Sunday 21 April 2024


Sometimes, a name hangs around in your brain.

When I started teaching, the school I was at had a unit on slavery that focused on the local town hall, which by then housed a law firm and a takeaway, if I recall correctly. My HoD had done some research into the area and discovered that the town hall had been built by some Devon landowner in order to ingratiate himself to the locals after he had purchased the right to name both MPs in the district. His name was Manasseh Masseh Lopes and the name stuck in my head because I was never sure if the pronunciation was lopes as in 'He lopes across his family plantation, surveying the extent of their sugar holdings' or lopes as in 'Senor Lopes'. The unit students studied considered whether the area should acknowledge the slave trade connection of this building. He'd been born in Jamaica in 1755 so it was pretty clear where their family wealth had come from. 

Some years later I saw, probably during a particularly in-depth wiki rabbit hole on an evening when I should have been marking, that (now Queen) Camilla's daughter's surname was Lopes. How interesting! That name isn't very common. I ran down the next rabbit hole and found her new husband was also from the southwest. How interesting! Not much more digging needed to be done to find he was indeed descended from the Lopes of the town hall fame. I texted my HoD and he was flabbergasted that I'd even remembered the name, let alone made the connection. So the knowledge got filed somewhere in my brain.

But when one of the influencers I follow on Insta did an interview on her business podcast with Katie Lopes, one of the founders of a popular knicker brand, the name rang that bell in my head again.

Interestingly, this was a lot harder to bloodhound my way through. But I was motivated. Katie Lopes has done quite a lot of interviews now where she talks about the difficulties of being a female entrepreneur, that she has to do it as a single mum, that her vile-sounding ex-husband saddled her with £1.5m of debt that she didn't even know about because he was so toxic, how she was able to raise sponsorship for Stripe & Stare against the odds, and so on. This is all admirable. As the daughter of a single parent and one supportive of and interested in female entrepreneurs, I take my hat off to her, really. It is really impressive that she's managed to achieve this. 


That name. Hasn't that name helped?

I'm not really about the aristocracy talking about how success in business is '90% grit'. I think back to my single mother when I was a teenager and how the conversation might have gone if I'd told her, hey Mum, if you were just a bit tougher and had a bit more drive, you too could win millions in investment and start up a very successful knicker company. What an excessively cruel and crushing message that would have been for her to hear. Even with Mother Hand's endless patience, I fear homelessness would have been my next move. 

So, I started to try to find out more about Katie, to see if she was indeed connected to the Lopes family of which I was already aware. I think she's quite careful. There's not much about her online that you'd stumble across unless you were specifically trying to find a connection. The fact she was raised in Devon was a pretty big clue and thankfully The Peerage did not let me down: the Honourable Katie, to use the full title she was born with, is indeed the daughter of the Third Baron Roborough, making her the sister of the current one and the cousin-in-law of the king's stepdaughter. There are no pictures, so I couldn't be certain it was the same Katie Lopes, but then I found a Telegraph announcement of her marriage (this connection also listed on The Peerage and also that man's name, mate, did you not guess he was a wrongun from the start?) and then an interview with her in her married name, which does have pictures of her, looking like a younger version of the Katie Lopes doing the rounds of female-business-owner-friendly media. 

(Why yes, I do have marking to do, why do you ask?)

I'm just quite disappointed that I haven't found this background acknowledged in anything I've read or heard about her, if I'm honest. I'm not naive enough to think that every scion of a peerage is sitting on huge inherited wealth. I'm sure the family didn't just reach down the back of its sofas to pay her ex-husband's debts and fund her new business - sarcastic as that sounds, I mean it. I bet she has worked really hard and she should be really proud. 

But when people who move in circles of very privileged people then spend quite a lot of time chatting about how they've had to 'build everything back from scratch' and anyone can do it if they just 'fuck everything they've ever been told', it properly grates. It's disingenuous and not supportive of other women trying to make it in business that don't have the privilege of knowing people who know people, or knowing people who can vouch for them. If you're not acknowledging the privilege granted by your background in conversations like this, you're not doing it right. It doesn't undermine your success. Privilege does not equate to business success. But when it's unacknowledged, that does undermine it, in my opinion - what are you trying to hide? 

I read a story this week about a woman having to give up her beloved pet dog because she's being made homeless, through no fault of her own. It made me a bit tearful. Try telling her she just needs grit to build back from nothing, when what she really needs is a relative or close friend with a property big enough to have an empty summer house or a second home somewhere, or enough money in their own property to go guarantor for her. I bet Katie had a few of those. 

I wonder when the next Lopes will pop up in my life?

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