x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Despite setbacks, the beat goes on

This Dubai resident climbed out of dire straits and built a successful business by listening to her spiritual side.

Julie-Anne Odell founded Dubai Drums in 2002.
Julie-Anne Odell founded Dubai Drums in 2002.

My attitude to finance is quite unorthodox. The relationship I have with money is almost spiritual; I believe you need to have self-worth in order to achieve abundance in life, and financial independence is one part of that. When you don't have money, you're powerless. I've been through highs and lows with money several times in my life.

My father died when I was 19 and mother died when I was 20, so I've been used to making my way alone. I am an only child. I was born in Chiswick in London, brought up in New Zealand and moved to the Middle East 33 years ago with my first husband, an Egyptian whom I met in the UK. I spent 18 years in Egypt, and throughout that time, worked in public relations and also started my own real estate company, which did very well. In 1982 I got divorced, and met my second husband in Cairo in 1991. We came to the UAE in 1994 because he was transferred to a Dubai company.

Sadly, when I was divorced a second time in 1999, I lost the money I had made in Egypt because my investments during this time were not in my name, but my ex-husband's. I decided that something in me had to change. Back then I was at a real low in my life after the divorce. I had no job and was sleeping on a friend's floor in Bur Dubai. I don't know whether the same is true in any city, but friends disappear when you're down and out. Then again, when you need help, I believe the universe sends it to you.

A lovely couple helped me get back on my feet. I'd approached them with a piece of my jewellery and asked if they'd buy it from me, as I was desperate for money. I ended up selling all of the jewellery I had at the time, which was a few pieces of gold and a ring. They wrote me a blank cheque there and then. I cashed it in for Dh8,000, which allowed me to pay three months' rent on a tiny little place in Satwa.

I managed to find a part-time job doing the PR and marketing for the British Business Group. It paid only around Dh3,000 a month, but it was a start. I eventually moved to a better paying, full-time position as the PR manager for a hotel in Dubai. I was getting back on my feet. In 2000, I met my husband, Guy.Like me, he'd also lost everything in a divorce, so we were both starting all over again, building up from scratch. In 2001, I walked out of my hotel job. My boss was unbearable and I quit, but not before I told him exactly what I thought of him. It was so liberating. I then had to come home and tell Guy that I was officially unemployable.

Fortunately, he was incredibly supportive. His job as an offshore survey manager is quite well paid and by this point he'd paid off his legal bills from his divorce, so our circumstances meant I could take a bit of time out to decide what to do next. Because of my ongoing interest in all things spiritual, I decided I'd quite like to launch the UAE's first Mind, Body and Spirit Festival, which I started to work on almost immediately. I began researching over the internet and got connected with several drum circles.

I found a sponsor company, arranged to bring some drummers out from Canada and was busy organising exhibitors and marketing. But four months before the show, the sponsor pulled the plug, saying the UAE wasn't ready for such an event. When I got the news about the show being cancelled, it was the drums I was most upset about. I realised the drums were somehow more important to me. The day after the cancellation, my daughter told me she'd won a place at the semi-finals in an art and drama competition in South Africa, so I decided to go with her. While she was busy in Cape Town, I took intensive hand-drumming courses. I spent six months preparing and learning about drums, but neither I nor my husband ever imagined Dubai Drums would be what it is today.

Founded in 2002, we are now quite well-known in the UAE. We played at Womad recently and have also performed at the Dubai Jazz Festival. The corporate side of the company deals with team building; I've drummed with hundreds of companies in the eight years that the company has been running. Starting Dubai Drums has helped me to fulfil a promise I made to myself 10 years ago, when, aged 43, I didn't have a dirham to my name. That promise was to become financially independent and to be able to provide a stable life for my daughter, who is now 17 and about to go to university.

I learned a valuable lesson from my personal experiences. I believe that if you have self-worth, you can manifest financial independence, although, of course, money is no guarantee of happiness. When it comes to manifesting abundance in your life, I think that you have to first believe in yourself. * As told to Jola Chudy