Money & Me: 'I was fired in Dubai, took the company to court and won'

Melanie Nightingale said the saga encouraged her to launch her own HR consultancy and aromatherapy business

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 19 MARCH 2018. Melanie Nightingale, a self employed HR professional who has an aromatherapy and fragrance business where she teaches fragrance master classes. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: James Langton. Section: Business.
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Melanie Nightingale is a freelance HR consultant with a growing business in aromatherapy and fragrance, including her own cruelty free product range and masterclasses. A British expat from Bolton, northwest England, the 48-year-old has been in Dubai for 18 years, and lives in Mankhool with her husband Alan, a construction manager, and cats Dave and Patsy. Mother to a grown up son, a UK-based oil rig technician, she discusses her fiscal attitudes.

How did upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I have three older sisters and our parents divorced when I was four so we ended up with a big family with stepsisters. We didn’t have a lot of money. I was taught, especially by my dad, if you want something you have to work for it. As a teenager I wanted to go to parties and he wouldn’t lend me money. He said ‘work more hours’. That made me who I am - fiercely independent. Mum was a cook in a hospice, while dad worked in a factory dyeing fabrics and was really wise with money; if he could find something in a shop that was cheaper, he’d walk three miles to go there. We didn’t go hungry or go cold, we had the necessities.

How much were you paid in your first job?

Something like Dh3 an hour for a newspaper round when I was 11, delivering 110 newspapers before school. I did it for six months. At 12, I’d go twice a week after school to a local restaurant that had hundreds of brass ornaments on the wall and clean them, for about Dh25 a session. It was warmer and indoors.

What brought you to Dubai?

I had friends next door (in England) who were moving to Dubai in late 1998. I came to see them and fell in love in love with the place. In the UK I applied to Emirates cabin crew. They said ‘no’, so I came to Dubai and went directly to their reception with a copy of my CV. I flew with them for a year.

What has prompted you to diversify into aromatherapy?

My dad died when I was pregnant in 1996. After I had my baby it was like a double whammy of postnatal depression. Someone suggested enrolling in an evening class that 'sparks your interest'. I qualified as a holistic therapist. In Dubai, it was more a hobby I wanted to build into something. I've always made aromatherapy blends. The catalyst came in 2012: I got fired as an HR manager, illegally. I took him (the boss) to court, represented myself, won the case and swore I'd never work for anybody else. I started making and taking products to markets, got a really good response. At the same time I set up an HR consultancy. I juggle the two.

Why did you move into teaching workshops?

People were selling similar products. It was becoming more competitive. I decided to start teaching people to make tailor-made products. Classes started last year at the World Trade Club. I also went into natural perfume making, studied at the Grasse Institute of Perfumery (France), where some of the best noses studied. There’s now a shift back to unique, handcrafted perfumes. I get housewives, professional women, women who want an interesting thing to do, people who do it for a hobby, or maybe want a business; ladies that work in spas and want their own blends rather buying.


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Are you a saver or a spender?

I’m a spender. People tell me I am generous. I’m generous with myself, as well. If I’ve the money and see something I want to buy … my weaknesses are vintage jewellery, secondhand bags and boots.

Where do you save?

Savings accounts here and in the UK. My husband’s old fashioned and wants to keep it in a bank, not do anything risky.

What is your best investment?

In myself and my business, getting the trade license. Marketing materials, getting logos made; there’s a lot of cost branding yourself, setting up with products and materials. That’s my best investment as I know it’s going to pay off once I create more awareness about what I’m doing.

What is your philosophy towards money?

It comes and goes. One day you’re flush, will have a really good month or you might have really bad two or three years. I try not to get hung up on it or let it rule my life.

What are you happiest spending money on?

Books …I ’m obsessed. Every year we have to get a new bookcase. I buy secondhand and vintage. I’ve got a first edition of The Godfather and my husband bought me a special edition of War & Peace. I also buy really old cookery books, all potentially an investment, although I’d never sell them.

DUBAI, UNITED ARAB EMIRATES. 19 MARCH 2018. Melanie Nightingale, a self employed HR professional who has an aromatherapy and fragrance business where she teaches fragrance master classes. (Photo: Antonie Robertson/The National) Journalist: James Langton. Section: Business.
Ms Nightingale bought a five-bedroom house in France last year that she hopes to retire to with her husband in the future. Antonie Robertson/The National

What has been your key financial milestone?

Buying a five-bedroom house near Bordeaux, France, last year. It’s got 3.1 hectares of land, woodland and four outbuildings. We’ve friends nearby. We’ve never had a property between us. Alan wanted to be mortgage free so we worked and saved enough money to buy the house for cash. Also his father passed away so we sold his house. We’ve been to France on holidays and each time fall in love a bit more. The house has made us think more about saving, as we need money when we leave here.

Do you prefer paying in cash or by credit card?

Mostly credit cards. I want the points and we get cash-back vouchers. We know what we’re spending. We pay it off in full each month.

Are you wise with money?

I’m wise in that I won’t waste money, won’t buy something I don’t really need or that won’t make me happy at that time. We lived in Dubai Marina for four years, but moved to Mankhool to save Dh60,000 on rent for the same size two-bedroom apartment, but with a balcony. We bought our Nissan Xterra as a bargain from a Facebook group. We didn’t have a car for some time because we didn’t need it.

Do you plan for the future?

Long-term, I’m going to have a summer school at the French house once we retire, when I’m 50. I’ve been in Dubai 18 years, my husband 15. We want to be closer to family and we love nature. Alan’s a carpenter by trade so he will do woodwork. We’ll convert an outbuilding into a workshop for him and another into a summer school where I’ll do fragrance and perfume classes.

What would you raid your savings for?

If I found a really rare piece of vintage Chanel jewellery or a first edition of a book; something really rare.

If you won Dh1 million, what would you do with it?

Go to France sooner than we’re planning or let my husband go first as he would do renovations. I want to grow a lavender farm and would buy a distillery to make lavender oil. I’d stay here initially because I really like doing my classes and want to build that up.