When Ayesha Vardag split from her ex-husband, she didn’t realise it would spark the beginning of a glittering career. To commemorate Global Forgiveness Day on August 27, Ayesha explains to EW how she turned travesty into triumph
It was late, I was stressed and I knew I had to be up early to take my two sons to school. But I had to keep on working. I was in the middle of a messy divorce from my husband of five years, and I’d decided to do much of my own legal work to cut costs. I put a brave face on during that stressful time, back in 2001. I stayed sociable, I entertained, I was jolly with my children, I cracked jokes and had fun with my lawyers at court. What I was doing, though, was covering up the complete devastation within.
I didn’t know it at the time, sitting at my kitchen table, amidst a sea of paperwork, but my break-up would lead me to become one of the highest paid divorce lawyers in the UK.
As a former finance solicitor, I did a lot of background work on my own divorce case, and I suppose my big-name lawyer, Raymond Tooth, was impressed, because he decided to hire me. Four years later I felt confident enough to go it alone and set up Vardags. My home office was just a telephone line, a fax machine, my laptop and a long suffering off-site secretary who typed up my dictations in between school runs. So much had changed in my life over the previous few years, it was difficult to comprehend.
Before I had even opened my doors a big client – one of the parents at my son’s school – joined me. My business grew by word-of-mouth and a lot of sleepless nights. Eventually my reputation led me to where I am today – privileged to represent tycoons, royalty, international sports stars and high-net worth individuals from virtually every industry. In 2010 I made history in a landmark Supreme Court case that changed the law on prenuptial agreements. Acting for German heiress Katrin Radmacher, I won a ruling that the pre-nup she drew up to protect her alleged Dhs625 million fortune from her French-born husband was legally binding. Since then many have labelled me The Diva of Divorce.
Even though it was my own divorce that propelled me into an incredible career, there were no victors in my break-up. It was a painful and long emotional learning curve.
It was very chaotic. Not just financially, but also emotionally. We were young and had been madly in love. We caused each other a lot of pain and found it impossible to forgive. We both had a lot of people persuading us to end the relationship, to give up on it, saying, repeatedly, “life’s too short”. We were trying to do it across two continents, while holding down jobs and looking after our children. It was heart-breaking for us both. We were a couple in crisis who needed help and support, and, instead, everyone was diving in to pull us apart permanently.
There are challenges as a divorcing mother. Typically, you have to send your children off for holidays and weekends to their father and a new partner. You have to make your children feel good about that. You have to say, “Hey, tomorrow you’re off with Daddy and Tanya, how lovely, what fun!” even if it just kills you that the person you thought was the love of your life is now making a family with someone else. Even if it turns a knife in your heart, you have to hide it from your children, so they can feel happy and secure about spending time with their father, not anxious and guilty because it causes you pain.
There are also challenges as a woman. After my marriage broke down, I felt as if I would never love anyone else again. I had to be patient and trust that all those things would come back. It’s like being numb with shock after an accident, and then only able to feel pain. Slowly, my emotional nerves grew back and I started to feel normal again, and one day, by surprise, I found I could fall in love again.
The most important thing I did was let go of my anger and resentment. I had to move on, focus on my future and that of my children. I tried to be nice to my ex and to genuinely wish him well. It wasn’t easy, but it was the only way to make myself happy.
Now I’m married again I think I’m more sensitive about my divorce, although it was a long time ago. I sat down with my teenaged son the other night and I talked about his father – about how brilliant, handsome and funny he was, what a good man he was in so many ways, why I had loved him so much, how I would always love him to some extent, and how proud I was that I had my splendid sons with all the best characteristics of us both. I found myself crying about it all, fifteen years on. But not in a way that made me wish I was still there, in that marriage. In a way that mourned it and celebrated what a great love, in so many ways, it was. In a way that helped me to make peace with the past.
I may have made a wonderful career out of divorce, but it wasn’t until I forgave my ex-husband that I could enjoy the present and move freely into my future.
This feature is from the August Issue of Emirates Woman. You can download the magazine here: