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Authors: Michelle Mone

My Fight to the Top (8 page)

BOOK: My Fight to the Top
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As we were getting ready to leave for Glasgow airport, I got a call from Tom Hunter. ‘There’s a jet waiting for you at Prestwick airport.’

‘Sorry?’ I said.

‘Get on my jet,’ he said casually.

‘Get on your jet? Sorry, what did you say there?’ I thought I was hearing things. Okay, so I had gone up in the world – I was now living in a five-bedroom house and driving an Audi, but this was unreal. We headed for Prestwick.

‘Oh, my god,’ I squealed as we stepped onboard. ‘It’s just like the films,’ I said to Michael. Carpeted floor. Massive leather chairs. There was so much room I didn’t know what to do with myself. Shall I sit in this chair or that chair?

‘Would you like a glass of champagne, Mrs Mone?’ The air hostess carried out a tray with two glasses of bubbly.
Is the Pope a Catholic
? Tom treated me like a princess and it didn’t end there. We arrived in London to be picked up by a chauffeur-driven car.
Ring ring
. It was Tom again.

‘You know how you booked a Travelodge?’ he said.

‘Yeah,’ I replied, still recovering from my private jet experience.

‘The driver is going to drop you off somewhere first. I want you to see something,’ he said mysteriously. The driver pulled up outside a hotel opposite Hyde Park.

‘This is the famous Dorchester! Oh, my god,’ I said, staring up at the grand Mayfair hotel. ‘Jesus, this is where they have high tea and everything.’

I was awestruck. This was the pinnacle of everything I had dreamt of. I pulled out my camera, just like any tourist. The driver came up behind us and cleared his throat to get my attention. ‘Mr Hunter has booked you in here tonight.’

‘Us? You’re kidding? No way,’ I spluttered.

The manager approached us with a key card. ‘Mr Hunter has asked me to show you to your suite,’ he said politely.

‘Oh Jesus Christ.’ I cupped my mouth with my hand.

I’d never seen a room like it in my life. Big lounge. Big dining room. Big four-poster bed. Huge bath. There were flowers, chocolates and champagne. I stared at it all in disbelief. A suite would have cost us £10,000 plus for one night.

Michael was from a different background to me but even he was shocked. I phoned my mum and dad, screaming. ‘Mum, you’ll never guess what’s happened!’ I screeched.

‘Calm down, calm down.’ Mum tried to get some sense out of me.

‘I’m in a suite in the Dorchester. I’m taking pictures. I can’t believe it.’

Remember I’d just had a baby, but that didn’t stop me jumping up and down on the bed like a big kid. ‘Calm yourself down, Michelle,’ Michael laughed, tugging me back to earth.

That night my thoughts soon turned to the next day’s launch. I couldn’t sleep a wink. I kept turning over and writing in my notebook. We’d spent our last £500 on hiring 12 actors to dress up as plastic surgeons and picket Selfridges. The message was, ‘You don’t need a surgeon, this bra is the answer to your dreams.’ I kept imagining how it was going to turn out. Was it the best way to spend the money? Too late now. So much was riding on this. There was nothing Michael could say to me to get me to switch off. I was wired. I woke up with butterflies in my stomach. We jumped in a taxi and headed down to Selfridges to meet Tom in time for the launch.

‘Oh, my god.’ I turned to Michael in disbelief.

The plastic surgeon actors were blocking Oxford Street, waving banners and chanting ‘Ban the Ultimo bra, ban the Ultimo bra.’ When I say they blocked the road I’m not kidding – one of them even lay down to stop the traffic. The ‘surgeons’ were carrying kidney bowls as part of their outfits and people threw money, thinking they really had lost their jobs. The story swept across all the news desks within 15 minutes and the next thing I knew, Sky News, BBC and ITN were on the scene. I remember standing outside the department store in my massive maternity gear. I was leaking milk out of my lime-green shirt when the presenter for Sky News came up and asked if she could interview me for the 6 o’clock news.

‘You want to ask me questions for the TV?’ I stammered, overwhelmed by what was going on. I felt like a fish out of water.

‘Yes,’ she said, bemused.

‘Oh, no, you need to ask my husband.’ I backed away. I was camera shy back then!

Michael didn’t want to be on TV and told the lady she needed to speak to me. ‘She’s the one who designed it,’ he said proudly.

‘What do I do? Where do I look? Is it live?’ I spluttered.

‘Hang on, I need to find a new shirt,’ I panicked, pointing to my milk-drenched top. Selfridges found me something to wear and I did a row of interviews there and then. I was scared at first but after the tenth I started to feel natural in front of the camera.

Meanwhile, Tom Hunter was trying to get my attention. ‘Michelle, Selfridges has sold six months’ stock in five hours.’

‘What?’ I yelled across the commotion.

‘They’ve sold out of bras,’ he shouted. Selfridges had never seen anything close to it apart from the Furby toy craze at Christmas. Strangers cuddled me in the street, saying, ‘You’ve changed my life, I’ve got boobs!’ It was the biggest ever bra launch in Europe. It cost £500 and I got PR worth £52 million.

I had literally just stepped into my office back in Glasgow when our new employee, Angela, handed me the phone. ‘There’s an American woman on the line for you.’

‘I don’t know an American woman,’ I sighed. I was completely exhausted.

‘It’s Barbara Lipton, she’s the president of Saks Fifth Avenue, New York.’

‘Yeah, right, that will be my friend Ilene winding me up,’ I snorted. Ilene and her husband, Bernard, were probably our closest friends. They lived next door to Michael’s parents and I’d known them since I first started dating Michael. Ilene was 15 years older than me and had become a sister to me. We’d had a spell of winding each other up because of this radio show that was going on at the time called
The Wind-Ups
. I picked up the phone and said, ‘Ilene, what is it?’


‘Look, stop with your phony American accent,’ I went on.

‘Do you know that Julia Roberts is wearing your bra in
Erin Brockovich
? The film premiered in Times Square last night,’ she went on.

It was too much to take.

‘Look, enough! I’ve been up breast-feeding Bethany all night. I’ve got cracked nipples, I’ve got cabbage leaves in my bra, now piss off,’ I snapped.

I put down the phone, and then a fax came through with the crest of Saks Fifth Avenue, saying: ‘We want to launch Ultimo. I couldn’t understand your Scottish accent, can you call me back?’

I was mortified that I’d told her to piss off. Of course I called her back! Barbara told me she wanted to launch my brand in all of her 54 stores. We’d hit the big time. I sat for a moment and reflected. The reason Julia Roberts was wearing my bra was because I had sent prototypes to wardrobe people, stylists and celebrities. I must have sent out 200 bras and Julia Roberts’ stylist happened to pick one up. Apparently the stylist had designed a bra for Julia Roberts using parts of Ultimo. So that was a major lesson: never wait for people to come to you; you’ve got to go out there and get the opportunity yourself.


Never forget the ones that matter.

h, my god! I’ve been invited to tea at the Palace with Prince Charles,’ I screamed, waving the gold-embossed invitation.

Michael and I had become millionaires overnight. My bras were selling everywhere from Debenhams to John Lewis and we were about to launch in Australia and Canada. Prince Charles invited me to join the Scottish board of the Prince’s Trust. Tony Blair nominated me for the World Young Entrepreneur award. I won businesswoman of the year, designer of the year, export brand of the year… you name it, I won it. I was in the
Sunday Times
Rich List as the third richest in the under-30 category in the UK – I was a millionaire by 28! Millionaire, in terms of the company value.

We didn’t splash out though – at first. It was amazing that when I put my card in the cash machine it no longer spat it out with a ‘F-off’. Yeah, we bought a flash car, a Bentley GT Sport, and I had an extension built onto our house to double its size, but when your business starts flying, you don’t get time to stop and party. It wasn’t like that. I was run off my feet trying to meet all the demand for Ultimo. I was constantly setting more goals. More targets.

And I was as nervous as hell when I was invited to have tea with Prince Charles. I got that same feeling I had when meeting Michael’s parents for the first time – I was out of my comfort zone. I may have moved to a posh part of Glasgow but I was still an East End girl.

‘Here are three notepads I want you to get signed for family and friends,’ Mum said. She was so excited for me.

‘Mum, Prince Charles is not going to sign your books,’ I sighed.

‘Well, I’m not going to watch your kids on Saturday night, then,’ Mum bartered. She crossed her arms in defiance. I took the notepads to keep her happy.

I was very nervous when I arrived at Clarence House, on the Mall, but I composed myself. I was
I wasn’t going to be something I’m not. Michael wasn’t invited because it was me who originally got the grant from the Prince’s Trust. He was now working full-time for Ultimo and looked after the finance, manufacturing and operational side of the business. Michael took on the title of managing director although I think he found it hard to see me take the spotlight.

It was a really intimate gathering; there were only a handful of us there. I remember sipping from a beautiful, posh fine china cup and thinking, My Gran would love this, because she was always into tea and reading leaves. And then this guy came over with a tea strainer. What’s that for? I thought. I had no idea at first. I smiled politely as he refilled my cup. I went to the toilet, and it was so posh. Even the toilet paper was different.

I suppose it was a dream come true. I had a flashback to July 1981, to the street party we’d had in the East End when Charles and Diana got married. We’d blocked off Bathgate Street and I’d hung the bunting out of the windows. I was only ten, but I remember bossing everyone around and knocking on doors to see if our neighbours had any tables to spare. We filled the street with long wallpapering trestle tables, covered with red, white and blue crêpe paper. We had a TV in the street – someone’s tiny set with the cable running out of the window. We all crowded around as we watched Diana walk down the aisle. What a fairy-tale! And now here I was having high tea in Clarence House next to St James’s Palace. I felt like I really clicked with Prince Charles. He was so interested in how I managed to start up Ultimo. He asked me what I did with the grant from the Trust.

‘Well, I bought my first computer.’ I smiled. It was like talking to a normal person. Prince Charles thanked me for joining the board and he asked what I felt the next generation of entrepreneurs needed. I reflected on my rollercoaster ride over the past three years. I told him that start-up businesses need mentors, someone whose shoulder they could cry on. I guess I felt like I hadn’t had a shoulder to cry on when things had become tough. I’d bottled my stress up inside.

My mum and dad had been a massive support, which is why they were the first people I wanted to repay. I’ve never thought that I work every day for
. I’ve always felt I’m responsible for my mum and my dad and my three children. Mum and Dad had just moved into a bungalow seven minutes down the road. Dad needed a bigger bedroom so he could move around in his wheelchair, so I paid for a massive extension. I bought my mum a car. She was doing the ironing when I turned up at the house. I casually put the keys on the ironing board.

‘Mum, there’s something outside for you.’ I smiled.

‘What do you mean, what do you mean?’ She started panicking.

‘There are the keys.’

‘Oh, my god, what have you done?’ She ran outside. ‘Whose is that?’ She pointed to the brand new flash car.

‘It’s yours, Mum, I bought you it.’ She burst into tears. It was very emotional.

After the launch in America, we got another phone call from a woman called Linda Wachner, president of Warnaco, the most powerful lingerie company in the world. Another American wanting to talk to me. Angela passed me the phone.

‘Hi, I’m Linda Wachner,’ she said.

‘Oh, yeah, what can I do for you?’ I asked, casually. ‘Would you like to buy some Ultimo?’

‘No, I want to buy you,’ she blasted.


‘I want to buy your company. I’m coming over to see you tomorrow. Do you have an airport in Glasgow?’ she said.

‘Yes, we do have an airport. We do have electricity as well,’ I joked. I was laughing but she wasn’t laughing back. ‘I can’t do tomorrow, I’m afraid. I’m taking Declan, my wee boy, to the hospital.’

‘I need to come tomorrow,’ she said.

‘Well, I’m sorry I can’t see you. I can see you the next day.’

‘Okay fine,’ she said.

‘I’ll pick you up from the airport. What flight will you be on?’ I said.

‘I’ll be there at 2 pm and my tail number is…’ and she reeled off some digits.

‘Tail? I’ve never heard of that airline,’ I said innocently. It was her private jet of course.

I didn’t need to pick Linda up as she arrived at my humble offices in a convoy of three chauffeur-driven cars. She stepped out of one of the vehicles with a toy dog under her arm. It was called Ebit. I’ve since realised that her dog was named after a financial term relating to the way you value your company before interest and tax (‘Earnings Before Interest and Tax’). She marched into our office without a ‘Hello’ or a ‘How are you?’

‘I want to buy your company,’ she announced to Michael and I. She was in her 60s with perfectly coiffed hair and an entourage of guys.

‘Well, I’m not for sale,’ I said, taking offence at her aggressiveness.

‘Now, listen here. People dream about me arriving at their door,’ she said.

‘Sorry, I don’t know who you are.’ I crossed my arms.

‘We are the biggest lingerie company in the world,’ she explained and went on to offer a deal. Linda got all the way up to £19 million in her bid for Ultimo. There was a moment when I thought, Should we just take the money and run? Michael and I looked at each other. It was Michael who finally sent her packing. He was the money guy and he knew Ultimo was worth much more.

BOOK: My Fight to the Top
10.64Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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