I’ve always loved media. Since my teens, I’ve collected fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazines, and in 2000, after working in London and in marketing for magazines, I launched my own PR agency Torstar in Sydney. At the height of my success with Torstar, I employed 22 staff as well as a team of freelancers, and I represented some of the top Australian designers, like Alex Perry, Jayson Brunsdon, Leona Edmonston – all the ones everyone wanted. I worked with marie claire for six years, and I’ve had an extraordinary relationship with Nespresso, too.
We also represented some of the world’s biggest brands. I had clients in London, like Mulberry, Missguided and Next UK, and flew over there every couple of months. I also introduced Australian brands to overseas markets, launching global communications for Seafolly and Sukin, another iconic Australian company.
It was very glamorous but there was another situation going on in the background. In 2004, I had my daughter Bella. But when she was nine months old I left my partner. I don’t want to go into the details but, basically, his values didn’t align with mine, and I was faced with the decision to pretend everything was OK and stay, or leave him and give my daughter and I the opportunity to live a life of love and happiness, and that’s what I chose to do.
But he reacted in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I started receiving phone calls – at work, on mobile – as well as text messages and emails up to 100 times a day. It was relentless. I was afraid for my safety and for my daughter’s safety.
To the outside world everything looked incredible: I was looking after fashion designers and working with incredible beauty brands. I’d just had my first child. But at home I was living a personal hell. I got AVOs, and that created boundaries, but it went on for years. He dedicated his life to making mine miserable.
At home I was living a personal hell.
In 2013, at the height of everything going on in my personal life, I got appendicitis. I’d gone next door to a cocktail party for my neighbours, and the next morning I’d woken up feeling unwell. I thought I had ‘canape poisoning’ and I called my friend who took Bella. An old friend was staying with me from Hong Kong and while he was out I realised something was seriously wrong. But Bella had jammed my phone and changed all the passcodes so I couldn’t call anyone. Fortunately my friend called, and I told him to come straight home. He was with his dad, who is a surgeon, and they called an ambulance.
I was in such pain. I was drifting in and out of consciousness. They had to stop the ambulance twice on the way to hospital because I wasn’t coping. I was diagnosed with appendicitis, but then contracted septicaemia, and I was in intensive care for five days. I’ve never experienced anything so painful, including childbirth. It was indescribable. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. I was given six months’ recovery. I lost eight kilos in five days. But, believe it or not, I was still working. I used to put makeup on my face, get dressed and I’d only make it downstairs to the couch.
My illness forced me to make really big changes in my life. I was burnt out and fatigued. I started to look at all the things that were causing more stress – including clients whose values didn’t align with mine – and realised: Now I’m going to live my life. I took Bella to Paris, and there was this incredible sense of freedom.
I launched Powerful Steps six months ago. It’s a passion project, just like Torstar. The idea behind Powerful Steps is to share my story, and inspire, encourage and empower other women to step into their power. Like many corporate women, I didn’t want to seek help or speak out because of shame.
I’m happy to share my truth because it helps other women know that they’re not alone. The response has been extraordinary. I have had so many direct messages from all over the world, from women who have been in A similar situation to me and have been too afraid to speak out. That really drives me to make a difference. Powerful Steps is about identifying where you want to be and how to get there, as well as the tribe of people who will support you.
I am such a people person. All my relationships with brands have been built on trust, integrity and passion. I also built incredible relationships with all the editors of the magazines, the journalists on newspapers, the TV networks. You need relationships in your personal life, too, which will nourish you. More than anything, Powerful Steps is about knowing that you have real reserves of strength.