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How I battled my personal demons to bring sex to the high street
IT is clear Jacqueline Gold enjoys telling this story.
Aged 21 and with no qualifications to her name, her heart pounded louder than her high heels as they clacked down the torturously long corridor leading to the all male boardroom.
The response to her daring pitch introducing her now world famous Ann Summers party concept?
“One board member turned around to me and said ‘this isn’t going to work is it? Women aren’t even interested in sex,” she laughs.
“I had to bite my lip at the time and I secretly thought that tells me more about your sex life than anything, but yes, I suppose I do feel pretty smug now.”
She has reason to.
Fast forward 34 years, she has earned a place on Britain’s 100 most influential women list, credited with bringing sex to the high street and empowering women in the bedroom.
At the helm of Ann Summers with a turnover of more than £150m, she is the 16th wealthiest person in Britain thanks to her empire of 144 stores and 7,000 party planners who hold more than 4,000 lingerie and sex toy parties every week.
Jacqueline, who also owns lingerie firm Knickerbox, is the first to say that level of success isn’t too bad for a painfully shy Essex girl.
It has certainly impressed her dad, who cried when she was born because he thought being a girl, she’d never be capable of taking over his business.
But Jacqueline, who had a traumatic childhood, admits people doubting her only spurs her on.
Jacqueline recalls her mother being so over protective, she used to draw a circle in the sand around her when they went to the beach, not permitting her to leave that area and she was forbidden from playing in the front garden in case she was snatched by an abuser.
That was ironic given that Jacqueline’s life fell apart when her mother and father divorced aged 12 and she suffered repeated sex abuse at the hands of her mother’s new husband, as reported in her autobiography.
“I was painfully shy, even in my early twenties. I had very little confidence with no positive influence in my life.
“I remember so clearly walking down that very long corridor in 1980 knowing I was going into a board room full of men. I had no business training, no business plan but I felt so passionate.
“I think it was quite hard for men to get their head around because it was a total culture change.
“But I was always very hard working and I was extremely resilient.
“Though I didn’t have confidence, I had courage,” she says in a surprisingly soft and friendly voice for the woman who is one of the most powerful in British retail.
That courage was born out of seeing financial independence as a means to escape a harrowing home life at an early age.
She was just 13 when she sold crossword puzzles for 50p each and got a string of part time jobs.
Her big break came when she was on work experience with her dad’s firm – a ‘men in raincoats sex chain’ when she realised Tupperware-style parties in women’s living rooms was a unique way she could transform the ailing business into a major brand.
But she had no idea 20 years later she’d be invited to Buckingham Palace with the country’s most successful business women to meet the Queen.
“It was a point in my career that I am most proud of,” says the down-toearth mum who often takes to social networking to ask advice on everything from garden pots to detangle spray for cats.
“I was such an unlikely success story.”
However bringing sex to the high street has been far from easy for the 53-year-old.
There have been two arrests, she was targeted by a gang, has received a bullet in the post before opening a store in Ireland and her nanny of two years she trusted even tried to poison her by lacing her soup with screen wash resulting in a court case.
And though she met the love of her life city trader Dan Cunningham and married age 49 at Blenheim Palace, Jacqueline has suffered personal heartache too.
The couple, who live in the Surrey countryside, endured three failed attempts of IVF and lived through every parent’s worst nightmare when she lost her first and only son Alfie aged just eight months to a rare brain abnormality in 2010.
Remarkably though, she says her heartbreaking experiences have just made her stronger.
“I’ve experienced more than most and I certainly wouldn’t welcome any more drama in my life. I would have much rather these things hadn’t happened to me but you never know what curve ball is going to come your way and you have one of two options. Option one you can spend your life being a victim, or two, toughen up and say I am going to make a success of myself.
“I have an amazing inner strength I have always pressed forward in the face of adversity. I’m not one to sit there feeling sorry for myself, blaming someone else for my misfortune. If something bad happens, that just makes me want to try harder to get myself out of the situation but I won’t be a victim.
“There is no better revenge than success.
“You have to find the courage to step outside your comfort zone because I am convinced great things will happen.”
Jacqueline is proof of that motto.
Today she said she has grown in confidence and is happier than ever.
Though she admits she loves luxuries, giggling as she says no woman can never have enough shoes or jewellery, it’s life’s simple pleasures that make her truly smile.
She excitedly describes how she loves making a family meal like her favourites prawn cocktail, steak and chips and crème brulee, getting friends and relatives together for summer barbecues, going on girly nights out and escaping to the New Forest and Brighton for long walks at weekends.
But it’s when she talks about the joy of her life – her five-year-old daughter Scarlett that she literally beams.
“Just the other day I did a speech at my daughter’s school and I felt so proud she saw her mummy on stage.
“The best gift I can give my daughter along with all the other things like love and laughter, is self esteem.
“My mission in life is to be the best role model I can for my daughter.”
Ann Summers boss will be guest speaker at South Coast Business Awards
Jacqueline Gold will share her inspirational tales when she will take to the stage with Daily Echo editor Ian Murray as a guest speaker at the South Coast Business Awards 2014.
The annual awards, organised by the Daily Echo in association with law firm Trethowans, aims to raise standards, encourage competition and recognise business excellence across the south.
The event run in partnership with Business South and Destination Southampton will be held at the Grand Harbour Hotel on Friday, July 11 where a total of nine prestigious awards will be handed out to the region’s top firms.
For the last chance to get tickets go to dailyecho.co.uk/scba or call 023 8042 4710.
Jacqueline campaigns to support women in business and every week she runs a competition giving women the chance to shine.
Women on Wednesday or #WOW takes place every Wednesday and is run from Jacqueline's Twitter page.
She encourages female business owners to Tweet her using the #WOW hash tag along with their business name and a description of what they do.
The retail tycoon then picks her three top entries and re-Tweets them to her 43,000 followers.
For information go to @Jacqueline_Gold on Twitter.