I had the boardgame idea while working as a taxi driver in Portsmouth. My cab would be a piece on a board, trying to pick up fares. I never imagined I’d make anything of it, but it wouldn’t go away. A year later, there was an enterprise challenge at Portsmouth University, where I was doing a law degree. I didn’t know if a board game counted as a business idea, but the £3000 prize was a lot for a student, so I entered. I called it Destination London.
It won, so I went to local sponsors for funding. My first meeting was straight out of Bridget Jones. I was so nervous. The smartest thing I did was not ask for a specific sum. They offered £2,000 when I'd have been chuffed with £200. I found more sponsors, then factories and illustrators. In 2004, I met the chief buyer for Hamleys. He loved the game and gave me ground-floor space before Christmas.
Encouraged, I decided to go on a new show called Dragons' Den. They humiliated me to make good TV and I thought I was ruined. But by the time the show aired, I had proved them wrong: Hamleys' first six weeks' stock ran out on the first day. By November, Destination was its best-selling game.
The next few years were a whirlwind. With two daughters in tow, I finished my degree and adapted the game to different cities. In 2008, I made a deal to make Destination Hogwarts to coincide with the latest Harry Potter film, but it was postponed. I couldn't cover my bills and the bank wouldn't bail me out.
I'd never realised how cut-throat business could be. Before, everyone loved me. Now, I was being threatened on my doorstep. In 2009, I called in the administrators. Our house was repossessed. I had to beg the bailiffs to drive my car round the corner to tow it so my neighbours wouldn't see. I had a breakdown, spending days on the sofa, barely eating.
That year, I was told I'd been awarded an MBE for services to business. I spent hours on the phone with my dad, crying hysterically. Was this a joke? I didn't even have a business any more. He said the Queen doesn't just dish them out willy-nilly, and convinced me to accept it. I'm glad I did. It felt good being acknowledged for something I'd achieved.
There was some media coverage and that's how investor Simon Dolan found me. He was like an angel sent from God. I laid all my games out for him, but something else caught his eye, a badge saying She Who Dares. It was my business motto. He thought it would be great as a perfume brand, so I got to work developing one. I wanted to bottle how valued I felt receiving the MBE.
In 2010, we took Destination out of administration. Four weeks later, we signed contracts for a London 2012 edition and a resurrected Destination Hogwarts. Our Downton Abbey edition was a big success last year and She Who Dares is now on the shelves. I had some dark times but what lifted me was that, despite everything, people were still willing to work with me. I'm a lot less naive now, but that really restored my hope.