Chapters In My Life: Nicola Horlick

Chapters In My Life: Nicola Horlick

Nicola Horlick spent 30 years in the City as a leading fund manager and was dubbed “Superwoman” by the media for balancing her high-flying finance career with bringing up six children. Currently, she is CEO of Money&Co, a crowdfunding business that connects investors with businesses seeking finance. Here she shares some of the key moments in her life, from running away from boarding school to the death of her daughter and, more recently, standing as a Lib Dem candidate in the last general election…

Chapter One: The Early Years

“I grew up in Cheshire and my brother and I had an idyllic and quite exciting, Enid Blyton-type childhood. We lived right on the beach at the mouth of the Dee estuary and when the tide was out, we could walk over to the three Hilbre Islands. It was such a beautiful place – white sandy beaches with the Welsh hills in the distance. My mother was an architect and my father ran the family business that my grandfather had started.
“Initially, I went to a little girls’ prep school but my father didn’t think it was good enough academically and, as the boys’ school where my little brother went started taking sisters, I was moved there when I was six and stayed until I was 12.
“I was then shipped off to board at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and it was a terrible shock – I had gone from being one of eight or nine girls at my previous school, where we were seen as special and put on a pedestal, to one of about a thousand and just another girl there. I tried to be brave and stuck it out for two years but eventually I ran away. No one would listen to me when I said I wasn’t happy so I thought ‘Right, I’m going to have to take matters into my own hands’. 
“One Saturday afternoon I made my way towards Banbury, but the bus broke down and I ended up being picked up by the police at Cheltenham station as I waited for a train home to Liverpool. I was frog-marched outside to a brown Rover – the passenger door opened and there was Miss Hampshire, the headmistress, who said ‘Dear, we are so pleased we have found you…’ and I was taken to her house overnight. My parents arrived the next day and I insisted that I didn’t want to stay and that is why I had run away. My mother was convinced no other school would take me and that the rest of my life would be ruined.
“Thankfully, she was wrong. Birkenhead High School agreed to take me and that’s where I took my O and A-Levels. I loved acting and was in all the school plays. I wanted to be an actress and had an audition at RADA when I was 17, but as I also had a place at Oxford to read law, the principal of RADA advised me to go to university, do as much acting as possible and then come back.”

Chapter Two: From Oxford To The City 

“I started at Balliol in the autumn of 1979 – it was the first year the college admitted women. In fact, Cressida Dick and I were two of the first 23 women out of an intake of nearly 500 men. 
And I did do lots of acting during my three years at Oxford but I also met my future husband Tim [Horlick] – he was at Exeter College opposite – and when we graduated he had a job in the City and he thought it would be a good idea if we both worked there. He wasn’t very keen on me being an actress. And so, at 22, I got my first City job at SG Warburg.”

How she managed to survive that four-year period I don’t know. But she did because she was a fighter and incredibly brave, the bravest person I’ve ever met.

Chapter Three: Georgie Gets Ill

“Tim and I got married when we were 23 and I was 25 when my first child, Georgie, was born. When she was two, I became convinced there was something wrong with her but every time I took her to the doctor, they told me I was being neurotic, or implied that anyway. It was while we were on holiday in Scotland that she got worse – she was really tired, had bruises on her body, bleeding gums and she was white.  She was diagnosed with leukaemia and hospitalised immediately, first at the Portland – I didn’t even know they had a paediatric section there and quickly began to worry we were seeing the wrong people. Of course, there was no internet in those days so I called the Leukaemia Research Fund and they put me in touch with Dr Judith Chessells at Great Ormond Street who took her on as a patient. Between the ages of three and eight, Georgie was well, and I had four more children: Alice, Serena, Antonia and Rupert.
“It was when Georgie was eight and we were skiing in Courchevel that she got very unwell again. This was followed by four years of hell – all sorts of dreadful things happened to her and how she managed to survive that four-year period I don’t know. But she did because she was a fighter and incredibly brave, the bravest person I’ve ever met. She was in and out of Great Ormond Street but she and I had to spend the last year of her life there.
“I was lucky to have a good support system at home and a very sympathetic boss who I had worked with for a long time, first at Morgan Grenfell then at Société Générale, who told me not to worry and, to be honest, I didn’t work very much that year. Georgie had to be schooled while she was in hospital and the teacher came in the mornings so I would walk to the office for a few hours, though when she had a bone marrow transplant I wasn’t allowed to leave the room for three months and she and I were stuck there. She died in November 1998.
“Obviously it was very hard for all of us during the last years of Georgie’s life and afterwards. Benjie was born after her death but even he has been affected; in a way, he feels left out that he didn’t know her or experience what his siblings did. Had I been a Victorian mother, I probably would have had nine children and three would have died; but in the 1990s, as now, child death is rare and very difficult to deal with.”

Chapter Four: The End Of My Marriage

“Statistics indicate 85% of marriages end when a child dies. My split with Tim was not my choice and I was somewhat surprised. This is one of the things about grief though – when we were dealing with Georgie’s illness over a long period of time, Tim and I went up and down together and how we felt was determined by what we were told by Great Ormond Street: if they said it was all marvellous we were elated, but if they said she might die we were sobbing. But we reacted together.
“However, after her death when we were grieving, one of us might wake up feeling better while the other might be in the depths of despair – it is like being cut apart, just floating, and you feel very lonely. And of course, we were trying to be cheerful for the other children, so life was very hard.
“Tim and I separated at the end of 2003 and divorced two years later.”


Chapter Five: My Second Marriage

In March 2005 a financial journalist, Martin Baker, came to interview me. Afterwards, my PR guy said to me, ‘I don’t know what you did to Martin but he’s obsessed with you’. I had assumed he was happily married as during the interview he kept talking about his children and when we discussed Georgie he got very emotional. But it transpired he had separated from his wife and I eventually invited him to an evening I was hosting at the National Theatre. A month later he asked me to marry him! I told him I didn’t know him very well and that I was still married to Tim, but once both our divorces came thought we did tie the knot in September 2006.”

Chapter Six: The Last Decade – Work And Politics

“I’m now CEO of Money&Co, a small company I started in 2013 – we are just nine people. It’s a peer-to-peer lending business, so it’s individuals lending to small and medium-sized firms. I also run a movie company, Derby Street Films, which provides finance to producers looking to develop scripts. It’s not my top priority but we have a slate of films and gradually things are moving. We sold a script to Netflix last year and I’ve got two that will be sold this year, one back to the writers who are quite high profile in Hollywood, and Sky has shown interest in the other. There’s a huge demand for scripts at the moment – I really should hire someone to sell them rather than trying to do it all myself.
“When Brexit happened, I was so distraught about it and the damage it was going to do to our country. I wanted to make a stand and I felt that rather than being one of those people watching TV and throwing cushions at the screen I should do something more positive. So, in the last election, I stood as the Lib Dem candidate for Chelsea & Fulham. I am actually a lifelong member of the party and come from a Liberal family – my father stood for Parliament three times in the 1970s and he would probably have got in in 1976 had it not been for the Jeremy Thorpe scandal blowing up. 
“As a child I’d had a lot of experience of campaigning with my father and suddenly there I was again getting up at 5.30 heading down to the Tube stations handing out leaflets in the freezing cold! 
“Will I stand again? Martin doesn’t want me to but I am still involved with the local party so we’ll see… maybe. I’m never going to win in Chelsea & Fulham because it’s such a Tory area but it was good that we pushed Labour into third place, even though there is a big Labour vote in the area. Who knows, 2024 might be different.”

The Next Chapter…

“I’ve just become the chairman of the charity, Anthony Nolan, which makes lifesaving connections between people with blood cancer and people willing to donate their stem cells. They found the donor for Georgie when she had her bone marrow transplant. Then it was quite a small charity but now it’s huge with an income of £55m a year and 320 employees. What’s interesting is that 80% of its income comes from its commercial activities and only 20 percent from fundraising. So it’s going to involve all my skills…”

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