Melissa Doussey: How I overcame tragedy of my dad’s suicide in Pembury Estate explosion 30 years ago

Melissa Doussey with her mother Verena

Melissa Doussey with her mother Verena - Credit: Melissa Doussey

Melissa Doussey tells Emma Bartholomew about learning to live with her father’s death in a homemade explosion that shook the Pembury Estate 30 years ago

When Melissa Doussey was two years old, her father Paul Leon killed himself with a homemade explosion at their flat.

The blast on the Pembury Estate three decades ago was so mighty it even injured people on the road below.

The tragedy began the “beginning of a difficult road” for Melissa, now 33, her mother Verena and two sisters.

They moved to the Lower Clapton Estate where Verena studied for a law degree while working full time, determined for her daughters “not to be stigmatised”.

But despite finding her mother an inspiration, Melissa was haunted by not having her father around. As a teenager she would self-harm, and when she came to wanting to start up her own business, she regretted not having had a more stable upbringing.

The mum-of-one has now written a book, Starting From the Bottom Up, about how she finally beat the odds and set up her craft workshop business The Bejewelled Academy in east London.

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She wants to prove to others that “it is possible to achieve your dreams, no matter your circumstances”.

“As a young adult I had dreams of being a businesswoman and faced many setbacks – not feeling good enough because of my background, my past, my postcode and all the things I didn’t have,” she told the Gazette.

“But it’s not about looking at what others have and you don’t – if you are wiling and strong enough you will do what it takes and you will achieve.” Melissa described the trauma of finally hearing what happened to her father. “As children we didn’t know the full story,” she said. “It’s only as we got older we were told more about my dad. When I got to 13 I started to really miss the absence of a father, and I struggled with that. It led me to self harm. I was a closed book and couldn’t really speak to people. I felt so frustrated of not knowing the reasons of why he did what he did and why we weren’t good enough for him to stick around for, and I didn’t know how to express that in any other way.”

Melissa found praying with the Pentecostal Universal Church in Finsbury Park helpful to help her resolve her trauma. “I was able to face the fact it wasn’t doing me any good, and I had to move on accept that’s just the way life was.

“Setbacks in life can actually propel you forward to do good things, or learn things you might not have otherwise learned.”