Car-Washer To Cosmetics Queen: How Hard Work Saved Penny Lane

Rely on yourself, but ask for help when you need it.

We're all familiar with the expression to work yourself to death, but for Penny Lane, employment is what saved her. And from the age of 13, the managing director and White Lion charity ambassador has been working ever since.

"It was employment I think that really kept me on the right track," Lane told ten daily.

"When you don't have anything or you don't have anything around supporting you, if you’ve got a job and you’ve got to get up and go to it then you can't be going out and getting drunk, you have to pay your own rent."

In her early teens, Lane was forced to leave home because of her incredibly violent father and move to the other side of Birmingham, England, to stay with her grandmother.  By the time her mother left her father two years later, Lane was already living with a boyfriend and working to pay her rent.

Lane was forced to leave home at 13 and learn to support herself. Image: Getty Images.

Income came from going door-to-door in the local area and asking people if she could walk their dog or wash their car and, though sheer hard work, she came to get two more permanent jobs and was accepted into a youth training scheme.

"And because I was at low paid jobs because I didn’t finish school, I always had two jobs, so I would work in a travel agent and work in a bar at night and I was always just working," the 44-year-old said. 

Working was just fine, but 'just fine' wasn't how Penny saw her life playing out.

"My dad didn't work, he was on the dole and I could just see that wasn’t what I wanted in the house and that wasn’t a good way to live."

Her job in a Yellow Pages call centre was the turning point.

After earning enough money, she travelled to the other end of the earth to backpack and now Australia is home.

Lane is the Managing Director of My Perfect Cosmetics Company, a multi-million-dollar business. It started by Lane selling beauty products in a rented space in a shopping centre. When the manufacturer stopped making the goods she was selling, she decided to create them herself and the business slowly grew.

“The company that was making the products, they were no longer trading, so I created my own range of products and then I started doing advertorials, which were terrible because I couldn’t write a script to save my life, the ads were terrible," Lane said.

"The call centre at the time was in my lounge room so I would do the ads … and then I used to answer the calls in my lounge. I just got a few extra lines put in my house."

Lane's second business, Rockin Direct helps businesses get their products on air.

Lane promoting My Perfect Cosmetics Company and Bail Out on Studio 10. Image: Penny Lane.

Amid her success, Lane hasn't lost her passion for youth welfare. In her role as an ambassador for White Lion, Lane does whatever she can to raise awareness for young people who are unsupported as they navigate the juvenile justice system.

"It’s all about getting kids into employment or into school. It [the White Lion program] doesn't really look at what they have done specifically but what we can do to help and support them because a lot of these kids have experienced a lot of trauma."

White Lion's Bail Out event is chief in boosting such awareness. At the event, participants get sponsored to get 'bailed out' of jail after they have been 'convicted' of a crime. The event funds almost all of the programs run by White Lion for an entire year.

"Bail Out is brilliant. It’s like being on the set of a movie, but it's a jail. So everyone gets prison overalls put on, you get your fingerprints taken and your mugshot done, you go to a court case and then you get sent to jail," Lane told ten daily. 

Each cell at the jail has its own speaker or a video about a different element that could see a young person end up in jail, be it abuse, addiction, domestic violence, mental illness or homelessness.

While Lane wasn't involved with crime as a young person, she understands first hand what it's like to have no one to ask for help, but she hopes this can change for the young people she works with.

Penny Lane at Bail Out in 2017. Image: Penny Lane.

And the agent for that change?

Employment.

"If we can get them working and get them into jobs then I think it gives them self worth and dignity and you don't have to rely on other people, because these kids don't have anybody," Lane said. 

"When you don't have anybody, you need to be able to rely on yourself. As sad as it sounds, you need to be able to rely on yourself... and pay your own rent and that is pretty much the story of my life. I have never had anybody to rely on so I have always just worked hard just to get ahead and support myself."

Lane admits old habits die hard, as she still struggles to ask others for help. Her message to young people, however, is a reminder that reaching out for guidance and assistance is possible, even when it feels like no one is available.