On a pleasant day, the revitalising air, the open skies and rock pools around North Berwick are hard to beat. For Amanda Hamilton, it is the ideal out-doors environment to relax with her husband and bring up her young family, away from the stresses of live television deadlines and the flurry of business engagements as she build up her international spa business.
The East Lothian coastal town, with its excellent local golf courses, its award-winning Scottish Seabird Centre and live links to the Bass Rock’s gannet colony, and its accolade as a Britain in Bloom gold winner from 2010, makes this the perfect place for Scotland’s health and detox guru – to detox. For Amanda, well-known as a GMTV presenter, broadcaster and dubbed “Queen of the Detox Scene”, leads not a double, but a triple life, developing her programmes at upmarket destination spas where her guests are not only pummelled and pampered but gently encouraged to detox by adopting a more wholesome approach to their lives.
She has just returned to North Berwick to chill out after a hectic week in the French Alps where she is working on a spa project for the luxury ski retreat, Ferme de Moudon at Les Gets, one of the exquisite “stars” of Grand Designs Abroad. She is helping to create another of her unique experiences in the chalet, coupling her knowledge of complementary therapies using a mix of massage, yoga and colonic hydrotherapy.
According to industry analysts Diagonal Reports, the European beauty and wellness market is worth a staggering £155bn a year, and high-street “spa” treatments such as massages and facials account for half of this. Despite the recession, this global industry continues to grow at breakneck speed, emerging as a value-added part of international tourism.
Up until now, Amanda has been working at the luxury end with residential retreats – such as Stobo Castle in Peeblesshire – where she can spend up to a week working on bespoke consultation programmes for individual clients, or her short-sharp Turbo Detox weekend at Champneys in Tring. But she has major plans for a new type of spa experience with a range of approved organic and natural detox products. Amanda has become more choosy about her broadcasting commitments too, so she can spend more time with her family and build the business plan for what has been called her “Inner Spa” project.
She remains a freelance presenter on BBC Scotland’s Landward and an occasional member of STV’s The Hour. That would be enough for most energetic women, but Amanda has an extra gear when it comes to motivation.
“I’m trying to do more in Scotland, especially with the family being at an important age and because I’ve been spending a lot to time abroad,” she says. “So when I am here I want to keep focused on what needs to be done for this new venture.” Amanda, now 36, loves the outdoors. She was brought up in a sporty household – both her parents were gym teachers – and she represented Scotland at badminton as a junior.
“I’m a really an active, outdoors person,” she says. “Being out and about is something that informs my thinking. It helps me define what I see as good for a person’s physical and mental wellbeing.” For Amanda, there is a natural way of living and her motto is: Keep It Real. Keep it Simple. At 17, she went to Napier University to study journalism and communications. When she graduated she landed a job as a news anchor in Colorado where she spent a year learning all about live television.
“I’ve always had a fairly entrepreneurial spirit,” she says. “After my early spell in broadcasting, I fell into a job with Microsoft. And I cut my business teeth with them where I became a strategic alliance manager.
“I wasn’t a technology geek, I was there to help people with ideas on how businesses might use Microsoft in their businesses. I started off working with partner companies and small entrepreneurial business in the south-east of England. I was helping them become involved with Microsoft. This gave me a flavour for business life.
“I had a burning desire to do something in the health industry. After I graduated, I took a course in nutritional medicine at 25. I came out of that wanting to do something that could help people with their health and diet.
“I didn’t want to do health promotion or purely dietician – that really wasn’t me. I became very passionate about what people could do to change their lifestyles. But I wanted to find out much more about what was available around the world.” So she turned her back on a six-figure salary, selling up a large home in Buckinghamshire, and set up her first spa business.
“It was a big risk financially but I was only 27 and I didn’t have any dependents at that time,” she says. “I could see a lot of opportunity.” A fluent Spanish speaker, she drove off to the south of Spain with an idea of opening up there because of the weather and the opportunities. She says: “It had the right market conditions at the time.
I moved to Andalucía where it wasn’t too expensive to live and I spent some time seeing how it might work.” She was impatient to find out more, so she upped sticks and went to Thailand, but kept a small consultation clinic going.
“I spent six months in the Himalayas working with an ayurvedic doctor,” she says.
“Ayurveda is the Indian way of medicine and knowledge which means a long life. I then trained in yoga and tried to piece together all the different bits that were important to bring an overall experience. It was things that I couldn’t find in a traditional format.” What was evolving was a deeper understanding of how a healthy human metabolism worked, with proper digestion balanced with exercise.
“It’s really a meeting of East and West,” says Amanda. “But I’m not prescriptive about things. It’s not my way or the highway. I find the variety fun – because we are all biochemically unique. Keep your food real, cut out the processed food, try and handle stress by taking exercise. Supplement your diet with supplements when needed. But I do think that people should take a break and take time out at least once a year when they restart the body and give it a catch-up and a treat. If you can’t do it in a spa environment, then recreate it at home. The busier you are, the more important it is to take time out.” She had melded together her thinking and her media background to pitch a television programme that would take people through a detox programme.
“I’m a nutritionist with a lot of accumulated knowledge about health and diet” she says, “but I’ve would never claimed to be a medic. “I went around knocking on doors. I probably went to 14 different production companies before I got a ‘yes’.” The ‘yes’ was from Tern Television in Glasgow where creative director Harry Bell saw what Amanda was trying to do achieve.
“We got a commission through UKTV for Spa of Embarrassing Illnesses and that was the best-selling export to over 20 countries,” she says.
“It’s gone to BBC Prime and made a follow-up series including Teen Spa of Embarrassing Illnesses.” Amanda was co-producer and presenter.
“One of the things I had in my bag was that I understood the media,” she says. “I’ve always been able to use this. I trained in live television when I was very young, so I’m not scared of it. I think that’s a real asset for me.” The media profile has certainly been a massive bonus, leading to further work on BBC1 and BBC2 with How to Live Longer and Something for the Weekend.
“Being on television does help with the detox programme profile,” she says. The creation of the Amanda Hamilton signature detox in some of Europe’s most exclusive health resorts fitted with her deeper desire to be a successful businesswoman.
“I’m into short, sharp interventions to get results,” she says. “It is a challenge when you see someone every three months; it’s much better when you can get a concentrated period with them for seven days.” Her clientele has been 70% female, with a lot of professional women wanting some help in shifting weight and feeling healthier.
“Some people have saved up all year to come while there are those who’ve arrive in their own private jets,” she says.
“My courses are a great leveller because it boils down to everyone is going through the same thing.
“My new venture is less about me – Amanda Hamilton as the front person – it’s about the team. My company has taken time to grow because clients expect my personal input – that’s been a strength but also a weakness in growing a business. I’m addressing this by training people in my techniques.
“The next 12 months will be crucial for us. We’re launching the whole concept in London in May and there will be range of products to complement this. I think we are onto something major. I’ve spent a lot of time figuring it out. I’ve been focusing on what we really do; what the experience will be like for the client. It’s a matter of weaving this into the bigger market. It’s not about a team of ‘mini-mes’, but a group of people who are exceptionally good at what they do.” Amanda is also attracting the attention of “big gun” investors in the translation of her spa and diet concept to an online audience.
“I see this as being a new wave of spas, doing things differently,” she says. “I’ve had my babies (her youngest is one-and-a-half) and I still have this immense energy. I believe over the next five years we can build a very exciting business.” Amanda Hamilton is about to unlock a new wave of experiences for those who want to change their lives. With her sense of family security in North Berwick – and a place to escape – she has the building blocks and the determination to build something significant.