I was Enid. Now I’m Jo ‘Bad Girls’ Tempest
- Credit: Su Anderson
Divorcee Jo Tempest had left Suffolk and built a new life in Turkey. But then she got involved with a business venture and, she says, lost everything
Divorcee Jo Tempest had left Suffolk and built a new life in Turkey. But then she got involved with a business venture and, she says, lost everything.
“I’m not saying I wasn’t naive or stupid, but it wasn’t just me... Suddenly, in 2009, I had nothing.” Some highspots from the past – like helping breathe life into Ipswich landmarks such as The Golden Lion hotel and Church’s café bar ? must have seemed a million years ago. Fortunately, money has never been a be-all and end-all for someone from humble beginnings.
“Possessions don’t matter to me. People matter,” says Jo, 62, during a visit to Suffolk. “I can make a shed into a home. I’ve never been worried about things like that. That has been my saving grace, really, throughout my life.”
She’d stayed at a friend’s house as she dusted herself down. “There were times I was hungry. It took a few weeks for me to stop feeling sorry for myself and say ‘Right, look, what am I going to do now?’”
One of the things she did after getting back on her feet was start writing.
Jo’s produced a series of five books under the Bad Girls banner: the collated stories of strong women – assassins, spies, cross-dressers (not as obvious as it seems), mistresses and explorers. A sixth is due soon.
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“Their lives were dangerous but exciting; just the way they wanted them to be.”
Strong women such as Virginia Hall, who came from a rich family in America but who saved countless downed airmen and fleeing prisoners of war while working as a spy and a member of the resistance in occupied France... despite a false leg. Virginia was so effective that the Gestapo called her the most dangerous of all allied spies.
Then there was the early 18th Century story of James Barry, born Margaret Ann Bulkley. Opting to live as a man in order to be accepted as a university medical student and then become a surgeon, Barry joined the army and rose high – improving conditions for injured soldiers and even performing the first caesarean section in Africa by a British surgeon in which both mother and baby survived.
Barry’s birth gender was discovered only after death.
“I’m sure it’s because of my life that I’ve written about strong women. Men love reading about strong women. Women love reading about strong women,” Jo smiles.
She was born in Essex, in Leigh-on-Sea – of, she says, humble stock, though there was an exotic streak.
Her great-grandmother was Sioux; great-grandfather French Canadian.
Jo’s grandmother was adopted by a family that took her to London. “My grandmother had a very hard childhood. She became a seamstress for London society. My grandfather was a Polish count originally sent to Belgium for an arranged marriage, but didn’t want to do it and came instead to London.” His family was wiped out by the Nazis.
Jo’s mother raised three of her own – Jo’s soldier father not really figuring. “My mother was amazing and brought us all up. But we had a really poor childhood.” It was at high school that Jo met her husband to be, Andrew. They ran a successful pub in Leigh-on-Sea before turning to property development.
Sons James and Richard were born in quick succession in the 1980s ? “my little miracles”, after Jo was told she could not have children and underwent various procedures in a bid to start a family. Richard was six weeks old when they moved to Suffolk, where they had friends.
They renovated a “wrecked but beautiful Tudor house” in Kersey Vale and later moved to Milden. Jo was already keen on interior design, and started doing projects for people. At one point she had an interiors shop in Lavenham, too.
There was near-tragedy 14 years ago when Andrew was badly hurt in an aerobatic aircraft crash in South Africa that could have claimed his life. Jo takes her hat off to him for the strength he showed in his recovery.
The couple divorced later, but Jo says they have a great relationship today. When she visits England, he, she and their sons invariably spend some time together. “He is a great dad and friend.”
Before they split up, Jo had been on holiday to Turkey with friends. She’d met developers interested in her helping make their properties appeal to European buyers and for a time travelled backwards and forwards between Turkey and Suffolk every few months.
In the mid-2000s she decided to move there. All went well, until she got involved in another (fateful) venture and lost everything.
That summer, as she got back on her feet, Jo went to the “stunningly beautiful village” of Selimiye and took a job as a hostess. The captain of a motor yacht planned charter trips.
“I’m not a sailor. I’m not even a good swimmer!” she laughs. The pay wasn’t great and the hours in the galley could be long, but it was a start. Later, she switched to a luxury yacht running similar trips.
Jo spent time last summer working in a friend’s boutique.
She loves Selimiye, and it’s easy to see why. The “enchanting” village on the edge of the Aegean Sea is like the south of France, with a wide bay, a jetty and some beautiful restaurants. February’s almond season sees the mountainside covered in blossom.
The people are lovely and the place “true Turkish”. There were 17 village weddings in 2015, and the whole community gets involved. “It’s so noisy you couldn’t not get involved!”
A “proper” road to Selimiye was built only about 12 years ago, she says, and the place has the air of a well-kept secret. Mind you, the wealthy know about it. It’s been graced by famous names such as Bill Gates, Tom Hanks and princes William and Harry. Selma Hayek was there in 2015.
The bay is a boon for celebrities with their own yacht or the wherewithal to charter a boat. “Eventually it gets round the village, but they’re left alone. They can drop anchor and come in for dinner.” It’s not “starry”, though. While Steven Spielberg is relaxing on a plush yacht, there can be a woman walking her cow home. “And that is what people love. Totally unspoilt.”
Jo rents an apartment on which she’s put her stamp. It’s five minutes from the sea, has a long terrace, and she shares it with former street-cats Laurel and Hardy. She doesn’t think too hard about the future.
“Maybe because of everything that’s happened I don’t set any real plans. I’m happy there, and I’m happy with (partner) Barish. We’ve been together over 10 years and we love each other.”
She doesn’t really miss anything in England apart from people such as her sons, mum (in her 80s) and friends. “I looked out of my window the other day and thought ‘Look what I’ve got’ – mountains, the sea’s there; no noise, no traffic jams, people are wonderful.”
I don’t think I’d have coped well with a rollercoaster life. “You have to. What are you going to do? I can remember a couple of days... I was mentally going through the process of... ‘I just don’t want to wake up tomorrow. I don’t want to deal with this.’ But I can truly feel proud of myself.
“Even going on a yacht; being out at sea in all weathers. And it wasn’t just hostessing. I was on deck, doing the lines, the anchors, the sails – stuff I’d never done before. I made some great friends. My life has simplified, and I like that – and maybe that’s why I can write.”
Jo had done a bit in the past. In 2012 she published a children’s Kindle book about the quirkiness of spiders! And over the past two or three years she’s brought out her Bad Girls titles in the same format. Her hope is that they catch the eye of a big publisher or documentary-maker. “I missed my chance with Steven Spielberg, though, didn’t I!”
Jo’s grateful that she’s young at heart: still getting joy from jumping in puddles, in her yellow wellies!
“I haven’t got one of those scowly, bitter faces! I still laugh at things; I still have the energy to think ‘Yeah, I’ve got to get up... I’ve still got a lot to do!’”
So how did Enid Harding become Jo Tempest? It stems from the time on that captain’s charter vessel. “We were obviously having a heated day and he said ‘Calm down Miss Tempest! Calm down!’ I thought ‘Oh, Jo Tempest. That sounds good.’
“I was Jo, anyway, in Turkey. (Her middle name’s Josephine.) Enid was hard for them to say. And I hated it. For my mother’s generation, it was fine. But it was too old-fashioned for me!”