‘I have found being in business and being a woman incredible’

Last week the Avon and Women’s Aid Empowering Women of the Year Awards honoured successful women who overcame serious domestic violence in their lives. The Child Survivor award went to Charlotte Fantelli, an entrepreneur who channelled her experiences into helping others. Fantelli is the author of The Molly and Billy series, which are now used by the NSPCC to help children who have suffered abuse. She went on to found the Uncovered Magazine, and  Mental Healthy, which has provided mental health advice to hundreds of thousands. Excerpts from an interview that James Brooks recorded with Fantelli before she received her award:

So tell us about your first taste of the business world…

For me it started very young. For as far back as I can remember I was never one for playing or for things that didn’t produce something. I was always trying to better myself, I always wanted to make something, whether that was artistically or business-wise and I remember when I was 9 or 10 really starting to think about making money. My sister went out to work and perhaps that was a bit of an inspiration, because I saw her coming home with nice clothes and being able to buy things, you know I was just a kid, she was 11 years older than me and I remember wanting a bit of that. I started doing things like making friendship bracelets which she started selling at work, I was making 50p and a pound here and there and I was doing odd jobs for the neighbours car cleaning and stuff.

Making something from nothing, that’s what really excited me

Then I decided I was going to put on a pet show in the local pub garden, not only did we charge entry, it was like 50p a pet or something, but looking at the ways that I could maximize the amount of money I could make from this pet show. I remember buying some Tesco Value orange squash, it was 50p for the whole bottle, and we could sell little glasses of it for 30p, so that was a massive profit margin and it really excited me. I don’t think it was the maths that excited me so much, making something from nothing, that’s what really excited me, so both creatively and monetary.

How did people respond to this? Did they realise you had a business knack?

My mum, bless her heart, despite having a few troubles when we were growing up she was always very encouraging, she kind of gave me the inspiration to do stuff. She was agoraphobic for a time but she started her own business at a garage doing kind of dried flower novelty gifts and I think that that really inspired me.

I was a dreamer and I always dreamed big

I was always encouraged never to give up and just have a go and I suppose that spirit was definitely in me. I think, more than anything, people saw that I was a dreamer and I always dreamed big and I never thought anything was impossible in what ever I did so that was definitely in me very young.

Can you tell us about your difficulties growing up?

My mum, when I was 3, she had what was termed then as a nervous breakdown, I’m coming to learn more about it now but she suffered from an anxiety order. Back in the 80’s, they just used to stick you on tranquillisers and sadly she became addicted to tranquillisers and she became very ill. So from the age of three till the time I was about ten or eleven she was pretty much house-bound, but did manage to get out a little during that time. She was very reliant on the drugs and it was a very troubled time for her, my dad had left when I was very young and it was a troubled time for all of us really.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Fantelli

What she also gave me was a fighting spirit because she never gave up, she got herself off the drugs, she started a little business from the garage as she couldn’t go out she did something from home. I think those kind of trials and tribulations kind of gave me a head start in a way because I knew I could survive hardship and it also impacted on my fighting spirit.

When I was then 10, 11, 12 and my mum was coming out of the agrophobia she met a man who was very, very violent and an alcoholic which really effect my teenage years.

How did the issues you had when you were younger affect the ‘Molly and Billy’ series of books you went on to write?

It’s funny, I always had this sense of everything’s going to be alright, even through hard times and there were some very, very hard times, a lot of violence and abuse. But I always had this real faith that it was going to come to fruition and there was a reason for it.

I always had this sense of everything’s going to be alright

Once I got myself sorted and got myself out of the situation, met my husband and moved on with my life, I really wanted something to flourish out of what I’d been through and it inspired a series of children’s books called the ‘Molly and Billy series.’ They were written to help children to know where to go if they have difficulty, in terms of social and domestic difficulty. Whether that be bullying, abuse of domestic violence or inappropriate touching and it touches on very difficult subjects but in a very childlike way. The books are designed for reading with teachers, guardians and parents so that they can help children to identify when they’re feeling uncomfortable and know where to go for help, should they need it.

How does your Christian faith affect you in the business world?

That’s a really good question. I think that there have been times when I have really struggled. I remember when we started Uncovered magazine and I started getting approaches for advertising from the most random places. I remember there were some quite big opportunities for Tarot card readers, psychics and other people who were kind of against my religion and I was in business with Simon Dolan who isn’t a Christian and doesn’t have a faith as such or at all. So I had to weigh up my faith and where that came into the business world and where I had a responsibility to my business and the people that we were employing to make the business as financially viable as possible.

I am a Christian first and a businesswoman second

Actually, every time I went on the side of faith and I actually stepped out in faith every time with turning down people that I felt really went against my Christian ethics and although the magazine itself wasn’t a Christian publication, I really took on-board that we weren’t influencing vulnerable people and I didn’t want them influenced negatively. Again, I wouldn’t have wanted to impose my Christian values and Christian faith on them either but I really, really felt that I had to stand by my Christian ethos in the work place. Yes at times that was difficult but I am a Christian first and a business woman second.

How does it feel to be a female business woman in quite a male dominated profession?

I’m gonna be completely honest and I think alot of women might dislike me for the comment I’m about to make but I have found being in business and being a woman incredible and I’ve found actually that I’ve got a lot further than I would’ve done if I was a man.

I have found being in business and being a woman incredible

I haven’t been afraid to use my femininity and my differences from being a man. I’ve never competed with a man, I’m different, I have different talent, different skills that I can bring to the table and I embrace that very much. I think some women go into business and feel they have to compete in a male-dominated world, whereas I’ve gone in very much with I can compliment and work with men and I enjoy working with men very, very much. I find that actually there isn’t that kind of competition, it’s very much that if you can gel with the people you’re working with, you bring something unique to the table as a woman and I find it very, very beneficial.

Charlotte with the dragons from Dragon’s Den. Photo courtesy of Charlotte Fantelli

You’ve moved into television production now, can you tell us about your recent venture Fantelli productions?

Yeh, I’ve kind of stepped out in faith there as well because I don’t have a great deal of experience in television production, I’ve been on the television a few times and I’ve worked with production companies on a couple of ventures but I’ve never actually done it on my own. So I’m actually meeting with a director tomorrow who directs TOWIE (The Only Was Is Essex) among other things, to talk about a big commercial venture, a big terrestrial, 12 week project. So yes, there’s a big potential series in the pipeline for Fantelli productions. Most of it will be focusing on business, our motto is ‘Making the Factual Entertaining’ so we have a big focus on factual entertainment, so anything from documentaries through to shiny-floor talent shows with a really strong business slant. So we should be making some nice entrepreneurial programs in the very near future.

Lastly, what does it mean to you winning this Empowering Women of the Year Award?

The Empowering Women of the Year Award means a lot to me both personally and professionally, last year I was lucky enough to be made one of the Young Female Entrepreneurs for the Women of the Future awards and that was wonderful and that was really, really lovely. But what is ultra-special about the Empowering Women of the Year award is the fact that it really recognises people who are doing good work in the field of domestic violence, abuse and mental health which I have an absolute passion for.

Really heartfelt achievement for me

So not only is it my business and what I’m doing in the business world being recognised, it’s also kind of what I was saying earlier, that sense of it is all coming to fruition and those things that I went through, they don’t define me but they’re a part of what I went through and a recognition of helping other people who are similar situations is a really heartfelt achievement for me.

Main image: Charlotte Fantelli

Charlotte Fantelli’s website
More on the Empowering Women Awards 2012

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