He may have started out as a forklift truck operator from Bradford, but Leighton Denny is now a nail and beauty guru to the stars and has been awarded an MBE by the Queen. Catherine Scott reports.
When he got an email from the Cabinet Office to say he had been awarded an MBE Leighton Denny thought it was one of his friends having a joke.
“It was my 40th birthday and I was at my house in Los Angeles worrying about turning 40, then I got an email from the Cabinet Office saying I was on the Queen’s Birthday Honours list. At first I thought it was one of my mates winding me up and then when she said: ‘Mr Denny, the Palace aren’t in the business of winding people up, are you accepting this award or not?’ I realised it wasn’t a joke,” explains Leighton, who was still a bit confused.
“I phoned my mum and dad and told them the Queen had given me an honour for my birthday. My dad said: “LD I think you’ll find it’s for the Queen’s birthday not yours.’ I was just so ecstatic, I didn’t see it coming, it’s not something you ever think about. ”
Leighton had been awarded an MBE in the Queen’s birthday honours for services to the nail and beauty industry. He possesses a star-studded client list that includes Kate Moss, Penelope Cruz and Adele. He has built his own empire of over 800 appointed salons worldwide and boasts his own line of products – Leighton Denny Expert Nails, Sun-Believable Expert Tan and Lip Dual Expert Makeup. He is about to launch his first fragrance. His products are also currently stocked in 115 Marks & Spencer stores and 32 John Lewis stores around the UK and he is a regular face on the QVC home shopping channel.
It is all a far cry from the dyslexic young boy struggling to fit in, growing up in East Bierley, near Bradford.
Leighton has just published his autobiography, How I Nailed It, in which he gives an honest and frank account of his rise from forklift truck operator in Bradford to nail and beauty expert to the stars and entrepreneur with his own beauty empire. But his rise has not been without its ups and downs as he battled with his identity.
“I always knew I was different but I never really understood what made me different from the other boys,” he says. “I spent a lot of my childhood in a state of confusion and trying to fit in with any peer group that would accept me. When you are growing up you’d do anything not to be different, whereas when you are older you embrace it.”
Leighton Denny was brought up in East Bierley and attended Tong School in Bradford.
“I didn’t like school,” he admits. “I am dyslexic but back then nobody really seemed to know much about, it.”
But he always had an eye for business, setting up his first when he was just 14, hiring out fancy dress costumes.
“I was always determined that I would make something of myself and that there would be life for me beyond my home town.”
But after leaving school, Leighton had a number of different jobs including a forklift truck driver. But it was during an inspiring trip to the USA, that he discovered his passion for the nail industry.
On his return home he noticed a gap in the UK market, which he was keen to fill and Leighton quickly became a leader in the nail and beauty industry.
After opening his first boutique salon in Bradford, he moved to London and opened various luxury salons around the city.
But life has not always been easy for Leighton. After eventually admitting his own sexuality, he had to break the news to his parents that he was gay. He also has a constant battle with his weight, especially when he gets stressed.
He also feared that his entire career may have ended just as it began when the landlords of his first London salon decided to pull the plug on his lease.
“I had just spent a small fortune getting the salon just as I wanted it and we were getting some big celebrity clients, including Joan Collins. I was in demand from everyone, I was on television and I really started to believe all the hype and things people were saying about me. But and then overnight it all vanished and I thought that was it.”
But the disaster actually turned into a positive. Being well known, Leighton was asked to endorse products, which was a lucrative market. Then in 2005, he began producing his own line of nail lacquers and treatments, which have quickly become cult favourites amongst beauty professionals and customers alike.
His book is littered with names of his star-studded clients, from Kate Moss and Penelope Cruz to Joan Collins and Shirley Bassey.
But Leighton really became a household name when he launched his products on QVC, a brave move but one that paid off.
In between travelling the world and overseeing 300 nationwide and 900 international salons, Leighton still regularly returns to Bradford and Leeds every two to three months to visit his family.
He also has a home in LA where he has a partner and a dog and he spends have the year. His partner, who unlike Leighton, shuns the limelight, is conspicuous by his absence in Leighton’s book.
“I am as happy as I have ever been personally,” he admits. “As for work, it is very hard. Success has been amazing, but I have worked very hard and still do.
“I don’t surround myself with a huge entourage so that means I end up having to sort everything out myself. I also spend most of my time now developing new products which is something I love. Writing the autobiography was hard but cathartic.”