Interview: Hilary Devey part II
Mimi ON May 23, 2012 AT 10:43 am
She understands what it’s like to have nothing. In her book she talks about her beloved father. He had a central heating business as well as pubs. When she was about seven the central heating business went bankrupt and the bailiffs took away all the furniture. It was at that moment that she decided that would never happen to her.
The family moved around the north of England so much ‘to chase’ money she went to 13 schools. She never made friends because she knew she’d leave again ‘I didn’t have friends because I didn’t come from a home environment where I could take them back to. I went back to the pub and opened a tin of soup. I was very busy as a kid. I can honestly say I’ve never been bored in my life.’ From a very young age she helped her parents out or she worked on a stall. ‘I did occasionally, very occasionally in my childhood, feel lonely. I never dwelt on it. I had an ability to get stuck in and I did.’
When she was able to make friends it was often a bad experiences. When she was around eight a friend’s father tried to interfere with her. And years later she fell in with an older girl who lured her into a situation in which she was raped. This was extremely difficult for her to write about and before writing this book she’d never even told anyone about it. ‘Don’t forget I didn’t actually play. I didn’t go out, so I was particularly naïve. I met those girls as I sat on the steps of the pub that my parents were running and I escaped for ten minutes. I was thrilled to be talked to. They were older than me and very much older in the head. I was a tomboy and didn’t care what I looked like. I used to be forced to brush my hair. I was a late developer.’
Does she think that she was susceptible because she looked innocent and that was why they procured her? ‘Yes. And the worst thing was I couldn’t talk about it. I didn’t speak about it ever in my life. The book is the first time and the hardest thing I’ve done in my life. Harder than setting up Pall-Ex. Harder than seeing my son go through heroin addiction. It was a very emotional time and it drained me physically to think about it. I would never have dreamt about writing a book. I did so because somebody asked me.’
And she is the person who always says yes? ‘I suppose so.’
Was it like therapy? ‘No. It affected me very badly, dredging up things that I’d locked away. On reflection I didn’t have a normal upbringing. Working from such a young age and kept off school to run a business. It did make me have a sense of responsibility and that stayed through every day of my life. I don’t chase money, I learnt that. I didn’t have a normal upbringing did I and for some reason I thought I had. I’m not a normal person, am I.’ I tell her she just had some not normal things going on and normal is of course relative. ‘I think the reason I got with Hussein was that my father was such a dominant figure in my life, and so was Hussein, a dominant male. A lot of women do that, gravitate towards their fathers.
‘At the time I was on the corporate ladder in middle management. I was a career girl but it was because he was so strong that I gravitated towards him.’
Her father cast a long shadow. ‘I remember the day he came to take me out and said, “I’m dying.” I was devastated but he just got on with it. My father is like me. Take a painkiller and go. What will be will be. I am very much like him. I am my father’s daughter.’ Her mother was a traditional wife and mother. ‘She came from an era where a man said here’s your housekeeping. When my dad died she didn’t even know what a cheque book was.’
Devey thinks the kind of man that wants to look after you would never be attracted to her and never has been. ‘And the other problem is I wear my heart on my sleeve. People can see from the exterior what’s going on in the interior. Men would take advantage of it. And let’s face it, I’ve got money. I’m an easy lifestyle, aren’t I? Not that I will let that happen again.” She’s visibly agitated about men who have done that. She married her first husband Malcolm Sharples when she was much too young – 18 – and he was not strong enough for her. Her father had always known this and begged her not to marry him.
Then she fell in love with Hussein and after that when she was lonely married Ed Devey. ‘Hussein at least didn’t want me for money. Undoubtedly he loved me. Perhaps he loved me too much. Subsequently men have loved the money too much.’
Last year she married former pub boss Philip Childs. They met when he was helping to renovate her property in Spain. She says this too ‘has gone down the pan.’ In her book she explains that she didn’t realise ‘you both come with a lot of baggage when you get married in middle age… It’s sometimes hard to work through all of that.’ Today she says, ‘We are taking one day at a time.’
Downstairs her two teacup yorkies that she calls ‘the babies’ are sleeping, tired out from an earlier barking session. Her son had a dog which ended up eating most of the flat she had rented him. ‘In fact not just the flat, the entire building. But it was the four ducks that he had in Spain when he was 17 that did the worst damage. He got them as ducklings but they grew into these huge great things. He won them and he kept them in a paddling pool inside the villa. Then I got called by a lady who went in to maintain the villa telling me I needed to fumigate. The ducks had crapped all over a new leather lavender sofa and half eaten everywhere. ‘The ducks were a protected species and I had to leave them in the paddling pool until I got permission to take them to a lake.’ She doesn’t blame her son. She says simply, ‘Horses, dogs, I’ve had every misfit in the world. I’ve ended up with this horse who is now 27 and he will not come out of his stable until he has had a bacon and ham sandwich. He also likes a cup of tea.’
She also has other horses because she used to love to ride. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to again.
She smokes a cigarette, her only addiction. She says she has never been addicted to alcohol or food and certainly not drugs. Her son started displaying addictive behaviour as a child when he couldn’t stop eating. She would send him off to fat camp. He would come back normal and then balloon up. He was dyslexic and she thought he would get better attention at a boarding school especially for dyslexics. It was at this school that he played her for money and started using drugs.
‘It was a journey into the abyss. The only time in my life I’d been prescribed anti-depressants. My nature is if there’s a problem, I’ll solve it. I couldn’t solve this. Every time he went into rehab I thought we could move on, but it didn’t work like that. He had to be ready.
‘The amount of times I’ve manhandled him. He’s 6’ 3” and four times the weight of me. I’ve dragged him back, kicked him in the car, put the locks down and forced him into rehab. Fighting to save his life was the hardest thing.’ She feels guilty that he got into drugs in the first place. She was a single mother running her business but feels guilty for her success. ‘I do. I think any mother would. I kept thinking if only I had not started Pall-Ex. ‘When he was 14 or 15 he would say he was doing archery at school, swimming, or he needed money for hockey. “We’re gong to Snowdonia tonight,” whatever. So I gave him money and he was buying drugs with it. But if I had not been as busy building a business would I not have been more questioning of that?’ She shakes her head.
‘I wanted my child to have the things I never had.’ A small compensation is that this school has now been closed down because of its widespread number of drug users.
‘I could see him getting in with the wrong crowd but I couldn’t stop it. Yes, he should have gone to a school that specialised in dyslexia. He’s mastered it to a degree. He can now read but he was led down the path of drugs because of his dyslexia and his weight problem, he was lonely. I make sensible food. I’ve never craved food in my life. When he came off heroin he craved food. There have been times in my life where I’ve had to put padlocks on the fridge.’
Does she think she will ever get married again? ‘No, and you can print that emphatically. Never, ever, ever.’ She doesn’t think she could ever fall in love again.
A few days after our chat she went to Marrakesh where she has rescued a couple of dogs and has a lovely home. She also has a place in Florida which she is renovating. She still has Spain ‘but it doesn’t hold good memories for me.’
She loves doing up houses. She loves her maximalist style. When I tell her I have a lampshade made out of a corset her eyes ignite. That would work for her. ‘I love textiles and I have a passion for fashion. I’d love to bring back some of the textile industry to Britain if it was commercially viable.’
She is very open about her passions and her pain. You can look at her and see inside her. Yes, she’s had botox once, it didn’t make any difference. No, she wouldn’t consider cosmetic surgery because she’s worried general anaesthetic would bring on another stroke. Yes, she has microdermabrasions. Yes, she has hair extensions.
‘Do you know what. I had eyelash extensions for a while and every time one came off I would go back, can you fix it? By the end of it I had to take them all out because my eyelashes had all gone. I had bald patches on my eyelashes.’
She looks super glamorous and feminine yet ‘I’m excellent at reading maps. Hence the reason I set up my business and it did very well.’ She’s very good at being in a man’s world. Men she works with admire her. I don’t like to think of her without hope of a happy life with a man. ‘No, I don’t like cynicism either,’ she says. She tells me about a man who tapped at the window of her Rolls Royce the other day. ‘He wanted £80 to get back to Scotland and his wallet and mobile phone had been stolen.’ I told her she was being played. She said she gave it to him happily on the grounds it would change his life but not hers.
‘Hopefully when this article is printed the man will get in contact and say I was the man she gave the £80 to and I was genuine.’ She’s right. Cynicism is not an attractive trait and she has none whatsoever.