Jo Malone: 'I don't have a single qualification'

YOU LIVE AND YOU LEARN: The perfume entrepreneur taught herself to make cosmetics and launched Jo Loves after selling Jo Malone to Estée Lauder.

by Kate Bassett
Last Updated: 03 Nov 2014

My dad was many things: an architect, an artist, a magician and a heavy gambler. I'd get up at 5.30am to help on his market stall, selling his paintings. By night, I was the magician's assistant. I had 12 white rabbits and a pet dove.

I have dyslexia and really struggled at school. I couldn't tell the time until I was 13 and I still can't tell my left from my right. I don't have a single qualification.

When I was in my teens, my mum had a terrible breakdown after my dad left her. She wouldn't speak; she just rocked backwards and forwards. I borrowed my mum's copy of Harry's Cosmeticology and taught myself to make face creams. I didn't understand 99% of it. The 1% I did understand became my career.

I met Gary at Bible school and we got married when I was 21. He's my best friend and an amazing business partner. We ran the company from a tiny flat for 10 years. We opened our first store at 154 Walton Street in 1994.

I've never had a mentor. If you expect other people to make decisions for you, you might as well be in a job. This country needs resilient entrepreneurs, not dependent ones.

After I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my friend said to me: 'Remember you make lemonade from lemons.' That stuck with me. After my double mastectomy, I decided to find the best plastic surgeon in town and get the set I'd always wanted. I wouldn't trade this pair in a million years!

We sold to Estee Lauder in 1999. My luggage got lost on the way to New York so I almost signed the deal of a lifetime in my tracksuit. When I got back to London, a friend took me to dinner at The Ritz and asked the band to play Who Wants to be a Millionaire?. That was such a funny moment.

I stayed on as creative director until 2006. When I left, I was prevented from trading for five years. That was worse than the cancer. I'm not one of those people who can spend the day shopping, lunching and sitting on charity boards. I felt like half a person.

As soon as the five years was up, I launched Jo Loves. I rushed in headfirst without creating enough of a demand for the products. I questioned whether I still belonged in the industry. It's only in the past year that I can honestly say: 'I'm back.'

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