Stella English, 32, won the sixth series of The Apprentice. She previously had a successful career in banking. As a child, she was fostered by her great aunt and is encouraging others to become foster carers.
I grew up on the Thamesmead estate in east London with my mother.She was a single parent with mental health problems and found it difficult to cope. When I was ten I was on the verge of being put into a children’s home. My great aunt, Stella, didn’t want that to happen so she took me on as her foster child.
At mum’s home, we didn’t have carpets, curtains or a washing machine.My mum washed my clothes in the bath and they’d usually be wet and have washing powder on them when I wore them. As a result, I was bullied because of my appearance. People knew my mum wasn’t well but they weren’t understanding of mental health problems back then.
I was ostracised because of my mum’s problems.It’s so lonely being bullied because of your parents. Most children love their parents, in spite of whatever problems they have, so they have this battle of wanting to defend them but also being picked on because of them.
When I moved into her house in Buckinghamshire, Stella was in her 70s.She had grown-up children who’d come round every Sunday for a big dinner. They were fairly academic and helped get me into a grammar school.
Stella gave me a normal home.My clothes were washed and ironed, I’d have breakfast at the table with her every morning, she made sure I went to school and she sat with me while I did my homework. She’d ask me about what was going on in my life. I could bring friends home for the first time.Like others from her generation, Stella had traditional ideas about how to bring up children. She was very strict. My mum let me go out at any time, whereas Stella didn’t let me go out after 6pm. With Stella, I knew she cared for me and that if I went missing someone would be looking for me. It felt as if I had a parent for the first time.
When I was very little, if I wanted sweets at midnight mum would give me change and I’d walk to the petrol station to buy them. People think children don’t know what’s going on around them but I was acutely aware – I knew about my mum’s condition and knew I was in danger wandering around in the middle of the night but I didn’t know what else to do. I did the shopping for mum from the age of six and read the bills to her because she couldn’t understand them.
At first it was difficult to be treated like a ten-year-old because I felt like a teenager.I wasn’t naughty, I was just used to doing whatever I liked. Stella must have wondered what she was going to do with me. However, she made me see how families should be. I didn’t have to be hungry or dirty. With mum, I’d spend hours sitting alone thinking: ‘What have I done to deserve my life being like this?’ With Stella I no longer had the pressure of trying to take care of both myself and my mum.
As I got older, I felt very guilty that I’d left my mumand that I was having a nice life while hers hadn’t improved. I decided to move back in with her when I was 15, which I think broke my aunt’s heart. It was a big mistake but I felt I’d been disloyal. I felt as if I was her parent. I’ve made amends with my mum now but I’ll always feel that responsibility towards her.
Stella passed away earlier this year at the age of 93.It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to deal with. When she took me on, no one wanted me. I was this scruffy kid with bad behaviour but she looked at me and saw I just needed help. She was proud of what I’ve achieved. She came to my wedding and saw my children – and without her none of that would have happened.
Stella did what she did because she was a good womanand believed in giving children a chance. Stella turned me into someone who can contribute to society – without her I’d probably be signing on right now. She instilled values in me and gave me tools to cope with life. It’s easy to judge troubled children but you shouldn’t ever write them off. If you give them time and love you can discover what they really have to offer.Stella is promoting Barnardo’s Foster Care Fortnight. www.barnardos.org.uk
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Posted By: Soul2Soul |
4/23/13 12:20 PM
Thank goodness she had such a loving aunt and didnt have to be put through the foster care system
Posted By: SooTribe |
4/23/13 12:49 PM
All the odds against her and she did better than most with a great start.Tough gal!
Posted By: PowerC |
4/24/13 11:44 AM
You deserved a happy ending!
Posted By: 2for1 |
4/25/13 2:55 PM
Im glad people like her make it in life and turn around to give back to her community