Geeta Sidhu-Robb is the founder of Nosh Detox. As she tells Nancy Larman, its conception came at the end of a very long, winding and personal road. As a business, meanwhile, its journey is just beginning
Necessity, as the well-worn phrase goes, is the mother of invention. And in 2008, with three young children in her sole charge, circumstance dictated that Geeta Sidhu-Robb dig deep to give birth to a business idea that would change their lives and in doing so, the lives of many more besides. Thankfully, she had at her disposal a holy trinity of sorts: considerable resourcefulness, fertile ingenuity and an unbreakable work ethic, which she channelled into getting herself and her children out of their temporary sofa surfing existence and back on the road to stability.
Originally from Malawi, Geeta came to the UK as a 15-year-old; her ‘traditional’ childhood as the daughter of a successful farmer having instilled a deep-rooted discipline in her, she worked hard to become a lawyer. Having married young, she and her then-husband quickly built a business dealing in tax, from which the pair made millions seemingly overnight. Life might, then, have seemed rosy. But from inside the marriage, the tableau was altogether different.
‘I was married to someone who drank a lot, who was always cheating on me and who was violent. And I got tired of calling the police when he came home drunk. So I decided to leave. But it’s not as easy as that because it’s a painful decision. I thought we’d made all this money and we could take half each, but he cleaned out our bank accounts. I ended up with £200. I went to a girlfriend and said ‘can we have somewhere to sleep, I have nothing.’’
And so it was, with her back against the wall and the backdrop of her ex-husband attempting to win her back with promises of lavish Christmases and Louis Vuitton handbags (‘which I wanted to kill him with’) that Geeta drew her line in the sand: she was never going back and from now on, she was going to do things according to her standards. She must, on some level, have had a faith that everything would be ok? ‘No, I don’t think I knew that. I just knew that I couldn’t have my children grow up in a place where they saw their father getting drunk and hitting me. I thought my son would then grow up and hit his wife and my daughters would expect to get hit.’
As she navigated this new life, Geeta conceived of Nosh Detox, her bespoke holistic health business which is first diagnostic and then delivers results. ‘What we do is we create solutions for senior professionals. It’s generally people who work very hard and have very little time. So when they’re in a place where they need support to stay performing well, and they’re not actually sick, they’re just out of balance and not a hundred per cent, then they come to us. And we diagnose a problem and create a solution and deliver that solution. It could be coaching, it could be food, it could be juices, it could be vitamin drips, we’ll do everything around a natural solution to restore wellness and balance again.’ The typical profile of her clients is female, high-powered and time-poor. In short, the kind of people no one would think needed help.
‘The truth is that no one supports them actually,’ she explains. ‘Senior women do everything for everyone. Some of that is our fault because we don’t know how to ask for help, and some of it that we just have no choice, because we run the house, we make the babies, give birth to the babies, look after the babies and now we have to pay for the babies too. It’s a lot.’
As with everything that drives Geeta’s life and success, Nosh Detox – and more essentially, her enquiry into and analysis of health and alternative and preventative approaches to health – was born of highly personal circumstances.
‘I used to be a corporate lawyer and then my son fell very ill. He spent about 230 days in hospital in his first year. It was brutal,’ she says. ‘That kind of thing really changes your life. It was like a reset button. He was apparently incurable but we managed to cure him. And I wanted to help other kids but I couldn’t get to the kids because the mothers were not believing in what we were offering. So I made the conscious decision: I’ll work with the mothers and then they will change the kids’ diet and lifestyle.’
Her son had become alarmingly and rapidly unwell following his routine vaccinations in months one, two and three of his life. He was, as it transpired, so allergic that he broke out in eczema so severe you could barely touch him, but few people were willing to listen. ‘We played with his diet. And then his eczema went into remission and he got asthma. You’d think, “do I really want you to stay up all night not breathing, or stay up all night scratching?” Then about seven months in, when we introduced food, he got anaphylaxis, which is where you eat and everything swells up, so your windpipe closes up, you can’t breathe and you die. He ended up dying. He had cardio-respiratory arrest, he stopped breathing and they had to resuscitate him. He was in a coma in St Mary’s in Paddington for a week. He came out of the coma but we didn’t know if he was brain damaged. It was life-changing. We asked what we could do and they said, there are no choices. And we ended up in and out of hospital for the next year. I got to the end of that year and I thought: “Sod it. We’re never going to hospital again, I’m going to fix this. So I spent the next seven years fixing it.’
The path to health was long and circuitous, but Geeta indefatigably explored every avenue. ‘I’m an Indian from Africa so we tried some really funky stuff,’ she laughs. ‘People would be like, ‘So if you take a chicken feather and then you burn that’… I was like ‘I’ll try that’. Ginger? ‘I’ll try that’. Turmeric? ‘I’ll try that’. I’m a lawyer, so the one skill I have, the only skill, is that I can read huge amounts of super boring information and come up with join-the-dot solutions. We found it was diet, and then we found out it was leaky gut – and every time we’d find a solution and we’d fix it. It took seven years. We cured the eczema 100 per cent and we cured the asthma 100 per cent, and I don’t think he’s had one anaphylactic reaction since he was seven.’
With years of research under her belt, Geeta is sage enough to know that health can’t be compartmentalised, whether physical or mental. As she explains, ‘What we eat affects everything. When people don’t believe that, I say: ‘Drink a bottle of vodka and tell me it doesn’t affect your mental health!’ I will drink vodka because I like it but I will balance the rest of my day. On our website we have a thing called ‘Balance sheet technique’. It teaches you how to implement this stuff – if you want to go and drink vodka and eat doughnuts it’s ok because everything else is worked out.’
She is hopeful about the positive changes that feminism is affecting, and believes in being powerful while never being asked to compromise your femininity (‘Water takes the shape of the container. If you ever thought water was weak, you’d only have to look at the sea when there’s a wind. But it’s nurturing, it’s soft and it changes shape.’) Moreover, she believes in trusting your instincts and knowing that even failure, responded to the right way, is useful.
‘Setting up a business is all about failure, and I have failed in every possible capacity,’ she laughs. ‘I make speeches about the fact that I have failed at everything and that its really good for you. Starting a business is the single biggest act of rebellion and the single biggest act of personal development and growth.’ And that growth just keeps going, as Nosh Detox attests. ‘My business changed when I realised it would grow when I grew. It took me a really long time to work that out.’
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