From Owning A Palace To Waiting Tables – How Do You Start Again When The Dream Falls Apart?
LIVING THE DREAM - isn’t that what it’s all about? Isn’t that what we’re striving for? But what happens when you’re living the dream but it turns into a nightmare? How do you come back from that to make new dreams? Is it even possible?
Well the good news is you can, I am living proof that we can come back from very hard times, deep depression, financial ruin, a broken marriage and a life in the sun and most importantly you can come back better than before. What if your hard times were actually the making of you? I think dreams have a shelf life and you can always build new dreams when the old one’s don’t work out, regardless of age, circumstances or drawbacks.
No one tells you that but that’s the message I’m here to deliver.
So how did my living the dream overseas start? Well it was the summer of 2006 and I was on a mission to find the next property hotspot in Europe. I was an avid watcher of a program called Next Property Hotspot, it would name the next big place to invest abroad to buy property and then people would flock there to buy. It was a time of booming second home overseas property purchases, people were buying in places like Bulgaria, Romania, France, Spain, Florida and Portugal.
My ‘Only Fools And Horses’ idea were to find ‘the next property hotspot’ before anyone else (as obviously once the place was on the list it was already done) as had been demonstrated by a trip to France and Spain previously. Become a property developer (with no experience) and sell to these types of people and MAKE MONEY. I was always a free spirit and a failed attempt at trying to ‘do property’ in the UK made me more determined that this would work, adventure and property combined would make us successful, live a great life abroad and make millions at the same time. LIVING THE DREAM. To be honest that did happen apart from the ending.
I decided whilst checking out Croatia to pop over the border into Montenegro and take a look. When we crossed the border it immediately felt to me like this was the place, it had been closed to outside world for a long time due to the war and was just coming out of 10-year sanctions by the UN. It was like time had stood still here and though a former holiday destination the war had destroyed tourism and closed it off to the world for a long time. This was it; I could feel it, it was beyond beautiful and all along the coast were the most beautiful ripe properties that I knew would sell when people heard about this place.
As we walked along the water side of Kotorski Bay looking at these beautiful Venetian sea captain palaces I did stop to stare at this striking palace right on the water’s edge. It looked derelict, it was very tall with Romeo and Juliet balconies, it was beautiful. I closed my eyes and, in that moment, imagined what it would feel like to own something like that, how would that be possible? That was my thought and little did I know that thought would manifest into reality quicker than I could ever have imagined.
In less than 6 months we had moved to Montenegro with a little money we set about finding a renovation project that being a small fishing cottage by the water. Quickly this place was gathering momentum with many overseas buyers arriving to buy up properties. One day sitting in an estate agent’s office (as we knew everyone by now), I saw a picture of Palace Milosevic, that palace I had seen the previous summer, I asked ‘is this for sale’, ‘no’ said the agent it’s under offer, in that moment I knew I needed to buy it. It was 360,000 Euros !! Of course I did not have that money but that did not seem to matter, I just had a feeling I should go for it.
Fast forward 4 weeks and we were heading off to the courthouse with two carrier bags of money, yes 360,000 Euros in cash that we have taken in 10 Euro notes from the bank (they didn’t have any bigger notes). Somehow we had managed to persuade the sellers daughter to sell to us, somehow we had raised the private finance from the UK and somehow we had done the impossible in a short space of time as so many people were interested in this property. Arriving outside the courthouse we were greeted by the entire Milosevic family; the owners were two sisters in their 80s. Upon sale all family members were able to receive their share from of the sale.
An hour later we are at a small café and the money is being counted out into different piles, it was a historic moment I could feel that. We left the café jumped in our old jeep and drove off down to THE PALACE. As I stood outside the huge entrance walls, I remembered back to when I first saw it, never in my dreams did I imagine less than 9 months after that thought it would have my name on the title deeds. I had made a dream come through and it was a feeling I will never forget.
Of course, nothing prepared me for what came after that (another story some time) and in 2011 I sold the Palace to a Russian Oligarch part developed with the proviso that he would keep it as one residence. Today it stands tall as a beautifully fully restored palace and a single residence, I am glad I kept my word on that to the owners.
Looking back, I was a young woman in a corrupt foreign country trying to ‘do property’, the odds were stacked. Even being on site in a very male dominated world I was like a fish out of water. I persevered and even went onto win two International Property Awards for my efforts in 2015, awards I never got to accept at the gala night in London’s Park Lane because I could not afford the tickets to attend.
My moral values of integrity, honesty, and unwillingness to pay bribes meant it was unsustainable and the final straw was my last project that should have taken 1 year but took 4 years in all to complete and sell. It broke me, I even got beaten up on site by the mafia, threatened and worn to a thread whilst still juggling children, enormous financial pressure on-site and an imploding marriage off-site. Living in the Sun in an expat community was such a good lifestyle but trying to work and make money was a complete nightmare.
With such a broken heart in many ways in 2015 there was no choice left but to come back to the UK. The children had to be taken out of the tiny private International School, I gave away most of my belongings, packed up the jeep with mainly the kid’s belongings and flew back to the UK with one suitcase whilst my Husband drove the car back across Europe.
Arriving back in the UK to be honest I thought would be manageable, my Husband had secured a job working for an investor friend but unfortunately overnight (the day I arrived back in the UK actually) the job fell through. Ironically, the Investor had started an affair with one of our friends and decided rather than invest £500,000 into the UK property market he would pay off his wife and divorce her. Even more painful was the fact that they both moved into my dream home that I had rented out there, it felt at the time another huge blow.
So here we were back in England neither of us with any jobs or cash and a large project overseas finished but unable to sell due to the paperwork issues again. The kids were young, 4 and 6 and the marriage was in freefall.
I really did not think things could get any worse but less than a week after arriving back in the UK I was standing back in Ireland in the graveyard burying my Mother who had tragically died. I wondered if she was looking down on me and was the only member of my family who knew the truth of how awful my life was and how broken I was, both emotionally and financially.
I was plunged into a dark time on return to the UK, I felt bitter, depressed, and suicidal at times. I just could not shake off the feeling of failure and inability to accept that this was now my life. This was not a life I wanted, I kept replaying in my mind. We lived in a tiny, rented apartment above a burger bar in a small affluent town in West Sussex, the children got teased at school for living in a flat and were called poor in the playground. I resented every day back in wet and cold England and longed for my old life.
I will never forget my first night as a waitress stood in my white shirt and black skirt being shouted at by the Maitre d’ because I had broken the cork in a very expensive bottle of wine. I could not in that moment believe how far I had fallen or how I was going to get through the rest of my first shift at this fine dining restaurant much less the rest of my life. The night did however change my life forever, my second customers were a couple with their terminally ill daughter who was about 20 years old, who had asked to have a meal at her favourite restaurant, they beamed at the table together cherishing those moments.
I went home that night and cried hard, I found gratitude that my children where healthy, that I was healthy enough to work and was able to start again, something that young girl would never see. I broke through the self-pity that night and found gratitude, it was a huge breakthrough. I clawed myself back into building a new life, it wasn’t easy but I was grateful for every experience unlike before and gradually the positivity came back.
An so fast forward it’s 2021 and I have been working back full-time in property here in the UK for three years. It was a hard building myself from the inside again to how I feel today, living by the sea and living new dreams with a positive mindset of which I am very grateful for. I now have a property portfolio; I have an interior brand design business and I mentor people on property and how to achieve financial freedom through property and financial investments. I encourage people to live their dreams if they have not already and I support those who need to build new dreams when the old one’s haven’t worked out. So that’s it, one of my great life lessons, thank you for reading and I do hope sharing this might help someone else feeling a little lost at the moment.
I did actually get lost at sea once for 23 days but that's another story.