Nathan Thomas of Hilltop Chauffeurs first appeared in B4 Issue 35 – almost half a B4 lifetime ago. Since then he has been on something of a rollercoaster both personally and professionally. Nathan spoke to B4’s Richard Rosser openly and honestly about his experiences to show that for those experiencing similar challenges, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.
Nathan’s first foray into B4 was as a young man in a thriving and successful business, with a happy family around him including his three children, Molly 10, Daisy 8 and Emily 7.
“I honestly wouldn’t be where I am without B4 – I still have 90% of my clients through B4 from 8 or 9 years ago. Quite a few people saw my article in B4 and they contacted me as a result and have been loyal ever since. I feel part of their work family. Not only do I know them on a business level but I know them on a personal level – their kids come out to see me, they play in the car, I go to their business Xmas events, I even take them for their holiday trips etc…So, from a business point of view everything was going well.”
But Nathan’s life was to take a massive turn, as he opens up. “Life was great but spiralled out of control when my wife and I separated and, ultimately, divorced after 15 years. I managed to secure shared custody of the girls so it was a case of looking after the kids and the business. I still had a good focus on the business and was growing it. My passion is being in business and I love to drive, so it was the perfect combination.
“Mentally, the divorce was affecting me more than I felt it was. I didn’t really realise how much things were affecting me until I met a new partner – that’s when the demons started appearing from under the rocks. I had insecurities I didn’t realise I had. My new partner wasn’t good for me and the relationship became toxic. This had a strain on my mental health as my insecurities grew – I was being questioned by my partner on everything, even my business. I started to doubt myself and lose confidence as a business person. I was told I wasn’t parenting well, that I wasn’t tough enough, all by someone who was very new in my life. I think the term is ‘gaslighting’ – I began to doubt my own mind and question my sanity.
“It got to a point where I didn’t even want to get out of bed in the morning, I didn’t want to look after the kids and I had no interest in the business. Fortunately, I had a great team of drivers around me that took the strain but they had no idea what was going on with me. I couldn’t contemplate driving – I wasn’t only a risk to myself but, first and foremost, my passengers.
“The wake-up call for me was when I started to get thoughts in my head that I wasn’t brave enough to deal with life. I used to go through countless scenarios about what the kids would do without me on the planet, what my family would do (those that knew about my state of mind). I could never have followed through with these thoughts – I don’t have enough courage to leave those around me.
“I was totally paralysed and couldn’t function as a human being. I actually found myself scrolling through social media looking at other people’s lives to make my life better. So I ended up deleting my own Facebook account which I only use for business now.
“I got a friend of 30 years involved in the business to try and rescue me. The business, despite everything, was going really well…it was thriving. I was literally on my knees at stages, overwhelmed with bookings. I didn’t know how to cope but in many respects it was a nice problem to have. I just needed help to get me out of the position I was in.
“I gave him a share of the business but soon found out he only wanted to make financial gain, not get involved in the business to the extent we had agreed. It didn’t work out and we ended up parting company…and losing a friendship into the bargain. This obviously added to my already fragile state and I sought support, initially from the doctor.
“I was offered support in terms of medication but refused it. That triggered me to seek therapy. I started to see two different therapists because I didn’t trust anyone! I wanted to see if they came up with the same diagnosis and they did. It was a minefield choosing a therapist and, fortunately, I picked two very good ones. I ended up focusing on one and soon realised that my personal challenges as a child (I was massively overweight as a child and have lost ten stone in five years) were stifling my ability to cope as a parent, adult and businessman. I still occasionally saw myself overweight even when I had lost it. I found it difficult to admit to my family that I had depression which I resisted admitting to myself. My doctor and therapist concluded that I was indeed suffering with depression and that was the reality check I needed.
“After therapy I had the tools I needed to cope and make progress. I was able to deal with life again and the problems that go with it….the stressful situations that face us all rather than bury my head in the sand. I did a lot of research into mental health – I took lots of walks listening to audio books and this really helped me. Knowledge is power and you can never know enough.
“I learned that depression isn’t something you catch, it’s a state of mind, it’s something you bring on yourself through the circumstances you are exposed to. It’s the external factors, many of which you don’t have control over, that can lead to depression. If you don’t have the natural tools to cope, like some people do (emotional support as a child), then you can easily become depressed. You can also have too much support as a child, being given everything, so that when you don’t get it, it’s a challenge to you and you don’t know how to cope. I wish I had had more emotional support as a child.
“I now love being self-sufficient and giving my kids the support that they need to grow up and not face the challenges I have had.
“Business is good but I’m starting again to a certain dfegree, but I want to grow the business. I have been fortunate to retain the customers I had before and I want to build on that now I am back in the B4 community, which is a massive support to me, as I have said before.
“We offer a very personal service as a business. I know our clients like the connection they have with me and my drivers. My drivers know what I expect of them but they have also embraced the clients’ needs and requirements, even though I do encourage them not to have an opinion on certain subjects!
“You have to be flexible as a chauffeur, the client is, as in all business, always right. You have to look at the bigger picture and if you treat them in the right way then they are, as I have proved, a client for the long term. When I got my first client someone told me I would be lucky to retain them for three years….nine years on, they are still a happy customer.
“I want to build a business that my kids can be proud of.
“I would be delighted to talk to you about your business travel needs.
“Equally, if you’re having personal challenges, please do get in touch, I would be only too pleased to help.”