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Judy Naaké was lucky to even get to her liquidity moment, let alone have a second life afterwards. The woman who brought fake tan to the UK with the St Tropez brand underwent a double mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiotherapy over a period of two years when she was diagnosed with cancer in first one breast, then the other.
“By the time I found out about it, it was grade four. I said, ‘What is grade five?’ They said, ‘Judy, there isn’t one.’”
As Naaké was recovering, her relationship with her partner, Norman Oley, to whom she had given half the company stock, broke down.
“It was just a nightmare,” she recalls, noting that for the next few years, before St Tropez was sold to venture capitalists for £70m ($100m), she had to time her visits to the office to avoid her other half. “I used to go in the mornings and Norman went in the afternoons because we couldn’t cross. There is [the plot of] a novel there.”
Naaké, who still owns the Marylebone residence that once doubled as the St Tropez training centre, along with four other properties, refuses to express bitterness about the hard times.
“I was just glad to be alive,” she says. More than five years after her last treatment, the cancer has not returned.
“St Tropez was 11 years of really hard work. I didn’t have a minute to rest. I suppose being ill for two years, off and on, did help me out of it slightly.”
She now divides most of her time between her homes in London and Nottingham and a 17-room “palazzo” in Italy, which she bought as a wreck with Oley and restored to its former beauty.
“I try to get out [to Italy] one week in four,” she says. “I just love it.”
Her main interest is cancer charity Maggie’s, where she is the chairwoman of a campaign to raise £3m for a new care centre in Nottingham.
“Soon after I sold the business, I got a phone call from the Nottingham Evening Post, which was looking for someone to chair the Maggie’s campaign. I wanted to be involved in something and it was a local charity.”
She also acts as a mentor to her son Lloyd, who has his own business, Airbase, which supplies make-up that is sprayed on to the skin.
Naaké admits she has struggled to explain to her son the importance in business of looking after the pennies.
“The biggest row we have ever had was when he walked over a pile of brochures. I said they cost 8p each. He didn’t understand.”
Naaké has invested £100,000 in Teddy & Me, a young business selling clothes for premature babies, taking a 40 per cent share in the venture and becoming a director.
She has also taken a stake in a television production company, run by actor Hermione Norris and her scriptwriter husband Simon Wheeler.
“When they wanted to set up in business, I said, ‘Don’t take partners; keep control,’” Naaké says. Presumably they did not think much of this advice, as Naaké is now a partner herself.
One thing she claims she does not miss is running a company on her own. “I’d like to think I could do it again but without me doing all the work.”
What she does miss from her days at St Tropez are the people, particularly the famous ones. “I could open up OK! Magazine and say I have tanned the lot,” she says.