Michelle Mone at the Raworths Literary Lunch, Crown Hotel Harrogate

PUBLISHED: 00:00 24 July 2015 | UPDATED: 12:07 24 October 2015

Michelle Mone

Michelle Mone


Michelle Mone is a seriously impressive woman. And not just because she looks positively Amazonian in her towering Louboutin heels and can accurately assess someone’s bra size from ten paces.

Raworths Literary LunchRaworths Literary Lunch

She’s achieved the seemingly impossible in her business career, rising at breakneck speed from humble beginnings in Glasgow’s East End, where the family lived in a one-bedroom house, to building the £50 million Ultimo empire.

But, as she told our rapt gathering of guests at the Crown Hotel in Harrogate, it shouldn’t really come as any surprise because she actually started her own business at the tender age of ten and has not stopped working since.

‘By the age of 11, I had 17 teenagers working for me,’ she said. ‘And if they stepped out of line, that’s it, they were sacked.’

Her first real job was in the local fruit shop, weighing up the lemons and melons (a skill she says put her ahead of the game when it came to launching her innovative bra business). But she was soon headhunted by the sweet shop across the road with the not-to-be-refused offer of an extra 15p an hour.

Michelle left school at 15 with no qualifications and an increasingly challenging homelife as her father had been struck down by an illness that left him paralysed and her mother struggled to make ends meet.

But this didn’t put her off starting her own family, and by the age of 19 she was married to Michael and they’d had Rebecca, the first of their three children.

Michelle had enjoyed some success working for Labatts, the beer company, but was made redundant shortly after the birth of her son, Declan. Devastated and desperate, she decided it was time to emulate her hero – Sir Richard Branson - and create her own business.

‘I was on a night out and wearing an unbelievably uncomfortable bra,’ she said. ‘I took it off in the toilet, returned to my friends and said “right, that’s it, I’m inventing a new bra”.’

And she did. But it was a bumpy ride and by the time she turned up at Selfridges in London – heavily pregnant with her third child, Bethany – she was on her 19th prototype and £480,000 in debt.

Thankfully, the buyer immediately saw the untapped potential of the game-changing (and cleavage-enhancing) Ultimo bra and bought the lot. Weeks later, Hollywood superstar Julia Roberts appeared in her Oscar-winning role as Erin Brockovich wearing one of Michelle’s creations, and an empire was well and truly born.

In the years since, the gutsy Glaswegian business woman has been on the Sunday Times rich list and also so broke, because a business partner made off with £1.4m of her money, she almost lost the lot. But she’s never given up, not even when her husband had a marriage-ending affair with one of her designers.

In fact, it seems the only battle she has ever come close to losing is with her weight.

‘When I first worked with Rachel Hunter (Rod Stewart’s ex-wife and Michelle’s controversial choice to replace his current wife Penny Lancaster as her spokesmodel), I was a size 22 and more than eight stone overweight,’ she said. ‘She gave me the best advice – to treat my body like a business.’

She did just that, investing time, money and effort to transform herself from a body on the verge of bankruptcy into a sleek operator with bags of energy and a reinvigorated zest for life.

‘I train like an athlete,’ she said, confiding that she’d worked out for two hours that morning before catching the train from London to Harrogate. ‘And I feel amazing.’

Michelle recently sold 80 per cent of Ultimo to give her more freedom – both in terms of money and time – to pursue her passion for mentoring and motivational speaking.

‘Life is very special and it’s not a dress rehearsal,’ she told our guests as her entertaining, and motivating, speech drew to a close. ‘I’m starting another phase of my life and I couldn’t be more excited because I know my new journey is going to be incredibly fulfilling. It’s never too late – not for me, and not for you.’ w

Michelle Mone’s eye-opening (and occasionally eye-wateringly honest) autobiography, My Fight To The Top, is published by Blink, priced £18.99.

Raworths Harrogate Literature Festival

Raworths, our valued literary lunch partner, is one of the largest and longest established firms of solicitors in North Yorkshire.

It began sponsoring an annual literary long weekend in 2012, which has since become a popular choice on the national festival circuit thanks to its impressive line-up of best-sellers in the elegant surroundings of the town’s Crown Hotel.

As well as Michelle Mone, who’s talk launched the 2015 festival, this year’s stellar line-up included designer Emma Bridgewater, nature nut Bill Oddie, Slade frontman (and national treasure) Noddy Holder, Richard and Judy, comedian Jenny Éclair, renowned author Louis de Bernieres and newsman Gavin Esler.

:: To keep up-to-date with the many festivals hosted in Harrogate this year, visit harrogateinternationalfestivals.com


Haddock and coriander fishcake with chive cream sauce

Roast chicken fillet with tarragon, fondant potato and mixed vegetables

Lemon tart with clotted cream and brandied fruit puree

For more information about the Crown Hotel in Crown Place, Harrogate, HG1 2RZ, call 01423 567755 or visit crownhotelharrogate.com

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