Multi-talented, multi-award-winning Michelle Mone is one of the UK’s most successful self-made women. She’s not only the ultra-glamorous Baroness of Mayfair, but also founded the UK’s leading designer lingerie line, Ultimo Brands International, promoted by high-profile names including Helena Christensen, Penny Lancaster and Mel B.
She’s also a global ambassador for Bentley and British Airways, a reality TV star and a high-end interior designer. She has a highly-successful jewellery collection for QVC and has just announced her partnership with Apple co-founder, Steve Wozniak, for “game-changing” EQUI Global.
Lady Michelle Mone talks to Angela Sara West about her expanding business empire, her global property portfolio, her top tips for entrepreneurs and working with “Woz”.
Baroness Mone of Mayfair is among the UK’s most successful entrepreneurs. Despite growing up in an impoverished part of Glasgow, Scotland, and leaving school at 15 with no qualifications after her father became ill, she lives a life of luxury and enjoys an expansive, and ever-expanding, multi-million-pound business empire spanning multiple industries.
Her rise to fame and fortune began with Ultimo, the ultra-successful lingerie brand she launched in London’s Selfridges in 1999. She went on to create the award-winning fake tanning range, UTan, and a best-selling jewellery range for QVC. She now has several new strings to her business bow…
A business baroness
Michelle’s entrepreneurial spirit kicked in at a very early age. “I’ve always had the drive, from just 10 years-old. Failure drives me and I always keep going as I never will go there!,” she tells me. What’s her ethos and what’s at the heart of all her businesses? “Hard work, innovative design, originality and personality. Those attributes run through all of my businesses.” She says it’s a combination of those qualities that sets her brands apart from similar offerings. “Everything I do has my own personal and professional stamp on it… no-one can rival that as no-one else is me! We are constantly pushing to be bigger and better than our competitors. Business is a really exciting thing and my passion to launch new ventures motivates me. Personally, my parents inspire me while professionally, my business icon is my partner, Doug Barrowman.”
But business hasn’t always been booming for the Baroness. “In the beginning, finance was my biggest challenge… having a great idea and vision but not having the finance to take it to the next level is often the case with businesses. A distributor ran off with £1.4m of my money! However, that was also my biggest lesson. In business, you learn a lot from the low moments.”
A govt biz czar! Accolades from the Queen & Parliament
Perseverance paid off and Michelle carved out a glittering career. In 2010, the now high-flying businesswoman was voted one of the UK’s top three female entrepreneurs and the Queen awarded her an OBE for her outstanding contribution to business. “I felt very honoured, and to be recognised on this level, considering my humble Glaswegian background, is such a special achievement, meaning a lot to me and my family. It was an incredible moment for us. For me, though, this is for all of the young children and young adults who don’t have hope. Dream, work hard, never give up and you will get there in the end.”
In 2015, the inspirational born achiever was awarded a Life Peerage to the House of Lords. “Receiving my OBE was one of my proudest moments and becoming Lady Michelle Mone of Mayfair and a member of the House of Lords were also huge honours for me.”
The lingerie tycoon-turned-Parliamentarian subsequently set up The Mone Review, focusing on helping start-up businesses. Her top tips for setting up a business? “To succeed in business, you need determination like no other. It may sound cliché, but never give up. Always deliver for your customers and team, no matter what. Be unique and passionate and never stop! Business isn’t easy, and success is even harder. It can be a long journey, so you need to be hard-working, different and determined – that really is the secret.”
EQUI – the disruptor in venture capital investing
As one of Britain’s wealthiest men, Michelle’s partner, business tycoon Doug Barrowman, is the driving force behind Knox Private Office. Offering a tailored advisory service to ultra-high-net-worth individuals and entrepreneurs, plus tax-planning services to both corporate and personal clients, including help buying superyachts and property, his company is based London’s exclusive Belgravia.
Doug is the founder, and Michelle the co-founder, of EQUI, a technology-focused venture capital fund which looks set to be a potential game-changer in the industry and a model that many others are expected to follow. Powered by blockchain, EQUI sits comfortably between the old world of conventional investing and the blockchain world, making it a new frontier for investment and setting EQUI apart from most conventional venture funds. Up to 80% of investment by EQUI will be in technology companies, with the balance of 20% being in non-tech assets, such as real estate and investment collectibles including art and vintage cars.
Michelle recently announced that they are thrilled to welcome Apple co-founder and global tech icon, Steve Wozniak, on board as an EQUI co-founder who will head up tech stars of tomorrow. “Woz has always been my business icon and it’s a dream come true to be working with him at EQUI!”
Steve says he get dozens of ideas pitched to him every day and always turns them down, but he strongly believes in EQUI. “Since I co-founded Apple with Steve Jobs, this is about the second time in 20 years that I actually said ‘yes’, I want to be a part of this,” he explains. “It has to be something I really believe in, and I really believe in EQUI. I know that we have something very special with EQUI. I’ve enjoyed giving my feedback to the technical side of the initiative and will very much be an actively-involved proud co-founder. I’m very pleased that my business partners are the respected Michelle and Doug. They are both very determined people who have achieved what few people can do.”
He says of Michelle, “She has succeeded well against the odds. She started her own business at just 24 and turned it into a global brand of huge stature which she sold four years ago. Michelle has also invested wisely in the tech space and understands the significance of blockchain technology and how it will radically change business. Her creativity and drive is brilliant for business because she brings diversity to the table. HM The Queen of The United Kingdom has even recognised her achievements.”
As for Doug, who has achieved considerable success for over 30 years in the venture capital industry, Steve says, “Doug is a highly-accomplished businessman and also a problem-solver, thanks to his highly-attuned analytical skills. An accountant by trade, he set up his own corporate finance practice in the early 90’s. By the mid 90’s he was successfully buying and investing in his own portfolio of companies. I greatly admire Michelle and Doug for their huge accomplishments.”
Another of Michelle’s latest joint business ventures with Doug is the world’s first large-scale property development, a £250m Bitcoin-priced property project in the heart of Dubai, comprising two luxury apartment towers and a huge shopping mall. The Dubai development is “the pinnacle of design, architecture and commerciality” and purchasers can decorate their new home using Michelle’s design service, paid for using the cryptocurrency. The luxurious apartments come complete with access to a gym, swimming pool and residents’ lounge, and boast magnificent views over the Dubai Hills and the city’s stunning skyline.
Grand international designs
Michelle and Doug also set up Michelle Mone Interiors (MMI Global Limited) as part of Doug’s Knox Group. Multimillionaire Michelle’s move into the interiors sector last year has already seen huge success. “Michelle Mone Interiors, for which I collaborate with the fantastic leading designer, Julie Chapman, is a huge passion of mine. This partnership allows me to combine my business attributes and unique design flair with Julie’s unrivalled experience and expertise as Head Designer for my company.”
With offices in London’s Chelsea, Monaco, Dubai and the Isle of Man, Michelle’s new global business delivers a high-end, very personal and bespoke interiors service that balances luxurious elegance with intelligent design and creative infusion, promising to turn clients’ homes and businesses into places of inspiration.
“From the intricate creation of ‘the perfect bra’ with Ultimo and my jewellery range, to personally renovating the interiors of my own homes to an exceptionally-high standard, design and interiors has always been my passion. Although I am labelled an entrepreneur, global speaker, author, innovator and parliamentarian, being a designer has long been a big part of my life and, therefore, my success. I am as passionate about my new businesses, my jewellery range and Michelle Mone Interiors, as I was years ago launching Ultimo. It’s a journey… and a really exciting one!”
The company’s signature style is British-inspired elegance with a contemporary design twist and functionality, created from the highest-quality materials and outstanding craftsmanship, resulting in beautifully-crafted bespoke interiors of distinction and creating exceptional homes for discerning private residential clients, property developers, hoteliers and superyacht owners worldwide. From acquisition and strip out, to creating mood boards and plumping the final cushion, Michelle’s talented team delivers a complete turn-key solution, focusing on full concept interior and architectural design through to dressing every part of the home.
Despite its very recent launch, the company already boasts a celebrity clientele. “We are very lucky to work with some incredible names and people within Michelle Mone Interiors. Julie has also designed homes and property for some big names across the world over the years. Our collaboration has allowed us to put our contact books together!”
Sell-out success for Diamonique
The super-smart businesswoman’s phenomenally-successful jewellery collection, Michelle Mone for Diamonique, has proved so popular that one of her necklace ranges sold out on the QVC retail channel in just 92 seconds! “My range for Diamonique is incredible and I’m so thrilled with its sell-out success on QVC. I was so proud… I never lose the feeling of feeling incredibly happy when a project I’ve been working on for a long time does really well.”
Comprising timeless pieces, perfect for both formal and casual occasions, her collection offers an affordable range of stylish jewellery, including perfect pink diamonds. “I’ve always loved jewellery, so this was a natural collaboration for me with my interest in the subject, my business mind and my design-led attitude. I’ve always been a glamourous businesswoman, and jewellery has been a big part of my look and outfits over the last 20 years of business.”
How did the collaboration with QVC come about? “It really is the perfect brand match for both of us, plus I have years of experience when it comes to presenting a product and dealing with media, so it’s the dream link-up. There are always challenges in a design-led fashion business but, overall, it’s such a wonderful collaboration and is going very well. We’re constantly extending the range, launching new designs and acquiring new customers. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Michelle’s personal style is all about customised glamour. “I would say I’m glamourous, but always with a sophisticated, tailored edge. There’s always a line I don’t cross when it comes to glamour. My jewellery pieces are very glamourous and really are statement pieces, so they can totally enhance an outfit and really make it something special. I often wear block colours and add the jewellery in for the sparkle.”
What kind of woman wears her collection? “I have lots of different customers. The QVC customers are women who always look gorgeous and really care about their appearance, whether they are wearing a piece every day or buying a matching set for that special event or occasion.”
What’s hot in the jewellery world and what should we be looking at investing in to ensure we’re on-trend? “The designs and trends are constantly moving and evolving, but one of my personal favourites is my Michelle Mone for Diamonique 3.5ct tw Halo Ring Sterling Silver – it’s timeless!”
A jet-set baroness!
“Permanently” on the road for work, Michelle’s businesses take her all around the globe. “A few weeks ago, I was in Dubai and then flew to the South of France before heading to London. Now, I’m on the Isle of Man, where my home is with Doug. I’ve also recently visited South Africa, the US, St. Barths and Thailand. I’m very lucky!”
Michelle never hops on a ‘plane without her ‘phone, laptop and a couple of other “essentials”. “Apple cider vinegar and a copy of my autobiography My Fight to The Top, in case I meet someone who needs to be inspired, in which case I’ll give them a copy!”
The global entrepreneur extolls the virtues of Emirates. “They are just the best at everything.” Her favourite hotels and stretches of sand? “The Palace at One&Only Royal Mirage in Dubai is outstanding. All of my favourite beaches are in St. Barths.”
Michelle’s most memorable business travel experience was her trip to China, where she enjoyed exploring the local cuisine and learning about the captivating Chinese culture. She has even enjoyed a quintessentially English ritual with royalty. “I once had afternoon tea with the incredible royal family of Abu Dhabi. But I’d left my make-up bag behind, so I ran into a local pharmacy and bought Vaseline… a last-minute panic purchase before I met the royals!”
“Although I’m busy, always travelling, always with a suitcase, I never feel I’m working because I love it so much! I enjoy experiencing different places… when you do that, every day is a school day!”
As an active member of Parliament, Baroness Mone believes Brexit will inevitably impact on travel, but she offers some long-term reassurance for travellers. “Brexit’s like a difficult divorce. Of course, it will impact on everything, travel included, but after a while it will settle down.”
A prolific portfolio of property, yachts & a private jet…
Although Michelle travels the world, she says there’s no place like her first home. “Scotland is my favourite destination. It’s beautiful, it’s where I’m from and I started my first business there. The Isle of Man is home now, though, and I feel I can relax there.”
She and her Scottish boyfriend, venture capitalist Doug, divide their time between six luxury homes; a sprawling £120m château-style estate on the Isle of Man, a Belgravia penthouse apartment and a seven-bedroom villa in the South of France. They also own palatial homes in Thailand, St. Barths in the Caribbean and in Scotland, near Gleneagles. Doug owns a luxury car collection, including a fleet of five Ferraris, two super yachts and a private jet. He’s an avid art collector and the sitting room of the couple’s main residence, the Isle of Man mansion, boasts a grand piano plus priceless pieces by Picasso, Dalí and Chagall, among other 19th- and 20th-century masters. The artworks are said to be worth more than £50m.
Michelle enjoys the process of renovating her own homes. She says she embraces a range of styles and isn’t afraid of a pop of colour, but always opts for British craftsmanship, timelessness and sophistication “with a sexy twist and a touch of real glamour”. With their exceptional eye for design and attention to detail, Michelle and Julie have put their interior design stamp on the stunning Isle of Man mansion, which comes complete with a fully-equipped spa, swimming pool and high-tech gym, along with a helipad, amphitheatre and staff quarters. In London, Michelle resided in a £2million Mayfair penthouse apartment with its own cinema and nightclub on one of London’s most exclusive streets, before moving into a riverside penthouse, with an unbeatable, front-row Tower Bridge view which, she says, “Looks like something out of a movie.”
The loved-up couple, who have seven children between them, met at a business dinner several years ago, sparking a whirlwind romance. The besotted billionaire was soon wining and dining Michelle on a three-day-long date in the South of France, on board his spectacular £50m 183ft super yacht, Turquoise. Boasting ‘7-star’ service, a 13-strong crew, an outdoor cinema, a grand piano and handmade silk carpets, the luxury love boat featured in the Channel 4 TV documentary Million Pound Mega Yachts and in an explosive opening scene in Sky Atlantic’s crime drama Riviera, starring Julia Stiles. Doug himself landed a role as a Russian arms dealer, in return for loaning Turquoise and “digitally” blowing it up!
When it’s time for some well-deserved R&R, Michelle swaps the benches of the House of Lords, the sofas of QVC and her business-speaking duties at home and abroad to head to her holiday homes to enjoy the high life in the sun. “We’re very lucky to have a home in the South of France and a new one in St Barths, which is no.1… we just love spending time there.”
Surrounded by palm trees and overlooking the spectacular bay of Villefranche-sur-Mer and St-Jean-Cap-Ferrat, the baroness and her beau’s Villefranche vacation home is on the market with upscale agents Knight Frank. The seven-bedroom French Riviera villa, La Cascade, boasts a stunning infinity pool with a Jacuzzi and 180-degree views from the terraces. The plush pad enjoys an elevated, private position affording an awe-inspiring panorama of the sparkling Mediterranean and the lavish lifestyle of the glitzy Côte d’Azur.
A healthy passion
With beautiful blonde locks cascading over her shoulders and flawlessly-applied makeup, the first lady of lingerie never fails to look amazing. She says she found herself in a much more positive place when she developed a recent new passion for health and fitness. “My one main tip is exercise for one hour a day, wherever you are, whatever your mood. A healthy body = a healthy mind. Exercise and health has changed my life. Ambition, happiness and confidence all create instant glamour for me.”
The elegant entrepreneur is inspired by the “juice master”, Jason Vale, and advocates a healthy diet, including ginger and malt vinegar shots, while her top beauty must-haves include her UTan tanning range. “It always gives you that healthy glow whenever, wherever you are.”
Does age matter to 47-year-old Michelle? “With age comes experience, which is always so useful in business. But there are some incredible young business minds out there, too, which is really exciting. I have found happiness with my partner, Doug, so for me, my 40’s and after means happiness with him in our homes and time spent with our families.”
Sailing off into the sunset… super yacht style!
Michelle says she has “no regrets” in life and has now met her match in Doug who, she says, makes her feel like she is “in a fairy tale… a beautiful dream”. She once said she plans to retire at 48 and her dream is to build a sailing boat with Doug, to their own design, and sail around the world… Is this still the plan? “Let’s see! As long as I’m happy, travelling the world and my businesses are successful, that’s what matters.”
Michelle’s motto is “Work hard, play hard”. How does she manage to maintain a successful work-life balance? “When you love what you do, you’re living the dream and it doesn’t feel like hard work. That’s the secret to balance!”
Equi Global: www.equiglobal.com
Michelle Mone Interiors: www.michellemoneinteriors.com
Michelle’s autobiography, My Fight to the Top, is available from Amazon, where it entered the charts at No. 1.
Her jewellery range, Michelle Mone for Diamonique, is sold exclusively on QVC: qvcuk.com
To find out more, visit Michelle’s website: https://michellemone.com