Life & Culture

Meet the Jewish life coach who is healing broken celebrity hearts

Shelley Whitehead believes the problem couples face is often unrealistic expectations


There are few secrets between relationships expert Shelley Whitehead and some of the world’s most high-profile celebrities, business figures and influencers.

As a life coach who has spent the past 17 years “healing broken hearts”, Whitehead has helped people recover from a break-up (it can take three months, she says) and cope with the two years of intense grief that typically follow a bereavement.

Her clients range from teens to octogenarians, she has helped people in the middle of turbulent divorces, and, in the case of Amelia, before the wedding took place.

The Jewish influencer used her podcast What I Now Know to discuss the support Whitehead had given her after her widely publicised engagement abruptly ended.

Amelia had shared details of the then couple’s engagement party and her wedding dress shopping with her 530,000 followers. Whitehead helped her pick up the pieces after the split.

South African-born Whitehead, who now lives in north London, won’t give the names of her other famous clients — “my work is confidential” — but she is happy to share her pearls of wisdom about what happens to the heart when romance dies.

“Grief takes over,” she says, “There’s the initial shock after which we can experience denial and horror. We can also be angry, feel depressed and then ask the ‘what if?’”

But treatment is at hand. “I have a very specialised heartbreak formula; we have to stop or minimise contact because we need to discover who we are, create a new vision of ourselves. Fantasies keep us stuck. Healing isn’t linear but I am with my clients on their journey.”

For this journey her clients pay around £2,500 for six one-on-one sessions.

They come, she says, in from all walks of life and from across the globe, and include Chasidic rabbis.

And, though it might not need stating, her clients all experience the same heartache.

“At the end of the day, we are people and people have needs and things they want to accomplish.”

Those things can be easier to accomplish if you and your partner share the same values, she says. but “if you’re a Jew who is more religious than your partner, you should see that difference as an opportunity for compromise. It is about finding a solution-focused approach to conflict.

“In some religious communities divorce might not be acceptable, but still happens because a relationship can become intolerable. To keep a relationship together and connected can be one of the hardest things in the world.”

Often the problem is unrealistic expectations.

“There is not one single person who can meet all of our needs, it is impossible. Sadly, too often people impose this on their partner, expecting them to be their lover, friend, confidante, co-provider, and so on. We need to be connected to others in our life — and consider what would happen if we lost our partner.”

Whitehead, who is in her fifties, speaks from personal experience here. After her first husband died of kidney cancer in 2004 she raised their three children alone.

Years later, while practising as a life coach, she went into shock after her second husband, someone she had known since childhood, left her for another woman.

“It took me to the depths of despair,” she says. “I didn’t see it coming and I turned into one of my clients: I cried, I lost 10kg, I couldn’t sleep.”

Now in “the best relationship of my life” with Israeli-born Ilan, both the death of her first husband and the betrayal of her second have enabled her to empathise with her clients.

However, while she feels she has been able to support most of them well, one of her client’s stories “rocked me to my core”.

For years, Whitehead coached children’s author Helen Bailey who was subsequently brutally murdered by her husband Ian Stewart in 2016.

“Helen’s death is is the most phenomenal loss, she was the most amazing human being.

"You could not have seen it coming. Ian was so close to the family with the most impeccable, the most beautiful behaviour.” Proof, perhaps, that some human behaviour is beyond the vision of an expert in relationships.

She describes her own childhood in a traditional Jewish family in 1970s Johannesburg as “extremely dysfunctional”.

“I struggled to communicate with my parents. My father had post-traumatic stress from the Korean War and my relationship with my mother was non-existent.”

But far from replicating this dysfunction in her own life, Whitehead’s adverse early experiences convinced her of the “need for connection” and have of course led to her career. Her next project is a book, which will be published next year.

She says, that when she is with her clients, “We have a lot of fun and laughter, but there are also tears.“The ability to help someone get perspective is invaluable.”

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