Dextene Ellinis
Age: 37
Job: Director of Ellinis Interiors, a curtain-making business
Born: Leytonstone, 1978
Lives: Chingford, with husband Alex who also works in her business
Children: Two boys, Camron aged 17, Elijah aged 10
Hours: works full-time

‘Getting pregnant at twenty completely changed my life.’

‘Dad was the DIY man, did all the house stuff, putting up shelves, decorating, that kind of stuff. Mum was generally the person who was always at home, and did the cooking and the cleaning. We’re quite a traditional, old-school Jamaican family, where the kids all help out. So we all had responsibilities – we had to cook, we had to clean, Sunday was always cleaning with the music on and everyone’s up early. We’re all cleaning and doing our bit… Me and my sister, we always would help out and help my mum, and we’d have days of cooking when we would have to cook.’

‘I’m not doing anything like I thought I’d be doing. As a child, the one thing I wanted to do was be an athlete. That was it, that was my life. I literally got up, went to school, came home, got changed and went to the track, came home. That was my life. That’s was from the age of about 11 till about 17… I wouldn’t say they were those pushy parents who’d take me to training all the time. They weren’t like that, because they had other things to do and other children, but I had the drive myself. I didn’t really need them to be those kind of parents. I’d train six days a week, I’d just get up, 6 o’clock, go training on a Saturday and Sunday morning.’

‘I never wanted to have children. It was never on the list, never. We have quite a big family and the cousins would be round and my older sister would do babysitting, but never, that was never me. I was out, or running, or doing something, studying or whatever it was. Never on the list!... Didn’t want to get married, didn’t want to do any of that stuff. Or not that I didn’t want to, but it was never in the plans. My goal was athletics… My secondary career was I wanted to be a TV presenter… Again, not doing that now! But that’s where I wanted to go, should athletics not take off.’

‘Getting pregnant at twenty completely changed my life. My future thoughts kind of stopped. I wasn’t thinking about a career, I wasn’t thinking about being a TV presenter anymore. It was literally: I’ve got to get through uni and raise a child. How the hell am I going to do that?... It took me six months to even… I was in denial for a good six months before I thought, my goodness, you literally are pregnant! You’re having a child. I wasn’t showing, so it wasn’t visible to my friends. I stopped going out – to uni parties – so I stopped doing that… I was absolutely petrified of telling my mum and dad… My mum cried, hysterically, and my dad was like, ‘you need to come home, straight away.’ And so that was that.’

‘I never thought about giving up work after Camron was born. It’s not in my make-up at all… I think because my parents have always worked, it’s just never been instilled in me that it’s ok not to.’

‘I went back to uni at Brunel, closer to home. The good thing for me was that my sister worked at a nursery. So I sent Camron there, and there were more benefits available to me at that point. I was a single mum – his father wasn’t interested. I went to the Council, tried to get a Council place, that didn’t work out very well. Camron went to nursery full-time. I got help to pay for university as well as his nursery fees. Plus, I was at home with my parents, so there wasn’t any rent to pay. It was difficult, but my family made it a lot easier… At Brunel I didn’t do the Freshers’ Fair and all those kinds of things. I just completely disassociated with any of my peers, no one else on my course had a child. So I was, literally: uni, home, pick up Camron, home, study, that was my life. No more training – that had gone out of the window!’

‘I never thought about giving up work after Camron was born. It’s not in my make-up at all. I’m an able-bodied person, there’s nothing wrong with me. I think because my parents have always worked, it’s just never been instilled in me that it’s ok not to. I have to make my own money, I have to feed my child, I have to pay my bills. So no, that was never a thought… I would rather earn money and struggle than just sit and do nothing and claim benefits. It’s just not me… I didn’t really consider working part-time. I was never that motherly kind of person. So the thought of actually looking after my child for more than half the day just didn’t do it for me. He’s my baby, I love him to death, but it’s just not me. I was never the kind of mother who would go to the park and play with the other kiddies – no, it’s not me!’

‘Fabulous Tony Blair brought tax credits in. And that saved my bacon. I remember him just for that one thing! If it wasn’t for that then it would have been a lot harder. But I was able to work, make enough and have the childcare element taken care of… My childcare set-up was awesome. Even if I was late, or stuck on a train, my sister was there. I never had any issues. It was great.’

‘Being self-employed as a bookkeeper, it was hard to keep my customers going with Camron and a new-born, so I was having a conversation with my mum one day, she was doing her curtain-making, and I said, ‘well, how about we do this as a business? Let’s do it properly, set it up, be a curtain company, what do you think?’ And she said, ‘yeah, ok, let’s go for it.’ So I was still doing my self-employed bookkeeping because at that point the business couldn’t pay me a wage – it could pay her because she was the one making the curtains, and she had a workshop at the bottom of the garden. And I’d been doing some bookkeeping for property developers, and those property developers used a lot of interior designers, so I would take those contacts and say, ‘hey, this is what I’m doing with my mum, if you ever need curtains, just give us a call.’

‘I get up at five, I’m out of the door by quarter past six, and get in here for roughly six-thirtyish. The boys are still asleep, so I don’t get to see them or say goodbye. Camron’s seventeen and goes to college, so I leave him to get on with that. Elijah goes to breakfast club, my husband Alex takes him, which opens at 7.30am, and then he comes in here. And then I’m here from six-thirtyish to about quarter to five. And then I go and pick Elijah up from teatime club… In terms of working in the evenings, I never call it quits. If I’ve got something to do, I’ll take it home. If I haven’t I’ll still take something home. It’s just how I am. If I need to get something done, I just do it. I won’t leave it to the next day, my customers won’t wait, so I just get it done.’

‘Alex does everything! I literally come home, dinner’s ready. We share the washing and tidying up, but the boys do their little bits – their rooms are their responsibility, so they have to make sure that’s tidy. He does all the washing up, all the cooking… I can’t cook. I’m just rubbish, awful, so if you want to eat good food, you’re going to have to do it yourself! I’m just so not like the typical mummy person, who does all the cooking and makes you lovely meals – it’s just not me.’

‘In terms of leisure, it’s yes and no. Because the business is sometimes really busy, and then sometimes it’s ok, and I can have downtime. When it’s busy, no – it’s just not an option. I don’t go out, I don’t see friends, don’t do anything, it’s literally: work, home. When it’s a bit quieter I allow myself some time. I play basketball, I set up a team about eight years ago, a female team, and that’s in Leyton. I don’t run it anymore, because the business takes me away from that, but I initially set it up and it’s been going for eight or nine years now. So I play that on Monday, from September to April. During the week I’ll probably have a training session and a game in the evening. So I’ll do that, but that’s probably about all the social time I get.’

‘I think what keeps me going is my determination not to fail. I feel like, if I don’t see this through, I feel like I will have failed.’

‘It’s not a good balance, no, not at all. Work is number one, family tends to be number two, and then anything in terms of leisure is definitely last… I would like to change it, but it is what it is. I’m trying to build something, I’m trying to build a legacy for my children… I was talking to my son about this the other day, and he said to me, ‘Why do you work so much, Mum?’ And I said ‘Because I want you to have nice things and be able to do great things later on. I want to be able to give you those opportunities that I didn’t have. And if I don’t work so hard then I don’t believe I’ll be able to give them to you.’ And Camron said, ‘Yeah, you do give me a lot, don’t you?’ He’s seventeen now so he’s starting his driving lessons, and I said, ‘My parents didn’t pay for my driving lessons, I did that myself. My parents didn’t buy me my first car, I did that myself. I want to do that you for.’ And he said, ‘Mum, you’re awesome!’’

‘I think what keeps me going is my determination not to fail. I feel like, if I don’t see this through, I feel like I will have failed, and if my children don’t get to university and have the careers that they want, I feel like I will have failed. And that’s just the main driver for me. They motivate me to always do better. And as much as I don’t spend as much time with them as I would like, I do see the bigger picture, so that I can give them what I didn’t have.’

‘My car is purple, and it’s the best car in the world! I love my car, it’s like another child to me. It’s just awesome – who has a purple car?! No-one has a purple car! It’s my favourite colour, and I want everyone to see it… I listen to my iTunes really loud – I am one of those crazy people you see singing, and you think no-one can hear you!’