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Do YOU want to know the secret of my £115m success? Taking 24 hours maternity leave!

  • . Two hours before Sarah Bennett gave birth, she was answering emails
  • . Back on her laptop the next day, she'd had less than 24 hours’ maternity leave
  • . She says of the experience: 'I completely understand that it’s not normal'



Two hours before Sarah Bennett gave birth to her fifth child — yes, fifth — she was answering emails ‘balanced on a birthing ball’.
Back on her laptop in her hospital bed the next morning, in effect she had less than 24 hours’ maternity leave.
‘I’m not saying that’s normal,’ she adds. ‘It’s not. I completely understand that it’s not normal.’

Dedicated: Entrepreneur and mum of five, jewellery designer Sarah Bennett
Dedicated: Entrepreneur and mum of five, jewellery designer Sarah Bennett

If proof of off-the-scale workaholism were needed, her husband Steve took pictures of her doing it.
Now 22 months old, little Louis joins a clan well-used to the limelight. Years before Sarah became an entrepreneur and launched the ethical jewellery and gemstone business Gemporia with Steve, she was a budding pop star who went by the name of Angelle.
With blonde bunches, cropped top and golden midriff, she looked uncannily like Britney Spears. She even had her own TV channel as a promotional tool, broadcasting rolling Angelle news and videos.
Sadly, it was an idea before its time. ‘The channel was all about the life of a wannabe popstar from Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands, which lots of young girls would love to watch now. But back then it was a very new concept and it was all a bit raw.’

The year was 2002, and reality TV was barely a twinkle in Channel 5’s eye. Perhaps inevitably Angelle TV flopped, though not before Sarah, then 24, had recorded a double album, The Way I Am, and seen her single, Joy & Pain, ascend headily to number 43 in the UK charts.
‘It obviously wasn’t meant to be, but I have no regrets. My children watch the videos now and secretly think it’s quite cool.’
Self-belief, and a nose for popular fashion and culture, are what Sarah trades on still — nowadays, though, with rather more success.
Her Redditch-based business Gemporia ships 5,000 pieces of jewellery to customers every day, and has a £50 million annual turnover.

Self-belief, and a nose for popular fashion and culture, are what Sarah trades on still — nowadays, though, with rather more success
Self-belief, and a nose for popular fashion and culture, are what Sarah trades on still — nowadays, though, with rather more success

What’s more, this year she and Steve were new entries on an altogether more impressive kind of chart — appearing at No. 938 in the Sunday Times Rich List of the wealthiest 1,000 people in the UK, with a combined fortune of £115 million.
As the Daily Mail begins its search for the winner of 2017’s Aphrodite Award, an accolade sponsored by the paper and given in association with the NatWest Everywoman Awards to a woman who starts her own business while her children are under 12, there are few better examples of high-achieving mumpreneurship than that of Sarah Bennett.
Yet, she admits: ‘There’s no real secret to it beyond hard work and determination. The one lesson I’ve learned is never to be afraid of change. You have to keep evolving: it’s the only way to get through bad times, and there will be bad times.
‘We’ve lived through a couple of hikes in the price of gold, for example, which has literally doubled our cost price overnight and sent profit margins crashing through the floor.
‘I’ve always been quite impulsive, but when you face a challenge, you do have to stop and think your way out of it.’
Gemporia’s primary shopfront is a home-shopping TV channel. Called Gems TV, it has 28 presenters, including Sarah, now 40 and still a tiny, gym-honed size 8 — selling jewellery round the clock QVC-style with constant cheerful patter.
Prices range from £8 for a pair of silver earrings to £24,000 for a Paraiba Tourmaline necklace (a rare bright green stone from Brazil, set in diamonds and 18ct-gold). But the bulk of its sales are in the tens rather than hundreds of pounds.
What’s unique is the sheer quantity of gemstones on offer — the website has 30,000 pieces on sale at any one time, 19,500 of which are rings, made with stones dug out of mines all over the world, from Siberia to South Africa, Australia to Zambia.
Cut in Jaipur by Indian women trained and employed by the business, the stones are turned into dozens of collections a year overseen by Sarah, who’s head designer.
Meanwhile, with children aged 15, 13, 11, nine and almost two, there are two school runs to do twice a day, and one toddler to take to and from nursery.
Five kids don’t slot neatly together like a jigsaw puzzle, she says. The more there are, the harder it is.
Her Redditch-based business Gemporia ships 5,000 pieces of jewellery to customers every day, and has a £50 million annual turnover
Her Redditch-based business Gemporia ships 5,000 pieces of jewellery to customers every day, and has a £50 million annual turnover

‘I’m always back at work as soon as they’ve gone to bed, and of course, I’ve felt guilty about not playing board games with them or having tons of spare time with them. I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t.
‘But at the same time, having a family business has allowed me to prioritise them when I’ve needed to.’
School holidays are ringfenced, and almost always spent away — though I suspect the smartphone comes too.
She has a nanny four days a week, and clearly Sarah doesn’t spend her weekends ploughing through the family ironing.
‘I’ve always been honest about the fact that if I didn’t have help, I’d never have been able to work like I do, let alone have such a big family,’ she says.
Still, the mental load can’t be shouldered by anyone else, she maintains — and with five, it absorbs an exponential amount of brain power. ‘This is what makes it particularly pressurised for women in business,’ she says. ‘Men just don’t devote the same amount of head space to dirty football socks or outgrown school uniform or buying the right birthday present for the right person. Women still do all that.’
But Steve, 51, is the one who travels the world looking for gemstones — an occasionally hairy pursuit; he was once held at gunpoint in Ethiopia.
Admirably, they also educate the children of their Indian gem-cutters; indeed the business’s charitable wing, The Colourful Life Foundation, maintains 15 schools in Africa and India and educates 1,500 children in all.
Her life sounds charmed, but Sarah insists it’s not.
‘I’d hate anyone to think I have a perfect life. There can be such a lot of pressure on women to be brilliant at everything — motherhood, work, being a partner — and look polished all the time, too.
‘But you can’t succeed in all these areas all the time; there will be times when you’re not the perfect businesswoman or mother. And, frankly, we should give ourselves a break.’

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