Life Lessons Part 4: Mary Portas, Clara Amfo & Shami Chakrabarti on what every woman should know

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“If you’re kind, the world opens doors for you”…and other essential life lessons from Mary Portas, Shami Chakrabarti and Clara Amfo

Words: Alexandra Jones Photography:,, Guardian Syndication

Our fourth Stylist Life Lessons on 9 June was a particularly intimate – and emotional – affair, as our speakers chose to touch on deeply personal subjects such as bereavement and self-belief.

We welcomed fashion industry expert, TV star and author Mary Portas; human rights campaigner and director of civil rights organisation, Liberty, Shami Chakrabarti, and Radio 1 DJ Clara Amfo, who each took to the stage at London’s Ham Yard Hotel in front of a sold-out audience to deliver the one life lesson they want to pass on to women everywhere.

A running theme was the importance of kindness. For Mary, this meant passing the ladder down to the next generation so they too can reach greatness while Shami explored the kindness that all women should offer to one another: “We need to unite,” she said. Clara encouraged us to be kind to ourselves so we have enough confidence to make the most of opportunities that come our way.

It was a truly memorable evening, the kind that gives you goosebumps, but for those of you who couldn’t be there, we’ve picked out some of the most significant quotes to share with you.

Mary Portas

Mary, 55, went from a Saturday job at John Lewis to become creative director of Harvey Nichols. She fronted Mary, Queen of Shops for the BBC and is now an author and retail expert with her own agency, Portas

The up side to having nothing to lose

“I grew up with very little but I was at the heart of a family filled with love. My mother died when I was 16 and my father died two years later so by the time I was 18, I had nothing. I had no choice but to succeed. I had to roar. By the time I was 30 [and a member of the Harvey Nichols’ board of directors] I had succeeded on fear.” 

Kindness is everything 

“Being good and kind really does make the world go round. If you are kind, the world opens doors up to you. Do not put yourself in a place of negative fear. I wish I’d known at 28 that this is the keystone to every positive human interaction.”

Don’t pull up the ladder after you

“Women in the workplace have to balance being feisty with a good generosity of spirit. When you reach a position of power, make it your duty to help other women coming through the ranks. We all need to feel empowered. And let’s not forget young men. We need to educate them on feminism too.”

Your opinion is the vital one

“When making television, or writing a book, the good reviews go to your head and the bad reviews go to your heart. But, remember, it only matters what you think.”

Don’t think too far ahead

“We’re all encouraged to know where we want to be in our careers in five or 10 years. I say, don’t even try and plan where you want to be in five years’ time. It will only cause you stress.”

Clara Amfo

Clara, 30, is a BBC radio broadcaster. She is only the second woman in history to present Radio 1’s Official UK Chart Show

You’re stronger than you think

“I lost my father this year. Three weeks before that, I found out I’d be hosting Radio 1’s mid-morning show. I’ve learnt that I can use fear as a strengthening tool. If anything, his death made me feel superhuman in the sense that what else is there to fear when you’ve faced one of your worst nightmares?”

Challenge yourself

“When I first got offered the job at Radio 1, I thought, ‘I can’t do it’. I was comfortable and content being on Radio 1Xtra, but it’s too easy to be safe. It’s important to push yourself. You learn the most lessons in life when you’re forced to step out of your comfort zone.”

Don’t listen to Criticism

“To all your naysayers, they don’t know you, they don’t know what you’re capable of so don’t be held back because so-and-so said you couldn’t do it. It’s down to you at the end of the day.”

Don’t be afraid to be great

“One of the best qualities about being British is self-deprecation but sometimes it can be detrimental when people are afraid to aim higher because they think they’re going above their post. If you think you can be the CEOof a company, go for it. What’s the worst that can happen? Don’t be afraid of your own potential.”

Shami Chakrabarti

Shami, 46, is a barrister and director of the civil liberties advocacy organisation, Liberty

No-one is superior

“I live by the motto that anyone is equal and no-one is superior. It’s about trying to find confidence, but not chipping into arrogance or anger. Anger is all right sometimes but life is about finding that balance.” 

You’re not alone

“We are individuals but we’re not alone. Whatever we’re going through, whether it’s professional or personal, we’re not the first or the last to experience it. My mother died in 2011 and I found great comfort in talking to people about it. People have been there before you. It takes time to get through it but it’s all part of your journey.”

Make yourself heard

“How many times have you been to a meeting and the women are the last to ask a question or push themselves forward? It’s a real problem. When I was young, I was quite precocious but I was not going to disappear; I was going to be heard. Equally, listening is a powerful skill which enables you to build a real dialogue rather than compete with others to be heard. Sometimes you can put difficult messages across more easily if you can demonstrate that you’ve truly listened to another person.”