x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Dubai entrepreneur decides on motherhood despite tough childhood

A successful Dubai entrepreneur who endured a rough childhood is determined her own child will have a better start.

Above, Kelly Hodgkin, who is pregnant with her first child, with her dog Duke at her villa in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National; Courtesy Kelly Hodgkin
Above, Kelly Hodgkin, who is pregnant with her first child, with her dog Duke at her villa in Dubai. Sarah Dea / The National; Courtesy Kelly Hodgkin

Kelly Hodgkin prepares a breakfast of scrambled eggs for her husband, absent-mindedly stroking her rounded stomach as she talks of the joys of being pregnant with her first child. The scene being played out in the kitchen of her luxury Dubai villa is one of domestic bliss.

But for the British founder and chief executive of the Lush Group Middle East, a Dubai-based lifestyle and events company, this picture-perfect scene is far removed from her own start in life.

Hodgkin and her two sisters were born to a teenage mother in London, suffering neglect, abuse and finally abandonment at her hands.

In and out of foster care, the trio were eventually advertised for adoption in a local newspaper and later taken in by a childless couple from Essex in 1985 when Kelly was three.

"They were the best parents we could have ever wished for and gave us the best possible chance in life," says Hodgkin. "We are all pretty scarred in different ways and it could have gone the other way, so we were very lucky."

As an adult, Hodgkin has forged a successful career but it was only recently she felt able to have a child of her own.

Haunted by the belief she would make the same mistakes as her birth mother, she had decided that having a family was not for her. But after meeting her husband Darren, 35, the owner of Pinpoint Media, in 2010, she finally felt ready.

"It was the first time in my life I felt secure and comfortable enough to make a good parent. I've tackled so many obstacles in life and I'm much stronger than I think I am. Meeting him made me realise I am nothing like my birth mother and I think I will be a good mum," says Hodgkin, who is due in May and is sharing her story to raise awareness of adoption.

"I want to help people who are considering adopting. My parents' lives have been fulfilled greatly with us, even though I'm sure it's never been easy. They saved us."

Hodgkin's story begins in Newham in East London 31 years ago. The middle sibling of three - her older sister Charlena, a teacher, is now 32 and her younger sister, Natasha, a personal assistant, is now 29 - she has little recollection of her early life, something she puts down to psychologically blocking it out.

Instead she relies on a memory book compiled by the United Kingdom's social services to help piece together her past. She knows her mother was called Sandra and had Charlena when she was 16. Sandra was a drug user and while herbirthparents were not married, it is believed her father fathered all three sisters.

Hodgkin also knows they were often fostered because Sandra, unable to cope, regularly left the trio to fend for themselves.

"She was a troubled young woman and I think she cried for help a lot of times. Then, when we were taken, she decided to try again and we were sent back," says Hodgkin.

A couple of more serious incidents changed their fate forever: the youngest sibling, Natasha, was severely burnt after being left alone in front of a gas fire for several hours. To this day she is scarred from her toe to the middle of her torso.

On another occasion, Sandra called a taxi, telling the driver she was the children's babysitter and they needed to return to their parent's address. When there was no one at the address to receive them, he took the children to the police.

It was then social services decided the siblings should be adopted.

The agency received 200 applications, but it was Everette Mackinnon, an engineer originally from India, and Kitty, a teaching assistant, originally from Myanmar, who were awarded custody.

"My mum and my dad had been trying for children for 16 years but my mother had something wrong with her ovaries and couldn't have kids. She's had cancer three times since then," says Hodgkin.

When the children first arrived at their new home and were offered a drink, they asked for a gin and tonic, an illustration of the environment they had come from.

However, from that moment on, life was filled with camping and canal boat holidays with their parents and their extended family.

Their mother, a keen cook, had a three-course meal waiting for them every day after school and the children were guided through life with a strict moral code.

But with such a troubled start to life, it wasn't always plain-sailing.

"I was a very tearful, sensitive girl … and we have all had our own issues in relationships. We don't necessarily trust everyone, but I think that's quite normal, considering where we came from."

At 16, Hodgkin went through a rebellious stage, moving out of home to live with an aunt and taking on a job in an optician's office. "I was just a teenager who wanted to do my own thing," she explains.

Though she later moved back, she says from that moment on her focus was her career - a quality she believes she inherited from her adoptive father.

Working her way up, she ended up as a store manager before moving to Dubai in 2007, a move that led to her setting up her own lifestyle and events company in 2011.

But when it came to settling down and having children of her own, the entrepreneur felt certain that that life was not for her.

"I've never wanted children. I never thought I was maternal and worried I would turn out like my birth mother," she says. "I thought I'd have a baby and not want it."

Then she met her husband Darren and after a whirlwind romance, the couple married last year. It was Darren who persuaded her that family life was for her.

"He was the first person I was willing to have children with."

But Hodgkin is determined her own child will not have the same start in life that she did.

"I felt very safe and secure in the family and I would love my child to always feel they can talk to us about anything and to never feel lost or confused.

"I used to worry about everything and I'd never be in the moment enjoying it - I'd always be worrying about what's next. I think that came from my childhood because everything always got changed and taken away.

"My husband has now drummed it into me to enjoy the moment so I don't worry anymore."

One thing Hodgkin is yet to resolve is whether to trace her birth parents.

"I did think about tracing them and sometimes Googled them. But there's no reason to see her.

"She's not made any contact with us, but I know she had three more children, but she gave those up as well.

"Social services asked my parents if they wanted to adopt those children as well, but my mother had cancer at the time so there was no way she could have coped."

Looking ahead, Hodgkin feels her adoptive parents have given her all the tools in life she needs to succeed.

"My dad made an amazing speech at the wedding, saying how proud he was that I've achieved so much. I've always been really driven and really ambitious; I don't know if it's just wanting to show I can.

"So many people that are adopted are really troubled and they blame it on their childhood, but no matter how bad your upbringing you can always turn it around. I don't think people can blame their childhood on who they are as an adult.

"My parents gave me hope and I think every good trait in me is from them. My love for my husband and how I'm going to bring up my child is from both of them."


Alice Haine is a senior features writer for The National.