Philanthropist, entrepreneur and author Paola Diana certainly keeps herself busy, but that won’t stop her on her mission to change the world
Photos: Fabrizio Intonti, courtesy of Paola Diana
It’s not long into my chat with Paola Diana that she describes herself as a rebel. And, as soon as she says it, it’s obvious that it is the perfect description for the Notting Hill-based entrepreneur and author who has dedicated much of her career to empowering women and shedding stereotypes.
It’s something she loves to talk about everywhere from her blogs for the Huffington Post to her feminist and political commentary on radio and TV, and it’s what her new book is all about. A rallying call for gender equality, the book follows the plight of women throughout history, the current socio-political situation and what can be done for the future in a part manifesto for change part historical and sociological essay.
It’s about men who are enlightened and understand the struggle that women went through and now are ready to stand with them and fight
‘My theory is the new kind of humanitarian feminism,’ she tells me as we sit in her beautiful Notting Hill office. ‘That is the one I’m talking about [in the book], and is the one I hope everyone will embrace one day.
‘It’s all about men who are enlightened and who understand the struggle that women went through during the centuries and now are ready to stand with them and fight in order to end this kind of discrimination, violence and abuse that is unfortunately still going on around the world but also here in our country.’
Diana has adapted her book from her original bestselling Italian publication into a new edition, complete with a bold new title – Saving the World. ‘It might sound very bold but for me it’s actually the truth,’ she smiles when I ask her where the title came from.
‘It’s completely realistic because in my opinion we have to save women all over the world in order for them to help us in saving the world because we need the values that women cherish the most. I’m talking about compassion, I’m talking about sharing, caring, empathy, that is fundamental, and love of course.’
During our impassioned chat, it’s clear that feminism holds an extremely important place in Diana’s heart, and she tells me that it was her upbringing in Padua in northern Italy, which helped mould these views from a very young age.
‘It was very difficult – I was living in a very patriarchal and conservative family,’ she explains. ‘I felt oppressed, I felt it was wrong, I felt there was nothing right in this kind of education, especially towards me as I was the youngest one in the family and I was a little girl, and my father was very bad with me as well.
‘I’ve always been a rebel, thank god, this is my character, this is the way I think I could survive and I could understand I didn’t want to become a victim,’ she adds.
It was also this rebellious attitude that gave her great ambition which led her to study political science at university and a complete a master’s degree in institutional relationships after having her children. Then, in her late twenties, she began working behind the scenes on the campaign for twice Italian prime minister and former president of the European Commission, Romano Prodi.
I love Notting Hill. It has this kind of village vibe, it’s incredible and my office is facing Hyde Park
Now she is well known in London as the founder of three international companies under The Diana Group, a service finding nannies and other household staff called Nanny & Butler, the luxury concierge member’s club Sigillus and the secretarial staff headhunting company Supreme PA. But, it wasn’t always such smooth sailing for Diana who admitted she struggled to find work as a young mother.
‘Before, after my bachelor’s degree, I tried to work, tried to find a job and no one called me for an interview, can you imagine?’ she explains. ‘That’s why now that I’m successful, I have made my own company, I’m my own boss, I have offices around the world, clients around the world, I’m really laughing if I think about the struggle at the beginning.’
And she is certainly successful, managing her businesses out of her Notting Hill office after permanently relocating to the UK with her two children.
‘I love it,’ she enthuses about the area. ‘It has this kind of village vibe, it’s incredible and my office is here facing Hyde Park, literally like three minutes walking. I love to walk to come to the office, no matter if it’s raining, if it’s sunny, I really enjoy it.’
She adds that you can’t beat Notting Hill’s restaurants and cafes. ‘I love Farmacy, the vegan restaurant in Westbourne Grove, it’s like my kitchen,’ she smiles. ‘I always go there when I have time. I love to have brunch at Granger and Co, especially on Sundays and then I really like Beach Blanket Babylon.’
With her fingers in so many pies, one of the things that strikes me most about Diana is that she thrives off being busy. Therefore, I’m not surprised when she tells me that she’s already planning to write another book, this time about domestic violence, which is an issue she feels particularly passionate about.
‘It’s like we have an elephant in the room and we’re not talking about the elephant,’ she explains. ‘We can break this, we can break this chain, there’s nothing that says this is not breakable,’ she adds. ‘And this is the time I think. This would be the real freedom for women.’
With her insightful and optimistic words playing on my mind, I leave her for a busy day of meetings and plans to speak on the BBC about the formation of the Italian government. It’s much later when I think back on our talk that it occurs to me that perhaps rebel is not quite the right word for Diana – I’d go with trailblazer.
Saving the World by Paola Diana is published by Quartet Books and is on sale now at £12.50