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A Life Less Ordinary – Kate Percival

The CEO of Grace Belgravia, Kate Percival, on what it takes to run a London Club for women only.

Where do you go to think?
I wake up every night at 3.30am and my brain is awake, so I think and read for half an hour before I go back to sleep. Also, a great time for me to think is when I’m skiing. A fantastic blue run, when I can motor through trees and know I’m not going to break my neck.

What are the everyday pleasures that you can’t live without?
The first hour of every morning is for myself. Just getting ready, doing emails and preparing for what’s ahead that day. I could get ready in 20 minutes, but I choose not too, because this is the only time of the day I can guarantee no interruptions.

To whom do you look for advice most often?
My partner and business partner, Chris O’Donoghue. We’ve worked together for more than 20 years. Not on the day-to-day stuff; he’s very much an advisor. He’s wise, insightful and has been a great mentor to me. We were together romantically before professionally. He saw my potential; I had a good job but I was a wage slave and he said I should be working for myself. He invested in me, and I set up an advertising agency in 1994. The money was important, but I would never have done it without his belief.

I came out of the cut-throat world of advertising and decided to do something that supported and empowered women

What’s the best thing you’ve done for someone else?
I came out of the cut-throat world of advertising and, at 50, decided I wanted a career change to do something that supported and empowered women. My first thoughts were around preventative medicine and how women could be the best versions of themselves. That idea became Grace Belgravia, and hearing women tell me that it has changed their life and really made a difference to them, is really rewarding.

What’s the best thing anyone’s done for you?
My first boss in the Chairman’s Office of Lloyds of London, who told me that I should be going for her job! She was incredibly supportive and helped me develop my career, from being a secretary, to a job in advertising and then into marketing as a marketing manager. She genuinely believed in equal opportunity for women. She had made it to a senior position and wanted to encourage young women to do the same.

Where’s the best place you’ve ever been?
I love India. I’ve done lots of things there, but the architecture, the colours, the culture just stand out. My experience of all the people has been so warming.

What’s the best thing you can cook?
Vitello tonnato: it’s very thinly sliced veal boiled in a broth, with an incredible tuna mayonnaise with capers on the top, eaten cold. My Italian housekeeper, whose cooking comes from the heart of Umbria, taught me how to make it.

How do you make yourself happy?
Part of the fact that I’m a glass-half-full person comes from being very busy. It worries me slightly, because people can stay busy so they don’t have to think about not being busy, but it works for me. For me, busy means working hard, being with family and friends, reading a lot. I’m very replete when it comes to happiness.

Name the art and/or culture that most inspires you.
I love ballet and opera but I was recently really inspired by the work of Georgia O’Keeffe. She was an artist so ahead of her time, so modern and a real pioneer of female emancipation. A TV documentary about her I found inspiring, then came the Tate Modern exhibition [in 2016]. I bought so many postcards that every thank-you note I’ll ever write will be an O’Keefe.

Can you name something you’ve bought that you would never give away?
A life-size bronze sculpture of a horse’s head called Mighty Head, by Nic Fiddian Green. There is a much larger version of it at Marble Arch. Ours is in the hall; it should be outside really, but everyone strokes his head when they come into the house. No matter how small we may downsize to, he’s coming with us.

When was the last time you were pleasantly surprised?
One of our practitioners, Padma Coram, a life coach and psychotherapist who has advised rock stars and US presidents, was very sweet to me a few weeks ago. She could see that I was under a fair amount of stress, and just said to me, with great insight, that it was OK to feel like that. Everyone gets that way sometimes, and we can be hard on ourselves when we are, so her normalising it for me was a very kind and touching thing to do.

When was the last time you made or created something?
Grace Belgravia is my biggest creation and is on-going. My proudest moment is that I went back to university at 49 and did a Masters on luxury brands and services. My thesis was on the convergence of medicine and the global spa industry and out of that academic piece of work I was able to create a real business. The thesis was a business plan. Grace came two years after I graduated.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?
My children. I have two amazing daughters. Independent spirits, not tied to convention, who work really hard. They are lovely to me.

What do you consider humankind’s greatest achievement?
Not having destroyed itself yet. But there are worrying things happening.

Who best demonstrates, or has demonstrated, the courage of their convictions?
Coco Chanel did things that women in the 1920s were not doing. She didn’t care, and did so with such style. To this day she remains interesting and iconic. All my make-up is Chanel, not because I necessarily think it’s the best brand, but when I have it in my hand, I think about her.

What song could you sing most completely right now?
I’m so bad at singing, but if have to sing, then it has to be Jerusalem. Patriotic and powerful. I love it.

What’s the best journey you’ve ever been on?
Travelling through Mexico, for four weeks, about seven years ago. We went to the Canon del Sumidero, the Mexican equivalent of the Grand Canyon, and to Oaxaca, which was fascinating not least because we experienced an earthquake. Genuinely scary. The whole trip was so good I’d go back and do it again.

If you could do one thing to change the status quo, what would it be?
End the need for the Equality Commission. We’re still not really recognising that men and women are different. I’ve got flack for setting up a women-only club, not least from women telling me it’s a retrograde move. For me, it’s about choice. Men have men-only clubs for the reasons they have them, and there’s no reason why women shouldn’t have their own. Women can be collegiate, can be together and celebrate that. The criticism really made we wonder if I’d got it wrong. It’s not that men are better, or women are better. We are different and it’s okay to recognise that. Women need to have the confidence to not feel belittled – they of course deserve equal pay – and a world without the divisive situation we have now would be a better place.

You’ve one trip in a time machine: where and when would you go?
Paris between the Wars to see Coco Chanel, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, Picasso and the rest. Such a fascinating time for intellectuals and artists.

If money were no object, what would you buy?
It would have to be a private jet. Travel without delays and queues, and being able to get from A to B whenever I liked, would make my life so much easier.