AS any fans of The Real Housewives of Cheshire will know, Nicole Sealey is a straight-talking businesswoman who doesn’t take any nonsense.
The mum-of-three, 46, set up her first company when she was just 19 years old – despite leaving school four years earlier with no qualifications.
At the age of 23, Nicole became a mum for the first time while juggling her railway construction business.
But a cancer diagnosis at 25 turned the businesswoman’s world upside down – and although Nicole thankfully recovered, divorcing her husband at 30 meant she had to start her business again from scratch.
Now the CEO of FOUR businesses – which boast a combined turnover of £10m – Nicole has taken on her next challenge: becoming a reality TV star.
Here Nicole speaks exclusively to Fabulous Digital for our #BOSSINGIT series about ordinary women who have launched incredible businesses.
Despite having a natural talent for business, Nicole never imagined herself one day becoming her own boss.
The star lived in East London until she was seven before moving with her father to Essex – and admitted she would sometimes skip school to go to the beach because she was “easily bored”.
After leaving school, Nicole worked as a beautician and bought her first house for £26,000 – but rented out the spare bedrooms for a few hundred pounds to set up her railway recruitment business with her partner at the time.
“In that sense, I had no real investors to begin with,” she said. “When I first started out I had savings of around £5,000.”
Explaining how she had to go above and beyond in the male-dominated industry, Nicole said: “I recruited everything that other people couldn’t! In the early years, people assumed it was my ex doing everything.
“I do everything from recruiting basic labour right through to ordering things like platform extensions and overhead isolations.”
And not only does Nicole fill the railway jobs herself – but she also has experience of working out on the tracks doing maintenance too.
When her daughter Luka (now 23) was six months old, Nicole would leave her with the neighbours to work on site.
She explained: “I’d drop her off around 10pm, work on site and then pick her up at 7am.
“She never knew I wasn’t there. And then I would recruit in the day. For the first few years of her life, Luka would just follow me around with a pen and a phone.”
Four years later, Nicole secured a huge contract with a mains supplier – but as her business was going from strength-to-strength, an unexpected cancer diagnosis changed everything.
In 2001, Nicole – who had three young children at the time – was diagnosed with Choriocarcinoma – an extremely rare condition where cells that were part of the placenta become cancerous.
She explained: “I got cancer when I was 25 and went from having the diagnosis in the morning to treatment in the evening.
“I was an inpatient at the hospital which was very difficult – especially when my youngest Remi (now 18) was under two.”
After one year of treatment (six months of which were spent in hospital), Nicole got the all clear and was ready to throw herself back into work.
But when she was 30, Nicole separated from her partner, “walked away with nothing” and set up the business again from scratch.
“It wasn’t easy at the start – but I had all my contacts and I was young enough to start again,” she said. “But luckily, I got funding through my contacts.
“When I started over with the second business, I worked day and night to raise capital and was able to get a million pound investment and then it grew from there with dedication and so much more hard-work. “
When she walked away from the company, Nicole’s recruitment business had just three contracts – 15 years later, it has a whopping 47.
She added: “Now it’s more successful than it ever was.”
In 2006, Nicole met former West Ham footballer Joe Sealey on a night out with friends – and the pair moved in together after a whirlwind two week romance.
“He asked me to marry him every Sunday until I said yes,” she joked. “We’d been together five months when I finally agreed.”
Now Nicole is the CEO of four companies – NTS Premier Services, NTS Healthcare, NEON personal training and NTS property services – which boast an impressive £10m turnover.
And her husband has an eye for business too – and after selling his multimillion pound sports agency, the pair founded NEON Personal Training in 2017.
I can shop in Prada or Primark, it doesn’t make a difference to me!
She explained: “Joe had sold his sports agency and we’ve had a little bit of time off as my youngest (18-year-old Remi) had signed at Manchester United’s youth team so we were splitting our time between Cheshire and there.
“I’d rented this building for offices and we thought it would make an amazing gym – so we thought we’d convert it and hire couple personal trainers we knew. It just started from there.”
Describing what it’s like to work with her husband, Nicole said: “I’m quite good at all the behind-the-scenes stuff and we had our set roles. I’m more hands-on and he’s the pretty face.
“But we bickered more with this business than we had ever before just because Joe likes to be everybody’s friend from his sports agency days.
“Lockdown hasn’t been that different for us – we both work for ourselves so we’re used to being around each other.”
Naturally, the coronavirus crisis has had an impact on the businesses – especially as gyms weren’t able to re-open until this month.
She said: “Luckily, I’m the only director so I don’t have to take a huge amount from my businesses – some of my competitors have five directors that live on that money.
“So I’ll take virtually nothing out and that enables me to keep my staff. I can shop in Prada or Primark, it doesn’t make a difference to me!”
In April, Nicole joined the cast of The Real Housewives of Cheshire – but it took a lot of convincing to get her to agree.
She explained: “I was really apprehensive about doing the show and I’ve been asked since series four.
“I didn’t have any interest in being on telly, I hate having my picture taken and I was concerned about how I’d be perceived in my industry.
“But ultimately, by being in business for 26 years I’ve proved that I can do what I want to do.
“If people want to judge me because I’m on a TV show, they can do that.”
For more inspiring Bossing It stories, we spoke to Cherish Reardon who founded Popsy Clothing when her anxiety made it impossible for her to apply for jobs – now it’s set to make £1m and Ladbaby Mum’s a fan.
And Victoria Eagle was battling post-natal depression when she set up her stationery business on eBay and now it’s made £500k.
Plus Amanda Jenner created the world’s first leak-proof potty company – despite only leaving school with two GCSEs.