Life & Culture

I beat anorexia and drugs and became a bestselling life coach

Jacqueline Hurst was an unhappy teenager with multiple problems, now she is ‘recovered’ and helps others turn their lives around


On the face of it, Jacqueline Hurst had a picture-perfect life. Born into a traditional Jewish family, she grew up with her parents and elder sister in a seven-bedroom house in Mill Hill, north-west London. She attended The Mount private girls’ school, where she did well academically.

But around the time she started secondary school, her parents started to spend more time abroad. Struggling with cruel school bullies and feeling increasingly lonely at the same time, as a teenager Jacqueline developed eating disorders and turned to drugs.

“From the outside looking in, everything looked amazing,” says Hurst, now 45.

“My parents really enjoyed the sunshine, but just as they were travelling more, I was getting bullied at school by a group of girls.

“It was difficult because I was sensitive. It was not an easy school for me, I found it very cliquey and felt like the odd-one-out.

“It was a drip-drip effect of lots of things happening.”

Her parents called their children every day, but Hurst did not confide in them. “I did not talk to anybody about it,” she says. “Back then, you just sort of got on with it. I did not want to bother anyone, I just wanted to be a ‘good girl’.”

Eventually, she cracked. Aged 15, she took drugs for the first time. She does not like to dwell on it and says: “I do not remember the last time I got into detail about my drug use. I do not want to delve deep into the misery.

“When people struggle with their emotions and feelings, they use things to cope. Some people use drugs and alcohol, some use sex or have affairs, and a lot of people use food. I just could not cope with how I was feeling.”

Aged 16, she quit school and left home a year later. She moved to Marylebone in central London, “to experience the big wide world. I was so excited to be near everything,” she reflects. “I wanted to go out into the world, to explore. I had an inquisitive mind.

"I knew that I was not going to stay in north London, that experience just was not for me. I wanted to be in town, working.”

Taking advice from her property developer dad, who “told me to ‘get a skill’”, Hurst completed a secretarial course. She got a job at a recruitment advertising agency, but continued to take drugs daily.

“I was on a path of destruction,” she says. “I had got what I wanted. I was working in town and had a job, but instead I thought: ‘What kind of trouble can I get up to here?’ I was not well, I was young, I was living in town on my own with complete freedom. I had some wild and life-changing times. How I am still here today is mind-boggling to me.”

Aged 25 Hurst reached a pivotal point. She was addicted to drugs, had stopped talking to her family, had broken up with her boyfriend and was still living by herself.

Sitting alone on the sofa, Hurst’s mum turned up unexpectedly at her front door. They hugged, talked and with support, Jacqueline decided to turn her life around.

She recalls: “It was a day that I surrendered to my problems. I knew I could not take it anymore. The drugs and tactics that I had used to ‘feel’ were no longer working.

“I had two options: I could have carried on, and we all know where that ends up; or I could surrender, which is what I did.”

That year, she found her calling: she was going to be a life coach. She met her first client, “a lady who had a real problem with sugar”, in a local café. From there, her reputation grew.

Twenty years on, she has turned her life around. Now the bestselling author behind self-help guide How to Do you, she describes herself as fully “recovered”.

Having written for publications including GQ magazine, Hurst, who has a practice in Mayfair, claims to have supported more than 9,000 people around the world over the past 20 years, either through one-on-one sessions or via her online courses.

Clients have included high-profile figures such as TV personality Gregg Wallace, whom she supported when he took part in the BBC’s Strictly Come Dancing.

On the day we speak, Hurst had spent her morning horse-riding in Hyde Park — a pastime that she has taken up again since starting to ride as a child.

Reflecting on her work, she says: “I had such extreme experiences in my life. Where people had one problem, I had 20. I had gone through addiction, anorexia, and depression. I used to sometimes look up at the sky and just ask, ‘why?’

“Now, I get it. It was meant to be that extreme so I can be in the position that I am today, where I can relate to my clients, and they know I understand.” I wonder whether there are still temptations or struggles for Hurst, especially around high-fat or sugary food after years of eating disorders?

“No,” she says, frankly. “I eat what I want, I exercise. Everything is super-balanced.”
How about drugs?

“Erchhh,” she replies, adding: “It did not stick with me because I did my work. I tore myself apart to rebuild myself. I learnt about ego, humility, unconscious thinking, and I learnt about being an emotional adult. I rebuilt from a stronger foundation.”

That said, Hurst, who has been married twice, recognises that “life is never perfect”. She says: “If something happens, I deal with it. I am not a victim. If I fall off my horse, am I never going to get on again?

Or should I say, ‘Wow, that was an experience,’ and get back on with more confidence. I get a choice every day and I am grateful that I wake up every day because there were times when I did not know if I would, or if I wanted to.”

She adds: “A lot of people do not have an easy run. It’s what you do with it that matters.”

As a life coach, she says her work is about “helping people understand the power of their minds, to train it to behave in order to change how they feel and the actions they take”. Working on personal areas with her clients from relationships to self-esteem issues and stress management, Hurst adds: “When you make a choice to work on yourself, your whole life changes.”

Could everyone benefit from a life coach? “Yes. Anyone who sat down with a life coach for an hour-and-a-half would learn something about themselves. When people tell me they don’t need it, I tell them they need two hours,” she laughs.

Over the past two decades, she has seen a change in the issues people face. Commenting on the rise of social media, she says: “In some ways social media is amazing, but it has also been very harmful.

"If, for example, you have an interest in horse-riding, like I do, your social media will forever show you things related to horse-riding. However, if you are looking up porn, anorexia, or drugs, it has a different effect.”

She has also seen a rise in “anxiety” among clients. “There is a lot of anxiety with young people in many different forms,” she says.

“It seems to have grown because of the pace of life, social media, the constant news and the need to keep up with everything going on. It’s exhausting.”

Describing herself as culturally Jewish, Hurst says: “I still spend Friday night dinner with my parents, which is really nice.”

Now, Hurst flies across the world, living some months in London, others in Miami or Dubai. “I’m not tied anywhere,” she says.

She is not sure what’s next, though “there might be a second book on the horizon”. But above all, she has a message summarised in one sentence: “You are good enough. Be kinder to yourself and be kinder to others.”

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