasn’t like I was spoilt; I just wasn’t prepared to eat off a dirty table. I had standards that I would not compromise on.

‘Michelle is going to be something one day. Her attention to detail is something else.’ Gran Philips smiled.

‘Stop it, Mum,’ my mum shrugged.

‘No, Isabel, Michelle knows exactly what she wants, she’s going to go far in life, mark my words.’ My gran knew. She was like a white witch. She used to read everyone’s tea leaves and she must have seen the future in mine.

I wasn’t like everyone else my age. For starters, I didn’t have the usual pin-ups that my other friends had, like Madonna and Spandau Ballet. No, above my bed was a picture of Richard Branson. I wanted to be him – a success. I would watch
with my sausage supper on my knees and I thought, One day, I’ll have that sports car. One day, I’ll have that big house with the sweeping staircase. One day, I’ll be able to look after my mum and dad.

So when I was ten, I decided I wanted to earn money. I persuaded the newspaper shop on our street that I could deliver the papers. There were a lot of them but I was determined – I started off my rounds in the evening after school, then I did the Sunday papers, and then I delivered the
Daily Record
in the mornings. It was too much for one girl to take on by herself so I decided to hire a load of other kids. Pretty soon I had 17 teenagers working for me. I’d give them the streets and I’d take a cut of their earnings. Can you imagine, a wee ten-year-old bossing around all these teenagers? My gran was right, I was different!

Of course, it wasn’t too long before some of the kids wanted more money. A few of the boys asked to meet with me up the back of the Dyke, the name of a wall in the East End. The boys were standing on the wall, looking down at me.

‘We are three years older than you. We are going to take your paper round off you,’ one of them started to say. I can’t tell you how angry I felt. Just because I was a girl, just because I was younger than them, how dare they? No way were they going to bully me. I folded my arms across my chest.

‘Don’t you even think about coming on my patch,’ I blasted. ‘I started the paper round. If you want to start your own paper round and not work for me any more, fine, but you’re not taking over the East End, this is mine.’ The boys started getting aggressive, but I was having none of it. ‘I’m not going to even argue with you. This is business. And I’ll push you off that dyke right now.’ I couldn’t help myself.

Their jaws just dropped. They’d never seen anything like it. I walked off feeling victorious.

My first of many victories.


I am who I am today because of the choices I made yesterday.

here do you think you’re going?’ one of the girls from my school shouted as she pushed me in the back. I’d had enough of her bullying. I swung around and pushed her away.

‘Stop it right now,’ I warned her. The next thing I knew, ten teenagers from the same gang appeared out of nowhere. They formed a ring around us and started chanting.

‘Fight! Fight!’

We looked at each other but neither of us really wanted to fight. The boys had worked themselves up in a frenzy, though, and wanted to see us tear pieces out of each other. I edged away but they pushed me back into the ring.

One of the boys went for me, kicking me to the ground.


Another boy joined in. The pain exploded in my body.

Smack, smack, smack.

I didn’t stand a chance against all of them. They kicked and punched me until I was left unconscious. The next thing I remember was waking up in hospital with my mum and dad beside my bed. I was in so much pain I couldn’t move. My face and my whole body were black and blue. There was a man from the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) standing at the end of my bed, asking my mum questions. Mum explained to the officer how she had found me.

‘I went up Duke Street to pick Michelle up from Thompson Street primary,’ Mum started to tell the officer. Through my swollen eyelids I watched him take notes. ‘But she wasn’t there, so I came back along Bathgate Street and all the kids came running up to me shouting Michelle’s name. I couldn’t make sense of what they were saying.’

‘What’s happened? I said.’

“Michelle is lying on the stairs. She’s been beaten up,” the kids told me.

‘My heart stopped. I found Michelle lying there. Her whole body was red because the bruises hadn’t even come out yet. I called an ambulance and went with her to The Royal.’

I couldn’t remember anything of what my mum had just told the man. I started to cry but the tears burnt my cheeks.

‘Michelle, are you okay to tell us what happened?’ The CID officer turned to face me.

‘Uh-huh,’ I said, wiping my eyes with my bruised hands.

I told him everything I remembered before I had passed out.

This wasn’t the first time I had been bullied. The school I went to was really tough – kids had already threatened to beat me up. It had got to the stage where I was petrified to go to class. I think it was because I wasn’t like the other kids, so I got it in the neck for being ‘different’. One day, I woke up, and realised that if I didn’t stand up to them, my life would become an utter misery. That’s why I pushed the girl back when she went for me.
That’s what you’ve got to do with bullies, stand up to them or they will keep on bullying you.

‘Do you want us to press charges? That’s not just a hit, they were kicking your wee girl,’ the CID officer asked my mum and dad.

‘No, I just want to give them a serious warning, make sure they don’t ever do it again,’ my mum decided. My injuries were so bad I was in hospital for three days before I was finally allowed home.

By now we had moved into a ground-floor flat across the street from our old flat because Dad was too poorly to walk up and down the stairs. We’d moved nearby because that was what happened in the East End: if you moved, it would be to the next street or the same street but across the road. I finally had my own bedroom with a side table, an addition which meant a lot to me.

My mum and dad were really worried about my injuries and mum kept popping her head around the door to check if I needed anything. But I’ve never been one to sit around and mope. I came from a place where you learn to shut up and get on with it. I know it sounds like a cliché, but what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. With every knock, with every beating, I felt stronger. I went back to school with my head held high because I’d stood up to those bullies and the ‘serious warning’ helped because they left me alone for a while. I was soon at Whitehill secondary school where I was focused on finding another job, earning more money.

This is what I had: passion, determination and a ‘can-do’ attitude. If you’ve got those ingredients, nothing will stop you.

My mum had worked for George the Fruitie at the weekends so when I was 12, I decided to ask him for a job. His shop was on the high street – Duke Street – not far from our flat. I can’t remember how much he hired me for but it wouldn’t have been much back in those days. My job was to pack all the potatoes, weigh all the fruits and help George with his ‘marketing’ and ‘customer services’.

As soon as the school bell went at 3.45 pm I’d run down to his shop, ready to start working at 4 pm. My friends would ask where I was going, wanting me to stay on and hang out with them, but I had work to do. Nothing was coming between me and work. I worked a full day on Saturday as well.

The fruit shop wars were going on in the East End, so I wanted to do everything in my power to make George Number one. I used to slice up a few strawberries from new deliveries and hand them out as samples. ‘You really need to taste these,’ I smiled, holding out a sliver to try. On the Saturday morning I spent most of my time outside, fixing the display. I built all the boxes up and tilted them onto their side. It was the best show of fruit you could imagine.

BOOK: My Fight to the Top
5.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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