Jacqueline Gold, the businesswoman whose Ann Summers retail chain embraced a new wave of sexual liberation to make shopping for vibrators and lingerie an everyday event on British high streets, has died at the age of 62.
Her family said her death on Thursday evening after seven years of treatment for breast cancer had left them “utterly heartbroken”.
Gold, who was executive chair of Ann Summers, turned the sex shop into a safe space for women and was a powerful advocate for females in business. She remained active throughout her illness and into her final hours – just this Wednesday she led her regular Twitter chat to promote female entrepreneurs. She was recognised with a CBE in 2016 for services to entrepreneurship, women in business and social enterprise.
In 2015, Gold said: “I set out to empower women in the bedroom and now I want to empower women in the boardroom.”
Her sister, Vanessa Gold, the chief executive of Ann Summers, said: “Jacqueline courageously battled stage 4 breast cancer for seven years and was an absolute warrior throughout her cancer journey. In life she was a trailblazer, a visionary, and the most incredible woman, all of which makes this news that much harder to bear. As a family, we are utterly heartbroken at the loss of our wife, mum, sister, and best friend.”
Jacqueline Gold’s death comes less than three months after that of her father, David, the joint chairman of West Ham United. He died aged 86 after a short illness.
He had given her work experience at Ann Summers in 1979, when she was 19, having bought the four-store sex shop business a few years earlier.
Unimpressed by the men-only atmosphere, she went on to take the brand into women’s homes, organising Tupperware-style selling parties, bringing vibrators into the sitting rooms of middle England and giving women a chance to earn their own money.
Gold became the chief executive of Ann Summers in 1987 and took it on to more than 100 high streets across the UK, turning women-friendly products such as the Rampant Rabbit vibrator into household names.
Her family said in a statement: “It is her vision and creativity that saw Ann Summers grow from an unknown brand to a British household name and staple of the British high street.
“From an internship to chief executive officer in less than 10 years, her determination and commitment to creating a unique retail offering led to the creation of a multichannel retail chain, consisting of retail stores, direct sales ambassadors, and a fast-growing online and third-party business.”
Gold has said her time at Ann Summers was “an extremely colourful one” in which she “certainly faced my fair share of obstacles”.
In the early days of the business, she was arrested at a trade exhibition for allegedly running a sex shop without a licence and was sent a bullet in the post when Ann Summers opened its first store in Ireland in 1999. Gold also took the government to court in 2003 – and won – after Ann Summers was banned from advertising in job centres.
In 2020, Ann Summers negotiated a cut in rents via an insolvency procedure after falling to a loss. The retailer returned to profit in 2021, making £6.4m after a loss of £12.4m a year before as sales rose almost 11% to £93.2m, according to the latest figures filed at Companies House.
Gold spoke of the difficulties in negotiating a male-dominated business world where she had few women to look up to in her early years as a retail boss.
Her personal life also had its difficulties. In her autobiography A Woman’s Courage, Gold wrote of being abused as a child by her mother’s second husband and suffering from depression.
Later in life she struggled to have children, undergoing several rounds of IVF and lost her son, Alfie, when he was eight months old to a rare brain condition. Then in 2011, the nanny of her daughter, Scarlett, admitted trying to poison Gold and was imprisoned.
Gold was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2016 and went into remission the following year after treatment. The cancer returned in 2019 and Gold went through three rounds of chemotherapy, sharing her experiences with others in the hope it would help them.
Lady Delyth Morgan, the chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, paid tribute to Gold’s work for the ccharity, saying she had “raised awareness of breast cancer, broken down stigmas and taboos associated with the disease” and helped raise funds for vital research and support services.
Richard Walker, the boss of the Iceland grocery chain, paid tribute to Gold on Twitter on Friday: “Such sad news. Jacqueline was a brilliant retailer, and champion of women in business. RIP.”
She is survived by her husband, Dan, and daughter Scarlett.
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