How Dundee Utd's Justine Mitchell bounced back from tragedy

She lost her father and husband within days of each other. Now she's a successful entrepreneur.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 06 Mar 2015

Justine Mitchell's a board member and co-owner of Dundee United FC and the co-founder of a popular Edinburgh day spa. But it would be an understatement to say she's had a long journey to get there.

Seven years ago she was working with her husband Ken as property developers, and the couple had recently had a son, Monty. But in 2008 her world was turned on its head.

Mitchell's father, the Dundee United chairman and co-owner Eddie Thompson, was suffering from terminal prostate cancer. On a journey to allow Monty, and Mitchell's step-daugher Jessica, to say a final goodbye, the already tragic situation took an even darker turn as Ken was knocked off his motorbike and killed on the way to the hospital. Eddie passed away just three days later.

'The one thing that I was determined to do was to make sure that Monty's life would continue as normal,' she told MT's Inspiring Women conference in Edinburgh this morning (Stay updated on #IW_Edinburgh). As if things weren't tough enough though, 2008 saw the collapse of the housing market. Working in property development suddenly became a less attractive proposition.

'I realised that I had to build a new life for me and for Monty – what we would want, not what Ken would have wanted,' she said. 'That was a really difficult decision to reach but it was the right decision.'

In a surprising turn of fate, Mitchell ended up launching a new business with Ken's ex-wife Jill Kinsella, a beauty therapist and Jessica's mother. 'We actually became very very close after the death – we just wanted to keep that bond between the children,' Mitchell said. 'We've grown to support each other and I guess we're just like sisters now.'

The pair launched Chamomile Sanctuary, a spa on Edinburgh's Alva Street, in 2010, and it's since won a number of awards and grown substantially. 'I know I come across as a confident person, but if you met me six years ago, you wouldn't recognise me,' she said.'I was seven stone, I was distraught, I was on the floor crying all the time and I had no confidence, nothing.

'I think setting up my business was a huge confidence booster for me. Seeing that I could actually pull something together and build something and actually have clients come in, enjoy it and come back, that gave me a huge amount of confidence.

'You just have to believe in yourself that you can do it – because you can.'

Justine Mitchell's three tips for her 18-year old self:

1. Go with your gut.
2. You've got to go for it to make things happen.
3. Do what makes you happy. 

Are you at MT's Inspiring Women even in Edinburgh today? Tweet us @MT_editorial using the hashtag #IW_edinburgh

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