My biggest dream growing up was to be a journalist. I know, not the most glamorous of jobs but I loved the idea of reporting something exciting, new, informative and sharing good news with others. I used to be a pretty good writer when I was younger and decided that I would be a freelance journalist who would work nicely alongside my studies. I was attending the London Guildhall University at the time. I always wanted to be a part of the elite gang… those that were listened to and when I saw an advert that there was to be an award ceremony that celebrated the achievements of multicultural people, held in the Grosvenor House Hotel in Park Lane, London. I knew I had to be there.
I remember calling the offices of the organizers and saying that I was a freelance journalist and would love to cover the story for my local newspaper. Surprisingly the event’s person sent me a press pass and I was able to attend. I remember so vividly walking around in my ballgown and sitting at the back with seasoned journalist from The Times and The Guardian and there was little me, pretending to be a journalist. Well my ‘pretending’ faced reality when I got the opportunity to interview the then foreign secretary Mr. Jack Straw and the then Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, Tessa Jowell. I remember holding my Dictaphone and notebook asking them relevant questions about politics. I feared nothing back then.
A week later, I rang the offices to thank them for sending me a press pass and was swiftly told that the lady had since left the organization. Me being fearless, stepped up and asked if I could take her job and like that, I became the Press Officer of the Ethnic Multicultural Media Awards (EMMA) organizing events that were later broadcast on the BBC.
- Your life has two chapters, tell us about part one when you married to your ex-husband?
I have been brought up in church all my life. An active Christian, believe in the Word of God, I pray, fast and all those good things but nothing could have prepared me for what I had to face.
I married in Sept 2003, and I remember that day so vividly. It was perfect. The weather was just right, and I remember running a little late because I was waiting for my dear mum to finish getting her hair done. We married in a massive, converted warehouse in an area called Brixton in Southeast London. Friends and family were all there cheering me on in celebration. Both my husband and I had fairly decent jobs – enough for us to purchase a house in the southeast of London and have a ‘his and her car’ that parked nicely on our new drive. We would go to church together on a Sunday and because he was pretty important in the church, we also had priority seating at the front in this 2000 strong church. Life was idyllic, nothing to complain about. In 2005 I gave birth to our beautiful baby girl. She was the icing on top of this seemingly beautiful cake.
And I did the right thing. It was customary to marry another Christian and it was the norm to marry someone within your race. So according to me, I followed the rules so it was bound to last.
Like most marriages, we had our ups and downs but nothing that we couldn’t solve through open and honest communication. I remember him starting a music business, complete with fully equipped studio to help bring the creativeness of young people to life. He was really good with those young people. Always there for them in their hour of need. Some of them used to come around the house and just chill out with us. He was both a mentor and friend. They knew if they had any problems, they could call on him and he would be there. I liked that about him. His big heart was evident for all to see. He was so well loved by many, and I thought I was the luckiest woman alive.
I remember my mum always saying, ‘Michelle life is so perfect for you, you have everything, a beautiful home, a beautiful baby girl and a good looking husband make sure you keep praying.’ Clearly at some point I must have stopped.
It’s amazing how I can’t recall much more than that about our marriage though we were together for just over 9 years. Pain has a way of deleting the good days, the days that you laughed and had fun and was forever thankful that he chose you out of the hundreds of hungry women that were waiting to be proposed to.
When do you really know someone? Some say that you should date for long periods of time to really know the person and others say that marriage changes people, but I ask myself the question…. Do you ever really know someone?
Well I thought I knew my then husband. I knew that he liked to sing, he liked going out. I knew that he liked Caribbean food or his mother’s infamous macaroni pie. I knew that he had a passion for young people, and I knew that he loved his family. But there was another side I knew nothing of.
- What was your biggest challenge?
I need to take you back to 2009 to put this in context. I was at home in our front room probably folding the clothes. I get a frantic call from him saying that he has just been suspended from work due to an accusation. I say that can’t be right, I use to work in HR and know that you don’t get suspended on the spot based on hearsay without any investigation, warning or notice of suspension. I knew it had to be more serious than he was letting on. He tells me that a mother has accused him of indecently assaulting her daughter. I laugh (awkwardly) what a stupid thing to say. He proceeds to tell me that the mother is thinking of taking it further. At this point I still cannot make sense of what he had just told me. How can someone like him be accused of such a thing? It was unheard of. He is a protector not a predator.
As the weeks passed, I was alerted to the fact that someone else had come forward with another accusation against him. At this point, I was still in unbelief and refused to believe the girls and their lies. As far as I was concerned, these people wanted to destroy our happy home and I was determined to stick by my man no matter what.
I recall applying for an enhanced DBS check during this time as I was a nominated foster career. The disclosure took ages to come and when it did, I was gob smacked. I opened this letter and was greeted by reams of paper telling me about the man I was sleeping with. It mentioned the current case, which had now had a court date pending but also mentioned a closed case back in 1987 where he was accused of sexual indecency against a young boy. I stood in my conservatory confused, perplexed angry and hurt. I called him straight away to ask him what this was all about, and he tried to play it down by saying that he was a child at the time and it was a mistake. He wasn’t a child. He was 17. It was at that point that I started to believe what I thought were malicious lies.
The press had a field day. Local newspapers and national media got a hold of the news and following the broadcast on ITV news another 6 people came forward. My then husband was arrested, convicted of 14 counts of indecent assault and two of engaging in sexual activity with a child and given 9 years imprisonment. His alleged victims were children as young as eight.
The biggest challenge for me was to keep my daughter safe and come to terms that life for us would never be the same again. But I had a lot of guilt which soon turned into depression. In court I heard the stories of these young girls who said that I had invited them around the house and whilst I was upstairs putting my daughter to bed, other things were taking place in my kitchen. I had to live with the guilt of not speaking up earlier when I noticed the late night calls to young girls and the texting during the middle of the night to school kids and during church as he sat next to me with our baby girl. But I had no idea what was going on and was therefore powerless to do anything.
I could hardly look after my daughter during this time. All I seemed to do was just cry and cry. I could hardly get out of bed; I didn’t bathe for days on end. I would stand naked in my bathroom and wish I was dead most of the time. Social services threatened to take my daughter away because they said in their report, I quote ‘Michelle is failing to deal with this in a manner we deem appropriate’ But how could I? Everything I thought I knew was a lie. The whole experience ripped my life to shreds. It felt like people everywhere were talking about it. We were a local family that made national news for the wrong reasons.
- How did this strengthen you as a person?
Every bit, every fiber of inner strength was exercised when I had to sit in court and hear the basis of those 17 charges. I remember sitting by my aunt who held my hand and whispered…’don’t you cry, don’t let anyone here know how you’re feeling’ and so I didn’t. But my eyes burned as I held back the tears and my body shook uncontrollably from inside.
But through faith and the support of family and friends, I learned that there was peace after pain. I learnt to become more resilient and could withstand accusations thrown at me by those that thought I, in some way, was involved. I was able to mentally deal with the pressure from social services and the multi-disciplinary team. Even after deciding to continue with my Master’s degree in Kingston University when people said I shouldn’t with all this happening, I made the choice to continue and get the best grades possible. Studying, working and helping others took my mind off all that was happening in my life. Eventually the daily crying stopped and was replaced by a new inner desire to succeed and to win at all costs.
I am a fighter without a shadow of a doubt. I fought through depression that could have kept me mentally bound. I fought to keep my daughter and when bricks were thrown through my house window and the police said I should consider moving, I fought to stay because I knew that I did nothing wrong, and I would no longer run and hide away because of shame. It was time to reclaim my life.
As a mother it has made me over protective and even now, my daughter is almost 17 and I have to try not to mollycoddle her. In the early days when I collected her from nursery I would strip her naked and check her entire body. I wanted to make sure she was untouched, and I did this even when she started attending primary school. I appreciate that this was not healthy for either of us but my relationship with my daughter is priceless. She may not know this, but when I look at her dancing away in my front room, hear her sing in the shower, I just thank God that she’s fine and healthy and unaffected by all that has gone on because during her early years, it made a real impact on her. She knew her dad was in prison and during her formative years, she believed that all daddies leave their children. Now I am empowered to do what is right for me and my family, to speak up when things don’t look right, stand out from the crowd and be counted.
- Tell me about your new chapter and journey in life?
Right now I’m walking in a new chapter of my life. I remarried in 2016 on the beautiful island of Koh Samui in Thailand. My husband who is Thai born has always been a great advocate of everything I do. My family, especially my mother, aunt and my cousin have been a tower of strength. And the friends I have in my life, old and new, have given me such support that I will never fail myself or them. The funny thing is, my husband Peter doesn’t fit neatly into the box of who I should marry – the stereotypical Christian I always believed that I should marry, and this makes life much more exciting. This time around, I’m living life on my terms.
I now run a successful executive coaching and training consultancy called The People’s Partner where we work with organizations who wish to strengthen their leadership pipeline by preparing their emerging leaders to be future leaders. Our teams support them in the areas of communication, people management, emotional and cultural intelligence, personal banding and of course, leading them self and others. Clients work with me because they are confident that I can help them achieve more than they could ever imagine enabling them to perform more consistently under pressure.
Apart from being a businesswoman and entrepreneur, I am also a non-executive director, a lecturer, NLP Master Practitioner, TEDx Speaker and currently lead and manage the emerging leadership programmed for one of the top ten universities in the world, University College, London (UCL). I have totally got my spark back!
I’m really happy right now with my current business model especially when I do the transformative work and can use my skills in NLP for life changing situations. This sits quite nicely with my extracurricular activity which is singing. I’ve been fortunate to sing with the likes of Madonna, the Jackson Five and as a backing vocalist on the X Factor and The Brits and have visited many countries across the globe singing at concerts, festivals and TV shows.
People look at me and say that I’m hard working, so strong and to be honest, they are not wrong. I am definitely committed to my work and making a difference, but I understand that I cannot walk this journey alone and value the many relationships in my life. I do have my weak days and when I feel low, I remember what I was called to do. I have a mandate on my life to help change the lives of others through my story, my knowledge and expertise. Every day I get stronger, more powerful, much wiser and know that there are other women and men that need to be freed from their pain and live a more empowered and rich life…. Because really that is the essence of success.
- Can you tell me more about your relationship with your daughter today?
My daughter and I have a beautiful relationship. She is definitely a mummy’s girl. Not only does she look very much like me she likes to wear all my clothes and makeup. We have a good laugh together and always make silly faces and videos on Snapchat. We’re as crazy as each other! I notice too that she is very resilient. Even when I’m telling her off for something she may have done wrong, she can take it like a warrior! She too is independent, talented and a singer like me. She wants to get into property and has secured work experience in Dubai with a luxury property company. I see myself in her and pray daily that I will always be a good mother, show her right from wrong. Teach her the power of forgiveness and the strength that comes with accepting the things that we cannot change. Like me she is a forgotten victim…. But we are more than survivors, we are conquerors.
- What key message you want to give to people out there
My key message to anyone reading this is never, ever let your past define and shape your destiny. Your experiences will make us stronger. I am just one of many women, mothers, wives, sister, daughters and nieces that are seen as the forgotten victims; the invisible victims – the ones that have been affected, impacted by the stigma attached to someone accused of crime. We hurt too. When I felt like I would never get over this… a still voice said, ‘be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ Your thoughts will determine how you feel and how you behave and too often we allow negativity to creep in and take center stage. For me, it’s truly important to guard my thoughts and my heart – there’s no room for anything but love, grace, peace, happiness and joy.
One last point I’d like to share, we must not neglect the power of great networks. It forms the substance of growth as we are continually evolving, and we learn so much from those around us. I would have never got to where I am without my faith in God, first and foremost, and secondly without my power network; my mother, family and close friends that have been by my side before, during and after.
Let your pain propel you to power and bring glory to your story. Let your pit become your palace, reach out to your resources to get your results quicker. There’s always light at the end of the tunnel and if I can climb through the pain, hurt, embarrassment, stigma and hate, then there’s no reason why others can’t too!