Standing in the glorious sunshine, promoting her brand new business, Ally Stevenson felt fabulous.
It was Goodwood Ladies Day 2006 and this was to be the most important occasion in the mum-of-two’s working life.
The race meeting that brings the great and the glamorous out to play was the perfect occasion to launch Ally’s innovative product – heel stoppers to protect special footwear.
And everything was going brilliantly. ‘It was a great place to give them away and let people try them,’ says Ally.
‘It was an amazing day and there was a lovely atmosphere. I was wearing this turquoise full circle skirt and one woman whistled at me from the stands, shouting “you look fabulous” so I threw her some heel stoppers.’
But it was straight after that Goodwood launch, while Ally’s business website was going live and the first orders were appearing, that the Stubbington mum received some devastating news.
During a hospital appointment later in the day, she learned that she might have breast cancer.
Suddenly, the sunshine, goodwill and glamour of Goodwood had vanished into memory and Ally’s drive and determination for her business was on a back burner.
‘I was frightened, like any woman would be. I didn’t know what to expect. And what goes through your mind then is your children because mine were teenagers at the time.’
Diagnosis came a week later and the wife and mum was faced with nine months of exhausting treatment while her business got off the ground.
The 51-year-old is telling her story from her Stubbington home and now life is great.
Doctors gave her the all-clear after five years and her business Clean Heels is thriving.
The heel stoppers with rubberised bottoms to protect flooring are being sold internationally and even appeared in goody bags at a 2014 Oscars after-party.
But the history of Clean Heels is one of struggle, endeavour and a lot of help from some very supportive friends and relatives.
Inventive Ally came up with the idea while she was at a barbecue to celebrate her parents’ anniversary.
‘I saw my sister’s heels sinking into the ground and I didn’t want to get up and ruin my own heels when we did the toast.
‘So I put some beer bottle tops on the ground and stood on those.’
Ally designed her prototype using tubing from B&Q and the round centre of CD cases.
She had the idea patented and her product made with soft material to fit the heels snugly and protect them.
Enterprising Ally had no business degree or experience and was on a steep learning curve.
‘All I had was an idea and wanted to share it with every woman I could,’ she says. ‘I was just a mum, I didn’t know much at all. But I knew I had a really good product.’
On the day of the website launch and Goodwood promotion, Ally was quite rightly feeling optimistic.
While she had visited the doctor complaining of breathlessness and had noticed a lump on her right breast, she didn’t think it was cancer.
The mum had her daughters with her when the doctors delivered the bad news a week after the hospital appointment.
‘They were brilliant, they really were. I asked if they could come into the room and from the reaction, I knew the news wasn’t going to be good.’
Ally’s cancer thankfully hadn’t spread and she had an operation and months of intensive treatment.
During that time, she felt exhausted and ill and at one point her weight dropped to five-and-a-half stone.
But the novice businesswoman knew she had to keep things going.
‘First and foremost I had children, so I had to fight and make sure I was okay. But also I’d started the business and wasn’t about to give that up.
‘Luckily, although I was ill, it started growing very quickly by word of mouth.’
Ally made it happen because she was able to deal with e-mails from home and take rest when she needed it.
‘I got up every day, put a bit of make-up on and got dressed.
‘To be honest I think the business was good for me because it gave me something to focus on.’
But she wouldn’t have succeeded without family and friends who pitched in, visiting the UK-based factory and attending meetings,
‘They were great. I have some amazing friends and family. I’m lucky to know some lovely people.’
Ally’s heel stoppers and range of accessories are in the handbags of women all over the world.
The businesswoman sometimes spots them on telly – they’ve appeared in EastEnders and Emmerdale – and she has a contract with HMS Warrior so wedding parties can wear heels on the delicate flooring of the historic ship.
Ally says the hard work has been worth it. ‘I’m just really glad that I’ve done something that women love and find useful.’
And she has plenty of advice for anyone wanting to start a business, no matter what their background.
‘Keep your overheads low and put everything you can back into the business.’
But above all, she says, keep going.
‘The biggest thing I’ve learned is that life’s too short to get stressed. Don’t worry about things and just go for it.’
For information, visit cleanheels.co.uk.