“I’ve got loads to learn. I don’t feel as if I’ve made it yet,” says Michelle Mone, founder of lingerie brand Ultimo.
“I wake up every morning with the fear of failure and that’s what keeps me driven. I get four hours sleep a night. I’m very ambitious, very creative.”
Michelle’s life has been punctuated by soaring highs and alarming lows. Born in the East End of Glasgow, a tough upbringing saw her sleeping in a cupboard, bullied and beaten up at school and threatened by teenage gangs jealous of her early business acumen, managing her own paper round team at 10. She left school at 15, became a mother at 20 (she has three children), but always strove to succeed, although the pressure of combining marriage, motherhood and career caused stress that saw her balloon to a size 22.
She climbed the ladder in the brewery business, only to be made redundant, which was when she decided to forge her own path, founding Ultimo in 1996. In 2010, she was awarded an OBE for business and the following year it was revealed that her husband was having an affair with her chief designer. She divorced him in 2013.
Such is the struggle Michelle describes in her autobiography My Fight to the Top, which she will talk about tomorrow at the Harrogate Literature Festival.
“After a terrible divorce, selling 80 per cent of Ultimo, I just thought it was the right time to do it,” she says of the book. “I’ve lost eight stone in weight and been through a horrific divorce and built brands, and managing to raise three kids, and it’s all been very challenging, but I think if you’re in a horrible dark space in life, you can turn it around – you need to just keep going.”
Michelle hit upon the idea of Ultimo in 1993 while in a toilet cubicle at a rugby dinner dance, removing a particularly uncomfortable cleavage-enhancing bra. “If you’ve got that idea and you won’t give up, I think why not go for it,” she says.
There was a memorable media storm in 2004 when Michelle replaced Rod Stewart’s wife Penny Lancaster as Ultimo’s model with his ex-wife Rachel Hunter – an incident described in a chapter called Rachel Steals Penny’s Pants. “I wanted to apologise in a way because I was wrong in doing it, but I was very young at the time,” she says, referring to her ill-chosen words reported at the time. “I didn’t sack her in any way – her contract came to an end.
“Last time I met Penny, everything was fine. I wished her well. Every day’s a school day and you learn from your mistakes. I suppose that’s what makes you stronger.”
Now 43, she says she is happier than she has been for a long time, with her UTan range in Boots, a new jewellery range, public speaking across the world, and her mentoring scheme.
“It’s been an incredible year as well with helping the Prime Minister with the referendum and everything else.” Michelle found herself the subject of a social media hate campaign after coming out in favour of Scotland remaining in the UK. Would she consider entering politics herself in the future? “Never say never. We’ll just wait and see,” she says.
To relax, she has started boxing training. “It gets rid of all of the stress and it’s a good way to keep fit as well, so I’m doing that for the next 12 weeks, seven days a week, training for two hours a day, because I want to try and train like an athlete. I think I always push myself. I try and get out of my comfort zone,” she says, adding: “I’d say this is a new chapter.”
HARROGATE LITERATURE FESTIVAL
Michelle Mone will be appearing at the Crown Hotel in Harrogate tomorrow at the Raworths Literary Lunch.
Other speakers appearing at the Harrogate Literature Festival include Noddy Holder, Will Hutton and, on Friday, Judy Finnigan in conversation with Richard Madeley.
Michelle Mone: My Fight to the Top is published by Blink at £18.99. See www.michellemone.com for details about Michelle’s mentoring scheme.