It’s a special bond – the relationship between a mother and son. For Nicolette “Nikki” Connors, her only child Nicholas might be halfway across the world following in her own entrepreneurial footsteps, but they’ll always be close.
Both adventurous spirits, they’ve been on safari together in Africa, walked the Inca Trail and built houses side-by-side in Nepal for Habitat for Humanity. Now, they’re in business together.
“We’ve been a team for a very, very long time, haven’t we babes?” Nikki smiles at the 28-year-old she calls Nico, who’s back home in New Zealand after working in Mexico as a dive instructor.
While it might sound blissful, standing in the loft of their Propeller Property Investments office in Parnell, Nikki, who is in her fifties, reveals it hasn’t always been easy – she’s recently revealed her ups and downs in her book, A Fabulous Failure.
“I joke that there’s something in the book for everyone, there are mental health issues, there’s divorce, there’s bankruptcy and homelessness,” she tells.
“It’s been a messy life, but whose life isn’t messy? There are things I could have done differently, things that could have affected Nico in a better way, but would it have brought us to where we are today?”
Nico hasn’t read the book yet – he says he’s waiting for the dust to settle. But he knows the story well.
“You only see the big picture when you take a step back,” he muses. “Mum’s really worked and struggled to get to where she is.”
Ambitious and driven from an early age, Nikki worked her way to the top of the male- dominated and cut-throat world of advertising in the 1980s and 1990s before deciding her dreams were too big for such a small country.
When her marriage to Nico’s father, music executive Lachie Graham, ended, she set off for London with her four-year-old in tow and very few dollars in her pocket.
“I always say an entrepreneur is someone who runs for the cliff hoping the bridge is going to be built by the time they get there, and for us, sometimes the bridge hasn’t been built yet,”
Nikki reveals. “You could say I was completely reckless, but I felt that I had done what I could do here in New Zealand.”
While Nikki found work at the BBC in London as a promotions producer, her salary was a fraction of what she had earned in advertising.
Determined to rise above, she took on a second job and saved enough for a deposit on a flat in the down-at-heel London suburb of Acton.
It became the first investment property of many and every night after working long hours, the single mum would rush home to bath and tuck in Nico, before leaving him with his au pair and rushing back out to clean the flats until 3am.
She would then on sell them, making a tidy sum of $30,000 every four months.
“I’d never been very budget- conscious until that time. I was paid fortnightly so we’d go to cafés the first week and by the end of the second week, we didn’t have enough for food! Luckily, we had BBC-subsidised dinners,” Nikki tells.
But Nikki says it was her relationships that have always been her nemesis – breaking her heart as well as her bank balance.
Her darkest hour came after she got married a second time – to a much younger man, Steve Connors.
Though from the outside they appeared to lead a charmed life, and their publishing company Citron Press was a hit, it was all a facade.
When the marriage disintegrated, so too did the business. And because Nikki’s investment properties had financed the company, she lost everything when it went bust.
The pain led her to overdose and end up in the emergency room.
“We lost our home, I got sick and had a breakdown,” Nikki tells. “Nico was on a couch at his friend’s, I was on one at my friend’s, it was horrible. For my whole life, I will feel guilty for the experiences that Nico was privy to. All I’ve wanted is for him to come out of it unscathed.”
After hitting rock bottom, Nikki decided to return to her family in New Zealand.
That was 13 years ago and over that time, there have been other successes and failures – a magazine she set up which made a splash but didn’t last, and a property company she had to walk away from. Ever-resilient, Nikki says it’s all been a fabulous lesson.
“I like to tell people, ‘If you fall, it’s not the end and whatever happens, while you’ve got life and breath, you’ve got hope to do anything you want to do. You can rise from the depths.’”
For Nico, who’s an aspiring filmmaker, the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree – the entrepreneurial spirit lives on.
“I wouldn’t want you to change anything about our life, because then I wouldn’t be the person I am,” he tells his mum. “I see ours as a success story – I remember that Christmas we were homeless, but we went through that struggle and look where we are now? It’s a Hollywood story!” he smiles.
A Fabulous Failure by Nicolette Connors, Primrose NZ Press, RRP $29.99.
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