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Martha's Story Should Inspire Us All

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Recently I had the pleasure of sharing an evening with the extraordinary Martha Lane Fox.

The legendary entrepreneur who created the website lastminute.com at the tender age of 25 with co-partner Brent Hoberman (selling it for a princely £571m two years later), kindly agreed to let me interview her for a special audience with Wellbeing of Women.

Martha, 39, looked petite and serene and but appeared to be nursing a very heavy cold. In truth, she could easily have pulled out of the event, crying off sick, but did not want to let the charity down.

The Oxford-educated star of the dotcom boom must have spoken for at least forty minutes and had the audience transfixed.

Her story illustrated that any of us can find ourselves faced with significant health challenges at any stage in life. But it's how we choose to deal with them that marks the way forward.

First, Martha described her early life and career and gave lots of insights into what drove her to become the success she is today - vision, passion and boundless energy.
She then bravely recounted the horrific car crash that almost killed her in 2004.

Martha had been a passenger in the jeep that veered off the road and hit a tree in Morocco.
The accident left her with a broken pelvis and multiple fractures in her arms and legs. She spent two years in hospital where she eventually had to learn to walk again.

Traumatised and in severe pain, those early days of recovery must have been very dark. But Martha says it was devotion of her partner, Chris Gorell Barnes and her family and friends that pulled her through.
'They saved my life,' she said.

Today, Martha accepts things will never be quite the same. She has undergone innumerable operations and is often in chronic pain.

But her determination to do something constructive with her life continues.
'The most fundamental thing I have to do every day is stand up, that is a challenge in itself,' she said. 'But I still need to get out there and work with people.'

Since the accident Martha's karaoke company Lucky Voice has steadily expanded and now has venues across six UK cities. She also sits on the boards of Channel 4, Marks and Spencer and has various charitable interests.

Then, just over two years ago, she was personally called by the Prime Minister and asked to take on a role as the government's 'digital champion'.

'My original brief was to help get disadvantaged communities using digital technology,' said Martha. 'I feel very privileged to get asked to do these sorts of things.'

Martha's very moving story left me feeling proud of what women can achieve, even with the odds stacked against them - in what is still very much a man's world.

Quite fitting then, that a couple of days later I was invited an auspicious book launch full of brilliant women at Gray's Inn. The friend who invited me is an eminent female cardiologist and one of the UCL deans.
The book in question was a biography of the late Rose Heilbron QC, written by her proud daughter Hilary Heilbron QC. I had been only vaguely aware of Rose's astonishing career previously.

One of the outstanding defence barristers of the post-war period, she was the first woman to win a scholarship to Gray's Inn, the first woman to be appointed silk, the first to lead in a murder case, the first woman recorder, the first woman to sit at the Old Bailey and the first woman treasurer of Gray's Inn.

As the evening drew on, I found myself in conversation with a notable retired female solicitor and the inspiring Shami Chakrabati. We discussed whether combining motherhood with work was harder during the first ten years of our children's life; or whether it all got tougher during the teen years. On the whole we felt it got tougher during the teenage years but boys are different to girls. Shami was delightful and I look forward to welcoming her to one of our evening speaker events in 2013.

I also found myself chatting to none other than Cherie Blair QC who said she'd been inspired to pursue law by Rose Heilbron, who also grew up in Liverpool. Cherie has kindly written the forward to Rose's biography. She looked immaculate with her daughter Catherine, 24, a law student, by her side.

As the evening drew to a close and the good will continued to flow, it struck me that there has never been a better time for successful women to extend a hand to help others up the ladder or to fulfil their life choices.

• Liz will be speaking at the Women in business Superconference at The Strand Palace Hotel on 9th November. Her topic is 'Dressed for success but stressed.'

www.wellbeingofwomen.org.uk