Miss Spice was born Priya Sharma 10th July 1976 in Stourbridge, West Midlands. The youngest of four children to Mr and Mrs Sharma who moved from the Punjab, India, to build a new life.
Five-year-old Priya spent much of her childhood in her parents’ food business, packing spices and playing. “My mother would take sacks of cumin, turmeric and masala and grind them into beautiful fine powders. I loved the smell of the different coloured buckets, which had to be meticulously clean. Then I carefully packed a spoonful into a small paper bag and neatly folded the top. For every 100 bags she paid me 10p - but all the bags had to be perfectly clean.”
" My father would come home with neatly labelled cash and lock it in a small safe in the cupboard under the stairs. He was very proud of how carefully I worked and said that if I was a good girl and worked hard, one day I would have a beautiful wedding. "
On Priya’s 14th birthday a boy from her class brought a present to school. “My brother shoved him and told him to take the present away and never talk to me again. I was shocked and ashamed. He couldn’t even look at me after that and I never apologised to him, which I still regret today.”
“Growing up my family frequently talked about the beautiful wedding they would give me; I would be dressed like a princess and be showered with flowers.” But when Priya was 22 her father took her to an uncle’s house and arranged for her to marry a taxi driver from Smethwick over a whisky. “My parents were all about the ‘show’ of a wedding they didn’t think about the duties that came after. My husband punched me in the face on our honeymoon because I wouldn’t do what he wanted. It wasn’t much of a punch, so I punched him back harder and told him to keep away from me.” Priya divorced him after three difficult years. “It taught me independence and the need to focus on the here and now rather than fairy tales,” she said.
After working her way up from an assistant in a bank she moved to Portsmouth working for IBM but returned to the Midlands to start a family with a husband of her choosing.
Priya left work to give birth to the first of her three daughters. Glad to be out of the corporate world she turned her attention to self-love and higher spirituality. “The Indian culture can be very rigid - placing great pressure on parents and children. Even now I feel I failed at being a good Indian girl. You weren’t allowed to discuss your body, puberty and especially sex. This is in great contrast to the history of India - the culture that gave the world the Kama Sutra.”
With her children now at school Priya went back to work at an owner-run business as an assistant in the purchasing department. She worked her way up to Head of Business Development and then Director. “Working for an owner-run business was inspirational and gave me the urge to follow in my parents’ footsteps, so I founded Miss Spice. Both male and female sexual needs are part of who we are. All of us should feel free to have sexual urges and take care of them without guilt.”
Miss Spice is the result of my journey and experiences as a person, my contribution to the world. I still pack things just as carefully as ever. We are small enough that I wrap each product in tissue paper before putting it in a discrete black envelope. I know that as we grow, I will have to let other people help, but doing it makes me feel close to each customer. We also make a big effort to minimise waste; there are no cardboard cartons and as little packaging as possible.