Sex abuse, failed IVF and her son’s death: Still Jacqueline Gold refuses to be a victim
It was only after I’d met and interviewed Jacqueline Gold – for almost an hour – that I learned her chauffer-driven car was parked on the double yellow line outside my office.
(Jacqueline Gold has faced more challenges than most in her life, but she refuses to adopt a ‘victim mentality’)
My immediate thought was to worry about the parking ticket she might have got. But then when the car in question is a black Bentley with the number plate “X GOLD X”, and when the woman in question is the 16th richest in Britain, worth some £250m, I needn’t have worried. I’m sure she could afford a £60 fine, if her driver was even caught.
Of our entire meeting, however, this was by far the most ostentatious thing she did (and arguably, it was the person driving her car who did it, not her). She’s a multi-millionaire, sure. She looks the part – fabulous hair, designer clothes, the highest heels – but her personality is warm, her character likeable.
In fact, Jacqueline Gold is far more down-to-earth than you’d expect, given her achievements and accolades: since being made chief executive of Ann Summers in 1987, she’s transformed it into a £150m business with around 150 stores and a sales force of 7,500 women as party organisers; been named Britain’s most powerful woman by several magazines including Cosmopolitan, Good Housekeeping and Woman; has won several business awards, and has been the subject of several TV documentaries.
I suspect her grounding comes from the various ‘challenges’ that have been thrown at her during her life (although to call them ‘challenges’ is somewhat of an understatement). The challenge of turning around an ailing business is big enough. But add to the mix a traumatic childhood which included repeated sex abuse; an overly protective mother who wouldn’t allow her on school trips or to play in the front-garden (ironically in case she was snatched by an abuser); three failed attempts of IVF; losing her first and only son Alfie after just eight months and even, a nanny who tried to poison her – and it’s clear Gold has faced more fears than most.
In this gripping podcast, which we recorded as part of my interview with her, you can hear Gold, now 53, tackle each and every one of these ‘fears’ first hand, how she felt, what it was like and crucially, how she overcame them (and still deals with them) to be who she is today.
Fascinatingly, Gold tells me she “refuses to be a victim” – despite what has happened to her, she will never fall into “victim mentality”.
“I’m a very positive person, I’ve had lots of tragedy in my life, but I refuse to be victim. I don’t like mixing with people who have that negative mentality. I accept that the challenges in my childhood have helped shape my future, but for me, it’s in a positive way. There’s nothing like adversity to help me progress forward in life.”
It’s a bullish statement from a pint-sized woman who has been through so much. Does she really feel this way, or is it all an act?
When I challenge Gold, she says robustly that it “angers” her that all the things that have happened to her could have held her back, had she not have faced them head-on. “It just makes me more determined to want to do well; there’s no better revenge than success.”
And for someone with this strategy in mind, it’s clearly worked.
But how do you overcome such trauma?
During the interview, it emerges that Gold’s start in life was somewhat uninspiring: her dad cried when she was born because he automatically assumed that as she was a girl, she would never be able to take over his business.
Her mother – who “had her own demons” – held Gold back to the point where if they went on holiday, she would draw a circle in the sand around Jacqueline and tell her not to leave that spot, for fear of her going missing. Growing up in an environment where both parents didn’t believe in you, at first, must have been really difficult to take. But, as Gold explains, it is this upbringing that has spurred her on so much.
Aged 12, her parents divorced, which had a “huge effect” on Gold, including that she had to repeat a year at school. Between the ages of 12 and 15, Gold’s mother’s new husband sexually abused her, but Gold felt she could not tell anyone. When she eventually told her doctor, he dismissed her allegations. And her mother refused to believe her.
“It’s probably only in the last five to 10 years [and after my mother’s death], I can honestly say I’ve put that behind me,” she says.
Interestingly, Gold’s overprotective mother allowed Jacqueline to go to work, which she saw as her only “escape route” from a traumatic childhood. Trying out work (at the very bottom) at her dad’s business, aged 21, Gold spotted an opportunity to sell Ann Summers parties, involving sexy lingerie and sex toys, to women in their own living rooms. Her idea was pooh-poohed at first by an all-male board, but the Party Plan business now employs 7,500 women in Britain and accounts for millions of pounds of sales.
Gold didn’t meet her current husband, Dan Cunningham, until she was 40. They wanted to have children but went through three failed attempts of IVF – a “crushing” period in their lives – where they almost split up for good. After one more round, Gold became pregnant with twins, one daughter and one son, but lost Alfie after eight months due to a rare brain abnormality.
The family faced another haunting drama less than a year later when a nanny tried to poison Gold by lacing her soup with screenwash.
Despite the adversity and the drama, Gold has found fortune and success.
Has she any tips for aspiring businesswomen or men?
“It’s so important in life not to allow yourself to fall into victim mentality. There’s a huge temptation in life to do that, but it will hold you back. Success is about confidence, but first comes courage. If you’ve faced fears you also have to have courage to move yourself forward and step outside of your comfort zone, and I’m convinced great things will happen if you do.”
[via The Telegraph]