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Authors: Michelle Mone

My Fight to the Top (3 page)

BOOK: My Fight to the Top
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I must have done a good job, because a year later, I was headhunted by the sweet shop across the road – Pick A Pack. I was offered ten pence more an hour. I had to tell George I was leaving him. ‘Good luck, darling,’ he said. George was a lovely man.

I’ll never forget getting my first pay packet from Pick A Pack. I got a bus into town, went into something like an Argos and I spent my savings on new kitchen gear for my mum. I bought her a bin, a kitchen-roll holder, a toilet-roll holder and a toilet brush. My wee arms felt like they were going to tear out of their sockets as I carried the goods home. But no effort was too big to help my parents.

Equally, Mum and Dad would spend their last penny on me if they could. Mum would pay for me to enter dancing competitions and beauty shows to boost my confidence. They scrimped and saved to send me to elocution lessons because they wanted to better my chances in life. I’ll always be grateful to them for that. Elocution lessons seemed to me to be like a finishing school because I already had good manners. Mum and Dad had always taught me to be polite, but I did speak like an East End girl – that’s where I was from after all. The teacher would make me practise asking for my groceries.

‘I would like a pint of milk, please,’ I’d repeat after her. It was very different to what I was used to. People in the East End would say, ‘Gimme a pint of milk’.

Mum would always make sure I had a good outfit to wear to my Saturday lessons. She used to stitch clothes such as dresses and pinafores. Perhaps that’s where my passion for design first came from. She had a sewing machine and if she saw fabric lying around, she would turn it into a new creation.

I was grateful to my parents for helping me but the elocution lessons and the clothes did leave me open to attack. ‘Posh girl’, they used to call me at school. ‘She thinks she’s something special,’ they’d whisper behind my back. It also didn’t help that I was one of the few girls who actually wore the school uniform. Most of the kids would turn up in tracksuits and trainers but my parents insisted I looked smart.

‘Please, Mum, don’t make me wear this.’ I’d beg her to let me be like the other kids.

‘No, you’re wearing it, and that’s the end of it,’ Mum cut me dead. She was right to insist; you should always look well turned out. Back then I was just terrified of being beaten up again.

Mum’s words rubbed off on me, though, because I made sure I always looked impeccable for my next job. I was 13 when I forged my mum’s signature so I could be an Avon rep. You had to be 18 to do that kind of door-to-door sales but I couldn’t wait until then: I wanted to make more money. I might have been shy around my friends but when it came to work, I had this armour of confidence that I would throw on. I could sell anything; I could sell sand to the Arabs. I used to go home, change into my smart clothes (I had a perm at the time too) and then I’d go from door to door. I’d collate orders, put them through the area manager and then collect all the money.

Customers probably thought, Who’s this nice wee girl on my doorstep? But then I would deliver the most aggressive sales pitch ever. I’d go through each sales product, giving them the features and the benefits, and tell them how amazing they were going to look. ‘If you buy that,’ I’d say, pointing to some lotion, ‘then you really need to have the set.’ I’d always push. ‘It’s no good having something that you don’t have the whole set of because you’re not getting the full benefit of those products.’

I always made a sale. And if I couldn’t at first, I kept on at that person until I had. ‘I’m not interested in buying on the door,’ they might say. But I kept going back and back again until I’d made a sale. Within six months I was the best selling Avon rep in Glasgow. I’m not kidding – and the best bit was they didn’t have a clue how old I really was. They thought I was my mum! My mum knew I was selling, because all the stuff would be delivered to our tiny flat, but she didn’t know it was in her name.

Mum had enough on her plate to worry about anyway. My dad was now struggling to walk, even with a stick. He had to give up his job at the printers and there was a lot of pressure on my mum to look after Dad and still earn a living. Mum used to cry and shout and I felt helpless because I didn’t know how to make things better. I didn’t want to burden my mum with my heartache, so I would go to my room after dinner, and quietly cry into my pillow. I would never stay the night around friends’ houses because I couldn’t bring myself to leave my dad’s side. What if something happened? What if I couldn’t be there to help him? I would never forgive myself.

I think feeling completely and utterly helpless manifested itself as OCD – obsessive compulsive disorder. I wanted to help my mum so I would repeatedly clean our tiny kitchen. I’d scrub the surfaces until they sparkled and then I’d do it all over again. I had to make sure all the labels on the tins faced the same way. I believed everything should have its own place – something that has stuck with me through until now. I’m not sure why I did it. Maybe because everything else in my life was out of control it was my way of creating some order.

It was hard for me to focus at school while there was so much heartache going on at home. It didn’t help that I was dyslexic and struggled so much with my reading and writing. I dreaded going into class because I found it so hard and none of the teachers were really interested. I did have a small group of friends who I’d hang around with. They were from the posh end of the East End, the Parade, where people owned their own houses. Even with these friends I’d never let on what was going on at home. I was afraid if I did, I wouldn’t be able to stop myself crying.

I didn’t think things could get any worse but the worst blow was to come. I had come home from school on what had been a normal day but as soon as I opened the front door I knew something was seriously wrong. My mum’s face looked the colour of stone. Her eyes were bloodshot. The atmosphere in the room was as if someone had died.

‘What’s wrong?’ I said. I could feel the pain before I saw it.

My mum didn’t need to say a word. There was my dad – in a wheelchair. I clasped my mouth with my hand.

‘Dad?’ I cried.

‘Your dad’s not going to be able to walk again,’ Mum broke the news.

I burst into tears. I couldn’t take any more. I loved my dad and I thought this was the end. ‘It’s going to be okay, Michelle,’ Dad tried to reassure me but I could tell by his eyes he didn’t believe what he was telling me.

‘What’s happened?’ I sobbed. I was 15 but I suddenly felt like a wee girl again – small and helpless.

‘Your dad’s got hemangioma,’ my mum said. ‘It’s a rare condition that attacks the spinal chord.’ Her voice started to tremble.

‘I’ll explain to her, Isabel,’ my dad interrupted. ‘It’s when blood vessels in the spine get bigger and bigger and trap the nerves.’ It didn’t matter how they explained it, the truth was my dad had become completely and utterly paralysed at the age of 38. There was so much sadness in that room, I can’t even begin to describe it.

I lost all interest in school after that. All I could think about was helping my mum and dad. The final straw came in a meeting with my career guidance teacher. ‘So, Michelle, what do you want to do when you leave school?’ she asked.

‘I want to be an entrepreneur,’ I announced. That’s what Richard Branson was and that’s what I too was going to be.

She looked utterly puzzled by what I had just said. ‘What’s that?’ she scowled.

I had to explain to my own teacher what it meant. She told me that she very much doubted that’s what I would become because I wasn’t very academic. She said I wasn’t great at school. ‘There’s a Co-op supermarket being built at the end of Duke Street. Maybe you should go and apply for a job there?’

There wasn’t anything wrong with being on the checkout, but I thought, No, I can do better than this. I also thought, Why am I here? What exactly are you giving me? If my teachers didn’t take any interest in me, then why the bloody hell should I bother? Sod you, I’m off! I left school at 15 with no qualifications. I had the school board chasing me for a while but I didn’t care. I’d broken the cycle of what normally happens to girls in the East End.

I wasn’t academic, but I was determined, and I was already on my path to success.


I’d rather be disliked for who I am than liked for who I’m not.

guess it would be fair to say I was as ambitious in love as in my work. It would have been very easy for me to end up with an East End guy, but I didn’t want that. I knew that if I did, then I would never get out. A few of the girls in my class had got pregnant at 14. That’s what life was like – you got pregnant, you got a house from the council and you never get out of the East End. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that, it just wasn’t me. I had ambition. My drive came from looking around me and wanting more.

I’d been on a few dates after I finished school, but they were nothing serious. I wasn’t ready for having a boyfriend; I was too busy thinking about making a career for myself. So I decided to put to good use the modelling classes my mum and dad had sent me to. I was starting to look quite glamorous by the time I was 16. I was tall, thin and I’d got rid of the perm. I always made an effort to blow-dry my long, blonde hair straight and I would wear eye make-up and lip gloss. I passed as older than I was, which helped me get my first modelling job – as a Tennent’s girl.

Tennent’s was the famous East End brewery, so you can imagine how proud my mum and dad were to have their daughter on the face of every lager can. My dad would have been down the pub showing off to all his friends. I got a real buzz from seeing myself every time I went into the shops. I felt it was a sign of my future to come. I was no longer just another face in the crowd. No, I stood out.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last very long as Tennent’s found out I was only 16 and sacked me. You couldn’t have an underage girl as the face of an alcohol brand! It didn’t stop me modelling. I’d made a bit of a name for myself and I was constantly being booked for promo work. Looking back, it was a happy time, because my work brought my family closer together. My mum and dad would get excited about seeing my face in the local paper and my dad drove me all over Scotland in our new disabled car so I’d be at my job on time. Those moments we shared in the car, chatting away, meant a lot to me. I’d always been a daddy’s girl and it reminded me of the happy times we had before Dad had got ill.

The disabled car was one of several things that we now had to make my mum and dad’s life easier. We’d also got a bungalow from the council, which was next to the Barras. The Barras is a very famous Glasgow market where you could pick up all sorts of cheap goods – that’s where you went for your three-towels-for-a-fiver. The area was also known for being rough as hell and was often in the news for murders and all sorts, but we thought we had won the lottery. It was our first house with our own front door.

The more modelling work I got, the more confident I grew and the more ambitious I became. I was getting lots of attention from guys but I hadn’t yet met anyone who shared the same goals as me. So I didn’t take much notice when Michael first started chatting me up at a money show in the SECC (the Scottish Exhibition and Conference Centre). He was a financial advisor and I was a hostess on his stall. Yes, I was instantly attracted to him, he was a good-looking guy, but I thought he was married.

‘Do you want to go out for a drink?’ he asked.

Was he joking?
I gave him a filthy look. ‘No, you’re wearing a wedding band.’

For a split second he looked confused. ‘Honestly, I’m not married,’ he laughed. ‘My mum got me this ring as a present but I’ve got dermatitis on this hand.’ Michael waved his right hand. ‘That’s why I wear it on my ring finger.’

‘Bollocks,’ I laughed. I don’t suffer fools gladly.

Michael brought his dad to the show the next day to prove to me he was telling the truth. His dad was a gentleman, a consultant anaesthetist. With a well-spoken voice, he confirmed Michael’s story about why he wore the ring on his wedding finger. I was impressed that Michael had gone to such lengths to win me over, so I thought, Okay, why not? I’ll go on a date with you. I was 17 and impressionable and he was five years older. We became close very quickly – there was chemistry and Michael was so charming. I guess you could say I was swept off my feet. Michael joked about marrying me a couple of weeks after we first started going out.

We couldn’t have had more different backgrounds – I was working class, he was middle class. Michael had grown up in Newlands, which is very posh. He’d gone to private school. His mum and dad both had very professional jobs – his mum was also a consulting doctor. But what I liked most about Michael was that he also had a professional job. None of the guys I knew from the East End had professional jobs. It was a turn-on because it wasn’t what I was used to. And I suppose I was a turn-on for him because I was different. I was a young, good-looking girl from the rough side of town. He also liked me because I had plans. I was always coming up with my own business ideas, even back then. We would stay up for hours chatting about how we were going to get rich.

My mum and dad were nervous for me because Michael was so different. ‘God, he lives in Newlands. God, his mum and dad are doctors. We are working class, we live in the East End,’ they used to say. I think they were worried that Michael would eventually go back to ‘his own kind’ and end up marrying a girl from his background. They didn’t want to see their wee girl’s heart broken.

‘Don’t worry, Mum and Dad, I can handle myself,’ I reassured them. I wasn’t going to let someone’s background intimidate me. Yes, it was all a bit daunting, but I had decided: I am who I am and if you don’t accept me, then that is your loss. I believed that being confident with being yourself was key to being successful.

Saying that, I did spend some time choosing my outfit for my first dinner with his parents. I wanted to impress them. I didn’t want them to think less of me because I came from the other side of town. I bought an outfit specially; a stripy, white-and-black jacket worn over a dress. I looked very respectable, very conservative. There was no cleavage hanging out. I looked the part. But I was so nervous visiting his home for the first time. I felt like I was going into Buckingham Palace. His parents had a grand, old house with its own driveway. It smelt clean and fresh when you walked into the hallway. The furniture and decorations in the lounge were perfectly matching and pristine. I got butterflies in my belly because I suddenly felt out of my comfort zone. I was myself though, that’s all I could be.

BOOK: My Fight to the Top
8.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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