Hers was a tale of two very different lives. One was the poised and polished businesswoman who made the sleazy sex toys and kinky lingerie industry respectable, earning herself a fortune – and once drawing a knowing look from the late Queen – in the process.
The other was a young girl sexually abused as a teenager by a stepfather whose brutality was ignored by her mother, something she kept secret for 25 years.
Both lives belonged to Jacqueline Gold, the retail genius behind the Ann Summers chain, whose death at the age of 62 after a long battle with breast cancer was announced yesterday.
In a statement, her family said her passing had left them ‘utterly heartbroken’. Her death comes just weeks after that of her beloved football club boss father David Gold, the joint chairman of Premier League West Ham, and the man whose trust in his daughter was to transform both their lives.
Sex was the family business.
Jacqueline Gold, the retail genius behind the Ann Summers chain, died age 62 yesterday
Hers was a tale of two very different lives. One was the businesswoman who made the sleazy sex toys and kinky lingerie industry respectable, the other was a young girl sexually abused as a teenager by her stepfather
Her father made his money largely out of top shelf magazines. His pornographic publishing empire included such titles as Hardcore Housewives, Rustler, Butt Babes and Derriere.
It was said that when Jacqueline was born he cried because she wasn’t a boy who could inherit the business.
In the event Jacqueline revolutionised it by taking Britain’s raunchiest company mainstream. In 1979, just out of school, she did work experience at an Ann Summers store – her father had bought its four outlets after they had gone bust a few years earlier. In those days they were the seedy destinations for men in dirty raincoats, a world away from the glitzy High Street emporiums they were to become.
She was getting paid less than the tea lady on £45 a week when she had a flash of inspiration after spending an evening at a Tupperware-style party.
‘Some of the girls there knew I was working at Ann Summers,’ she recalled. ‘They said to me, “We want to buy sexy underwear and sex toys to spice up our marriages, but we don’t want to have to go into a sex shop”.’
It was a eureka moment. ‘I saw an opportunity to empower women, the exact opposite to what had happened to me as a child,’ she said. By 21 and with a plan in mind, she made her pitch to her father’s board of directors, a group of men running a business completely targeted at men. It was not easy. One of the directors hurled his glasses on the table and told her: ‘This is never going to work. Women just aren’t interested in sex.’
Ms Gold later recalled: ‘I thought, “That says more about your sex life than the real world”.’
The board, however, agreed and the rest is history.
From a handful of organisers – housewives earning money on commission – she reached 500 within a matter of months, and soon there were thousands.
It was quite simply the most successful party plan operation in the country, transporting sex out of sex shops and into living rooms from which men were banished.
The savvy plan allowed Ann Summers to get around laws that prevented sex toys being put on public display. She was determined to take it away ‘from the raincoat brigade and turn it into a female institution’.
She became chief executive of the company in 1987. In 2000, Ann Summers acquired the Knickerbox brand, which now has a concession in every store.
Along the way this purveyor of sex toys, bondage gear, racy underwear and vibrators was made a CBE in 2016 and introduced to the Queen at a Buckingham Palace reception.
Jacqueline helped transform the brand and build up 80 stores across the UK
Jacqueline’s death comes just weeks after that of her beloved football club boss father David Gold, the joint chairman of Premier League West Ham, and the man whose trust in his daughter was to transform both their lives
Indeed the detail of that royal encounter in 2007 is worth repeating. ‘Everyone was very nice,’ she said of the reception. ‘We talked about how I employ 10,000 people and that I’m based in Surrey. The Queen said, “Where are you from?’’ She looked at my badge and said “Oh Ann Summers’’.
‘The twinkle in her eye meant it was obvious she knew who I was.’
It may of course have been a coincidence that one of Ms Gold’s most high-profile customers had been Zara Phillips, the Queen’s granddaughter, who had thrown a highly-publicised Ann Summers party at her mother Princess Anne’s Gatcombe Park estate, where 25 giggling girlfriends were served smoked salmon and champagne by a waiter dressed only in a PVC G-string.
All the same it is tempting to wonder if the Queen knew that the woman with whom she was taking tea that day ran a business built on the back of a family-owned porn empire which was advertising ‘barely legal young sweet p****’ in one of its stable of magazines.
Or that Ms Gold had once used the Queen’s image in her Ann Summers sex shops to sell a Wild Guide to Sex, with Her Majesty apparently endorsing it with the memorable words: ‘Phwoar, one must get one.’
If her shops – at one stage there were almost 150 of them springing up cosily on the High Street – with their vibrating nipple clamps and chocolate body paint became a byword for changing attitudes towards sex in Britain, one product represented that change more than anything – the Rampant Rabbit vibrator.
Thanks to a mention in Sex And The City the rabbit became a huge seller, racking up reported sales of more than two million a year for the company.
Ms Gold claimed her naughty knickers and sex novelties have contributed more than £1.5billion to the British economy, a boast that impressed former Tory prime minister David Cameron – who made her one of his celebrity supporters.
She also served on the Government’s Women’s Business Council.
The irony that she owed her riches and her career to a business built on the proceeds of one which degrades women rather than empowers them, rarely featured in her books or interviews about her life.
Jacqueline’s sister Vanessa (left) with her father and sibling
Jacqueline Gold, then 49, and husband Dan Cunningham, then 33, with the couple’s then one-year-old daughter Scarlett on their wedding day at Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace in 2010
It wasn’t all plain sailing. When she opened a store in Dublin she received a bullet in the post, she was arrested at a trade exhibition for allegedly running a sex shop without a licence and for a long time Jobcentres refused to take her advertisements for staff.
The petite and softly spoken entrepreneur, a mother of one, concealed an ambition founded on tenacity and drive.
All the more remarkable considering the tragedy of her childhood.
She was 12 when her parents divorced and in her searing memoir, Please Let It Stop, related how her father had come home one to day to find her mother having sex with the cleaner’s son in the swimming pool.
As a young girl she was terrified of her stepfather’s night-time visits and remembers being desperate to protect her younger sister, Vanessa.
‘It started when I was 12,’ she said. ‘It was incredibly frightening.’ Her aunt knew about the abuse and raised it with her mother but nothing was done.
‘When I was 15 I went to my doctor and told her what had happened. I said I was worried about my sister.
‘The doctor said to me ‘Do you want to send the social workers around?’ Of course I said, ‘No, no’, and that was the end of the conversation.’
She is convinced that her mother knew about the abuse but turned a blind eye. ‘She was a paradox – one minute she wouldn’t let me go out to play with other children, but the next minute I believe she knew what was going on. She was very insecure and this guy was very controlling.’
Recalling visiting her mother years later she said: ‘She’d be smiling, pleased to see me, and I put my arms around her and she’d stand there limp, arms by her side, as if she didn’t know how to return love.’
Ms Gold worked to escape. ‘I was designing crossword puzzles at the age of 13 for 50p,’ she said. ‘I got a job as a waitress. Earning money was a gateway to independence.’
It is a lesson that she never forgot. At 16 she was working for tableware company Royal Doulton before joining her father’s business. ‘I’ve had a lot of adversity in my life – more than most,’ she once said.
‘But I don’t dwell on it. You are either someone who spends your life blaming your bad luck or you pick yourself up. I am not a victim.’
She met her second husband Dan Cunningham, who was 17 years her junior, in 2002, determined to start a family.
But after two failed courses of IVF they separated only to reconcile and undergo a third successful round of fertility treatment in the US.
Ms Gold gave birth to twins Alfie and Scarlett in 2009 when she was 49.
But there was more heartache. Alfie was born with a severe brain disability and died at just eight months’ old.
The couple later wed in a lavish ceremony at Oxfordshire’s Blenheim Palace in 2010, with their one-year-old daughter Scarlett by their side.
Of all Ms Gold’s achievements, motherhood she considered her greatest.