Living with Honor with Nina Aouilk

October 17, 2023
James Whittaker

Check out this episode on the Win the Day Podcast

Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence.

— Leonardo da Vinci

Today, we’re sitting down with Nina Aouilk, known as London’s Life Coach. 

Nina has overcome enormous hardship and adversity to become one of the leading activists speaking out about honor killings and human trafficking. She is the founder of nonprofit End Honor Killings that provides welfare and support to the victims of attempted honor killings, gender-based violence, domestic abuse, and trauma.

Nina is also a mindset coach to some of the most recognized boxers, UFC fighters, and entertainment personalities. She has presented in the House of Lords, spoken on stages around the world, and appeared in interviews with some of the world’s leading outlets that have garnered more than 50 million views.

In addition, Nina is a bestselling author, a TEDx speaker, and sits on advisory boards for Scotland Yard and The Home Office.

In this episode:

  • Some of the most harrowing moments from Nina’s life and how that shaped the person she is today
  • The reality of what’s really going on in the world
  • Why you need to speak up and use your voice for good; and
  • How to find the courage to rise above your adversity.

Before we begin, the right bit of inspiration can completely change the trajectory of someone’s life, so if there’s a friend or loved one who needs to hear this episode or could use some help to Win the Day, share it with them right now.

Let’s WIN THE DAY with Nina Aouilk!

James Whittaker:
Nina, great to see you. Thanks so much for coming on the show.

Nina Aouilk:
Hi, thanks so much for having me today!

To kick things off, do you want to give us a bit of a background of your story and some of the moments that shaped your life at an early age? 

We’re going to talk about some challenging, potentially distressing moments for some people, but I think it's important, especially for parents, to understand the reality of what’s going on in the world. 

Yeah, sure. A lot of people say that I should come with a trigger warning, but I always say the only warning I should come with is that I'm armed with love, nothing more. I am very raw. I am very real. But we have to have uncomfortable conversations so that others can also open up to their own truth and ask for help, which is one of the hardest things to do. 

I met you quite a while ago now, and you changed my life. It takes one person, just one person to say the right thing, to direct you, to believe in you, and that's what you did. I asked you if I could be on your podcast because I wanted to be on all of these podcasts to spread the news of what I'd been through to help other survivors and people, not really knowing where I was going with it.

You said no straightaway, but you did offer me mentorship. And I thought, "I don't need a mentor," but I obviously did. I've been winning the day ever since! So I just want to acknowledge you and what you've given to me as a gift.

We have to have uncomfortable conversations so that others can also open up to their own truth and ask for help, which is one of the hardest things to do.

My story, I am of Indian heritage. So my parents are from North India, the Punjab. I was not celebrated as a child because I was born a girl, and in my culture, girls are not wanted. They're treated really differently from the boys. Had I been the youngest of three, as I am, and I'd been born a boy, my life would've been totally different. I would've been loved, celebrated. When boys are born, sweets are handed out, parties happen straight away, family and friends get together.

It's a really big deal. But when girls are born, there's a solemn affair, often tears. The girls are neglected, as I was. And through life, I think I've learned many lessons of rejection, that I understand that it's another way of the Universe telling you that it's not meant for you. And now I'd never question anything. So I've taken those lessons on board, which, if anyone's listening out there and they're saying, "Why is it happening to me? It always happens, I'm a bad luck charm," I thought I was too. You just have to remember that something better is out there waiting for you. It's just a case of believing in yourself, like somebody else does, from the outside. 

I was neglected as a child. I, at the age of six, was a modern day slave, but I didn't know it. I mean, how would we know that we are neglected unless we're comparing, and I wasn't allowed to see anybody else or their lives. So I felt it was normal. 

So I actually was a happy child, not knowing that my room was so different from the others, not questioning it. My room didn't have wallpaper, my room didn't have bedding, my room didn't have carpet. My room had a very rough door with the wood never sanded. It was like a basic wooden door stuck on without any thought. Whereas my brother had an Oxford green door and when I would clean their rooms and barely be able to climb onto the bed to change the duvets and covering for my brothers, I never wondered why they had pillows and I didn't. I just thought that's the way it is.

It's not till later on in life, someone actually sat me down and explained each part of my journey to me and said, "You were actually a modern day slave. You were not allowed to engage with your family members." I was told to keep my eyes down low. I was told not to have conversations. My voice was silenced, as many victims' voices are still silenced. I communicated in a nonverbal way with nods or my hand gestures, and I was a very frightened little girl. 

But that was normal for me, that fear almost fed my mindset, which is a huge thing, how you think. And so life for me was quite normal up to that point. I did all of the cooking. My mom would call me to clean, cook, or if a guest came, I was the one that would go and take the plates and food and prepare little snacks. I was the good girl, the people pleaser, and I did everything out of love because I wanted them to love me.

So because I never got love back, I, from a young age, gave unconditional love without any expectations, which I value now as a personal trait in myself. I did have something that happened at the age of 14 whereby I knew things weren't right. No girl should have to go through this for her to understand her life is not one of a normal nature. 

My job was at midnight on a weekend day to come down the stairs and prepare food for my father and his friends. They would go to a pub in the UK every Friday or Saturday night, come back to my father's because he owned businesses to do with bars and pubs, he had the alcohol. It was the obvious choice. And I'd known these men from a young age, from a small little girl, and we say “uncle”, we never say our father's friend's name or anyone older, you say uncle or auntie or brother or sister. We don't use names. Culturally, that's the right thing to do. And this particular night, I remember my mother waking me. I was 14 and I was just coming into puberty.

You’re reading an excerpt of this interview. To access the full Win the Day episode with Nina Aouilk, including bonus content that doesn’t appear here, check out the YouTube or podcast version. 🚀

I really didn't feel like getting up. I was tired. And I remember it very clearly because it was almost like I had little messengers in my body hitting me, like tapping my head, tapping my stomach, saying, "No, no, no." But all I had to do was what I normally did. I was following what I was always doing every Friday or every Saturday. I prepared the food and I took it on the tray.

I left it with them, but they were very loud. They were saying rude things, which I almost closed my ears to. And I waited on the bottom step and we had this huge large wooden staircase where my dog would often sit at the top and I would sit at the bottom. And I sat at the bottom of the staircase just playing with the slipper. I kept kicking it off and then trying to pull it in, thinking, "When are they going to finish? How long is this going to take?"

And when I did get the call, my father used to call me “witch” because they were so sure that I was this evil entity that had come into their house that they wouldn't even use a name for me. And my birth name is actually a boy's name because they couldn't even bear to give me a girl's name.

I was literally thrown from table to floor, from person to person, and they all took their turn to rape me.

I heard them call me. I went in, and I was nervous. I almost was feeling sick to the point I had my eyes down. And when I opened the door and went in, they were just very loud. How the rest of the house were not awake, I don't know. I had this huge tray. I talk about this tray a lot because it was so significant. I want you to imagine a young girl carrying this tray from a young age to 14, always taking this tray of food, bringing it out.

And my father grabbed my wrist and I dropped this tray, and I didn't know what was happening because how would I know what's going to happen? My routine was pick up the dishes, take them away, wash and put them away, go to bed. But he grabbed me and he literally threw me onto a low table like this. And he was the first person to rape me. 

I didn't really understand what he was doing. I didn't really know what I should do, but I kept my eyes wide shut. As I say, my heart was pumping so fast, my head was... I was confused. I didn't know whether I was coming or going. But what I do know is that I was literally thrown from table to floor, from person to person, and they all took their turn to rape me, but in a very barbaric way where I was bitten, punched, kicked, slapped, things were thrown on top of me.

I'm sure at one point, one of them hit me with a bottle. It was almost like a punishment that I was not even worthy of human compassion or to be treated like a person. And by the end of this very, very long ordeal, I remember my hair was wet, and I remember touching my hair and it was blood. 

My mother the next morning opened the door and she really banged the door a few times almost to wake me up. And when I did wake up, I remember I was literally lying in a bath of my own blood. And the first thing I thought when I looked to the side was, "There's food stains on the wall. There's food on the carpet. How will I get them out? I'm going to be in so much trouble."

I never ever thought about Nina or what have you just been through. I just thought I'm in trouble. No one's going to like me or I'm going to be in trouble. My father's going to shout at me. And I don't think it actually sunk in. I don't think it sunk in at that moment, what had happened.

Given the upbringing you described, did you feel like it was your fault to some degree?

I was told it was my fault. My mother allowed me to shower thereafter. I never was allowed showers. And I talk about this because it's really important because I used to have to have a bucket bath and it's like a bucket that you fill up and then you use the jug to wash. But the others had showers. I was always treated very differently, in an obvious way. 

When I had the shower, I thought maybe she's doing it out of love. Maybe giving me a new set of pajamas is because she cares. I just knew it was wrong. I didn't know what it was. I didn't know about sex. We didn't talk about those things. They didn't teach us these things in school back then. I'm going back to the 80s. I didn't know really what was happening. I was such a naive young girl, but I was told afterwards it was my fault, that I had spoiled myself, that I brought it upon myself. I'd maybe looked at them in a way, and I took it upon myself that it must be me. How could it be anybody else? I must be the one that's wrong. 

I believed I was an evil entity, too. I believed I was carrying dark spirits. I didn't want to be, but I didn't know how to get rid of them either, so I just accepted what people had told me. And I was surrounded by the same voices, the same narrative, and I accepted it. I did fall into a very depressive state of mind whereby I feel that night they broke me, because I'd gone from this happy child who just got on with life, to somebody who just felt wrong all the time. Internally, I was destroyed. Mentally, I was destroyed. I was in a lot of pain. I didn't get any medical attention that I probably most needed.

I had nightmares. Whereas before I would sleep, even without a duvet or a pillow, I was still asleep, but I couldn't sleep. I just saw hands and men and felt them. And having my eyesight almost taken away at a young age, the noises were the harrowing parts of my childhood, because if somebody coughed, I felt it was they were getting up, they were coming. If they laughed or they were loud, I was constantly flinching. There was no way of me having the support I desperately needed. 

At school, I was neglected. There's so many people that could have made a difference. I went from sitting in the front row, putting my hand up, trying to please the teachers, always doing my homework and 100% more than actually was needed to do, to sitting at the back. And I remember one occasion my French teacher asked me to leave because I sat curled up in a ball crying.

And it was a case of that they couldn't be bothered. They didn't understand the culture, which is why I talk about cultural diversity and understanding how the children of immigrants suffer mentally because they are taught a certain way, living in a different culture. You're stuck in between what is right and what is wrong mentally. And it's very important for employers and friends and professionals to understand this so that they can give them that consideration and help them out of a situation like my own.

We all go through some sort of trauma, but it's what you take out of that trauma that helps you move forward.

I ended up becoming pregnant. I just turned 15, and my period stopped and I had to tell my mom. I had no option. And I remember her being very angry. She was always very angry, and I assumed it was me. Because I saw her loving my brother. I saw her being nice to my father, but it was just, I seemed to evoke this anger. And they took me to a place for an abortion.

My father and mother took me and they complained all the way. It was the first time I'd been alone in the car with my parents. I was looking out of the back window up into the sky. I actually raised my head because nobody could see me in the back. I didn't know where I was going. I just knew that something was about to happen. I remember the whole procedure of the operation, what had happened, the gown, the gas and air. I remember everything, but I always talk about the one thing I choose to remember. 

And the point of me saying it in this way is that we all go through some sort of trauma, but it's what you take out of that trauma that helps you going forward. As I sat in the clinic gown with a lot of other women, and I was a child, I remember that one of the people came out that were giving tea to people sitting down. She had blonde hair and I was sort of half looking up trying to see her, but without seeing her. 

She stroked my hair in a very motherly way, and I desperately needed that human touch and that one act of kindness. It stayed with me forever because it gave me a couple of things. It gave me the belief that I wasn't that bad because she didn't catch anything from touching me. It gave me the belief that I too deserved something, like a simple gesture of having a cup of tea with a biscuit, that maybe I could be cared for. 

And she gave me hope. I wanted to be like her. I wanted to be that person that extended something to someone who was so desperately and happy and alone, which is what I was.

Did your mother know that your father was involved in the attack?

I get asked that a lot. My mother was upstairs when everything happened. She was the one who found me in the morning. So yes, she did know. And I feel sometimes, could she have done something? Was she scared of my father?

But there are ways you can show some compassion, like the lady I've just described at the clinic. There was a way that she could have just let me know that she's unable to help me. But I think that women in my culture and many other cultures are part of the problem, not the solution. Because they condone the behavior.

They are part of it, and that's what makes the problem not go away.

And the work you're doing now to end honor killings and human trafficking, there is a cultural aspect that you had mentioned earlier. Can you let us know about the difference between bad people and some of these cultural things that are going on around the world that we need to be aware of?

My story, I know, is quite different to most, but the one thing that resonates so much with people from my culture, and when I say my culture, I mean South Asian, but it's also very similar in Africa. I've lived in the African culture for 23 years. I know it's very similar there. It's very common in South America.

I had a conversation with somebody at the Win the Day Mastermind, who was from South America, and she said that she really resonated with some of the things I was talking about. It's really quite global. It's not just a small minority, it's a majority, which is probably why since February, I've had over 14,000 messages asking for help. And the messages start with, "Help me."

Do you feel like it's an almost insurmountable mission, given the enormity of the task at hand?

It's overwhelming. And for the first time when my first video went viral, I didn't sleep for three days. My daughter was getting very worried about me, but I felt if I don't answer them, if this is their one chance. You see, I understand it from a victim's point of view, that it takes a lot to ask for help. And in that video, at the end of it, I tell them they're not alone, that I'm there for them, because that's all we need. We need someone to give us the opportunity that understands. 

And I really do understand pain. I do really understand trauma, whichever form it comes. And by giving that extension of love and saying, "Take my hand, I'm going to help you," people were coming from not just my culture, from all races, from all communities, men, women, girls, boys, they were all coming and saying, "Help me."

Since February, I've had over 14,000 messages asking for help. And the messages start with, "Help me."

I feel it's my purpose. This is why I've survived as much of the trauma that I've gone through, the life-threatening things I've been in, the situations I've been in. There's been a couple of attempts on my life, as you know, but I'm still here. 

And you have to ask yourself, why am I here? Well, what is the bigger purpose today and what am I going to do with this? I know that I've saved so many lives, and I'm not saying that from an egotistical point of view. I'm saying that we can all do that if we all do a little bit, do something.

For someone who's in a really difficult situation right now where they're even trying to understand the severity because of the psychological barriers that we put up to try and avoid the pain and reality of some of those harrowing things that are going on, what can they do to start taking some action to get out of there?

You see, one of the reasons I speak, and there's hundreds of videos out there of me speaking out, is so that people recognize what I didn't recognize, that this is not normality. It's not normal to be forced into a marriage. It's not normal to be treated differently because you are born a girl. It's not normal for your partner to beat you or to do some of the things that I've had done to me. 

When someone else tells their story, I know there's lots of other Ninas out there, but there's lots of other men and women out there, children, that are in a situation they don't even know is wrong. And that gives them an understanding that this is not the way life is supposed to be and, "She's okay, she's done it. So I can."

Domestic violence isn't just affecting the person being beaten or hit, it's affecting the whole family unit.

But the best thing about me telling my story is that I give them a place to go and they can come to me from wherever they are. The world is a smaller place now with the internet, and I can guide them, I can help them. I can say to them, "I'm going to teach you step by step how to get away, but the most important thing you must do first is to understand that you're in a very dangerous situation you don't have to live through." 

And don't do it for the children if you're in a situation for domestic violence. I stayed because of the children, but it causes mental health issues for your children. Domestic violence isn't just affecting the person being beaten or hit, it's affecting the whole family unit.

How did the relationship with your mother continue after some of the things you mentioned earlier?

I continued to listen to my mother. I continued to be her cook, her cleaner. I did everything she told me to, but they very shortly after that needed to get rid of me, as they kept saying, because in our culture, girls would get married as young as 16. Then if you didn't get married, the parents would be questioned. "What's wrong with her? Is she dating someone? Is there something wrong with her? Can she not have children?" 

And it's a big thing. The culture cares so much about what other people think and what they determine. And that's your honor. That's where the word “honor killings” comes from, because they feel that honor is tainted by the actions of their children. So the word honor for us might be something very different. I'm doing an honorable thing, you might think. But for them, honor is all about how they're perceived by the world, by their own communities.

So one of the rapists came forward and he was the person that used to bite me, or bit me on that occasion. He came forward and said that my father could sell me to him. It was a transaction that was argued over. There was a lot of deliberation about how it would happen, how much money needed to be exchanged. And he kept saying to my father that if you want me to keep it secret and take away your problem, you must pay me a substantial amount of money. My father did have the money, which he knew, and I felt he manipulated the idea as well for himself because they lived in a very small house. They weren't very wealthy. He was a factory worker. He wasn't ambitious like my father was a businessman, and I was traded, I was sold to him.

For them, honor is all about how they're perceived by the world, by their own communities.

He bought me, and he bought me as a sex slave. He bought me for his wife as a servant, but for the community I had to get married in a traditional manner to his son so that people would think it's a real wedding. But it was a sham wedding, and I'm surprised that nobody noticed or questioned it because normally when you get married, even in my culture, the bride stays for the party. But I was sent home. 

So when it came to the party after the wedding rituals, and you've been to a recent Indian wedding, so you know the bride stays, but I was sent away straight away, left on my own at the house where I was sitting and worrying and worrying and getting very anxious. And when I did get married, I was 16, just turning 17, and I was given a room downstairs where they all slept upstairs. 

I endured four years of pushing my father-in-law off me, being raped by him, being subject to a really traumatic experience where he would do things to show he was in control where I've described he used to tie me with the metal coat hang, and there were very thick wire coat hangers then. And he would wrap them around my ankle, strip me and put me in a place where I couldn't move. So I would soil myself and I had no self-worth. I started to hate who I was, and I never use that word, but I didn't like who I was or the person I'd become.

At least with my parents, I knew I was a cook and a cleaner, mainly. This was a totally different ballgame. Mentally, I was struggling so much. And my mother-in-law was really mean. She treated me very aggressively. She starved me a food because when I went to plate food, I've said it before, she would throw it into the bin and almost push my head into the bin, the trash can, tell me to eat out of it. And I used to, because I was hungry, but then I lost the will. 

I actually lost the will to not just eat, but just to keep going. I had lost my keep going there.

As you and I both know with the people that we've been able to help on our journeys, a little bit of hope for someone at the right time, just a little glimmer of hope can be enough. Did you feel like you had any hope? Did you even know what else was possible at that point?

I felt like the world was closing in on me. I was forced to get two jobs, not just one. I was very entrepreneurial. I must have learned that from my father. I'll give him that. 

I had a job working for a large corporation. I was the first person at the age of 17 to get a managerial role who was from an ethnic minority. But I did it because I was people pleasing. Again, not really because I believed in myself, but obviously there was something within me that was able to push the boat and ask for things that most people wouldn't even ask for. I put myself in the right place, which was a coffee machine on the floor where all the executives were, and I asked, because I wasn't scared to ask at that time for a job. And I did get it, because of the boldness, he was just very surprised at the fact I went and asked.

That was another lesson. If you don't ask, you don't get. 

That was another lesson. If you don't ask, you don't get. But that wasn't enough. I was on a very good wage, but it wasn't enough for them. So I went and found another job, which was selling kitchens, and I didn't think I would enjoy it, but I loved it, because it was such a relaxed atmosphere. And all I did was talk to people all day, and I loved talking to people. But I did meet an Indian girl, though, who I thought was very similar to me. She was dating a Nigerian guy at the time. He was a manager there, and we all became friends.

And she would say to me that, "Why have you got a bruise?" The difficult thing is, people don't like to say anything because it makes them feel awkward. But she didn't care. She would ask me and I felt seen, because all we want really is to be seen and heard. She gave me the encouragement to go back home. 

I was always daydreaming and reading fairytales and books and thinking I was Rapunzel because I was stuck in this room. That's where I was stuck. And I thought the only way out was if someone came and got me. 

I made the biggest mistake of my life by going back home.

This is a bit of a difficult question to even ask. Why did you not think about taking your own life? Or had you thought about that at some stage in those earlier days?

Yeah, after the abortion, I tried to kill myself. I took an overdose of tablets. It didn't work. 

I didn't know what I was doing. In those days, we had tubs of tablets, they were like in a little plastic tub. They didn't give it in packets. And I took the whole lot one day, laid down thinking, "This is me. I'll be gone. I don't want to be here." I was in such a low point that I didn't want to live anymore. I had really given up. That little girl that used to smile through everything, didn't understand about love, but still smiled, she lost her smile. 

She was completely broken. So at that point, I had wanted to just leave this world, but as I said, it didn't work. And my parents found out and they were angry with me, which confused me more because I thought they didn't want me to be around.

That little girl that used to smile through everything, didn't understand about love, but still smiled, she lost her smile. 

But now I was faced with either going back to what I knew, even though I'd been raped there. People say, "Why would you go back?" But when you don't have any options, you don't believe in the police, you are told by your culture from a young age, "The police don't help our kind. We're the underdogs." As I said outside to you, "Nobody wants me." And that's how I felt. Nobody wants me, nobody cares.

But they must care, because they gave birth to you. That's what I was hearing. And I believed people very easily. If they told me something, if they told me the sky was blue, I'd say, "Yeah, it is, isn't it?" Or if they told me it was pink with polka dots, I would say, "Yes, I can see that too." So I was very influenced by people around me, and I suppose that inner child in me wanted to go back and be loved.

Obviously you've gone through exceptional adversity. When all of us are in a dark spot, it's so important to remember, thinking about the impact that you are having on the world now, the people that you're able to help at an individual level, who were very influential, who were then able to spread the word through their communities, the work you're doing through various associations and government organizations…

And I know there's a lot of businesses reaching out to you as well now who want to collaborate and partner with you. If you had made that decision back then, which no one would ever blame you for doing that, the world would not have all the incredible gifts that you've been able to share.

So thank you, on behalf of everyone, for being persistent with that mission. It's really, really important. And for anyone who's in a dark place right now, do not surrender. Keep going, because you will eventually find your hope. There are people who believe in you.

The journey that you went on to become a mom of three, can you tell us about how that all unfolded?

When I did go back to my parents, they performed an attempted honor killing in the form of, where my brother, who was six foot tall, I was the smallest out of all of them. My father's an ex-professional wrestler. He used to wrestle against back then people that were on television, as he was on as well.

What I'm trying to say is they were very strong men compared to me. They just started to beat me in what felt like a determined attack to kill me. I'd been beaten many times by my parents, but not like this. My mother and sister-in-law stood and watched. They were angry too. And it wasn't just the fists that were flying or the fact that they broke my arm and my jaw. It was the words they were using that were breaking me each time I heard them, because we do listen to what people say that we care about, that we think are our family.

And they were telling me that I should have died at birth, that I was a good-for-nothing. I'd become nothing. I'd brought shame upon their family, that I had ruined their lives, that my father would have a heart attack, that his death would be on my head, that now they would never be able to go out in public, and my poor mother.

They spoke about all these things and I felt guilty. So as I was receiving these blows, I was also having these heavy words thrown upon me that I couldn't carry the weight of them. And when I eventually collapsed and fell down from the punches and being beaten, they started to kick me. And they kicked me, and my father was stomping on me to the point where he put his foot on my throat and I felt, "This is it now. You are going."

But I almost felt myself leave and come back into my body and I stopped feeling the pain, but they did all leave. They left the room. And that was because my other brother said, "We can't kill her here. We'll get found out. We'll take her to India, it'd be easier." And that was their plan. But I lay there for days.

I started to break that almost unthinkable task into small parts. If I can get to the door, I can get to the hallway. If I can get to the kitchen, I can get to the wall outside the fence, and then I'm free.

People say, "Well, how long did you lie there?" I don't know. I just knew my body had stiffened, that the blood had dried, my hair was matted to me. There was not one piece of my skin that wasn't cut or bruised or a wound opening. It was something really from a horror film. And then somebody came and opened the door very slightly, and it was my mom's friend who said, "They're taking you to India on Sunday." And I thought, "I don't know what day it is. Sunday today? I don't know. And I don't want to go to India. I don't want to be killed."

But her point of telling me was she wanted me to reach out to security at the airport. And I knew I couldn't do that. I just didn't have it in me to. So I knew that that was my one chance to go. I knew that she would be at my mom's house for a couple of hours. It was a standard thing. I knew they were all busy with her, talking to her. I didn't think I could get out. But I started to break that almost unthinkable task into small parts, that if I get to the door, if I leave this room, I can get to the landing. If I can get to the hallway, I can get to the kitchen. If I can get to the kitchen, I can get to the wall outside the fence, and then I'm free.

I didn't know where I was going. I had no one I could go to, apart from my friends maybe, but I just knew I didn't want to die. And that's what I did. I managed to pull my body along, because with a broken arm, you can't do very much. I managed to get away to the point where I'd reached outside, and by this time, physically, I was exhausted. I wasn't the fittest person in the world. I still am not. But I had the sheer determination that I wasn't ready to leave this world.

And when I did get to the garden, this is so important in my story, my only friend was my dog. She was my only sense of warmth on the cold nights as a child, she would keep me warm. She slept in my bed. But she was also super loud, like most dogs are. And she came and sat there, and I thought, "No, please don't bark." I was almost saying it very quietly, "Don't, please don't."

I touched her wet nose. And people find this weird, but it's so important because she was also giving unconditional love the way I did as a child. She looked at me and looked up, and I needed that. Sometimes we need that one person like I, at the age of 50, needed you, James, to tell me, "Go on, Nina, do it." And at the age of 21, she did that to me. She said, "Do it." And I did. I got over the fence. I got to a taxi rank, I got to a police station.

The police station did not help me. They did not help me. They did not want to deal with it because it was a cultural, difficult and uncomfortable crime that they didn't know what to do with. And I ended up in hospital for months, I think, three months. I'm trying to get my old medical records at the moment, but they weren't digitized back then. They were all in files. 

Everyone came to visit people in different beds. And I would get my joy out of watching the person in bed one have his wife come and visit him with magazines and books and Lucozade. I would get my joy out of the day watching the child at the end who would be cuddled by his or her mom because they were ill. But I never considered anything for myself.

I always knew nobody was coming for me. And when I did get out of hospital, I could not deal with the women's refuge they put me into, because I had never seen a woman drinking. I had never seen a woman that was on drugs. It was very scary for me. And selfishly, I didn't have the emotional intelligence to even consider their feelings.

So I went, and the only place I could go to was my friend's house. And when I got there, I was really looking forward to seeing her, but she'd left. The guy there said that she went and had an arranged marriage, which confused me because I thought, "Well, I thought she was going to marry him." And he seemed quite upset by it, admittedly. I've never said that before, but he did, which gave me consideration that he's a good person too, because I didn't know him that well.

He said, "I've got two bedrooms in this flat, you can rent one." I said, "I can't work. I've got my arm in a sling." He said, "Yeah, yeah, whenever you can." And I thought, this guy's my hero. He's given me a place to stay. Why wouldn't I? If that was you or anybody else listening, they would think, "Wow, this guy is doing something amazing for her. He's given her a place to stay." But it wasn't really that way. 

When you are from abuse, you don't recognize abuse, which is why I speak out so that people understand that it'll follow you and you will always go back to that place, because it's comfortable. It's weird to explain it, but being beaten is something I'm used to or was used to, so I never questioned it. And we ended up getting into a relationship because one day he said to me, "Would you like to go to a party?"

When you are from abuse, you don't recognize abuse.

And I'd never been. And I thought parties were all about, and this will make you laugh, I thought parties were about those hats, the cone hats and sweets. I was almost like a child in an adult's body, and I still am to a certain point, but this party was about alcohol and drinks. I said, "I don't drink". He got me some Coke, but it was Malibu and Coke. And I didn't know that I was drinking alcohol. And when I questioned it, he said, "It's Pepsi." And I never really had fizzy drinks, so I didn't really know if that's how it should taste.

But he took advantage of me that night. He raped me. And I didn't know he'd raped me until I got pregnant. And when I asked, he said, "This is what you wanted." And I believed him, because why would I question him? Who was I to question anybody? But suddenly, having that life in me gave me life. I say that my daughter, she broke what I thought was an unbreakable circle of not celebrating a daughter.

James, you have a daughter, so you know how much joy they bring to you. And she did. She gave me so much joy. She gave me a purpose. Suddenly I was this mother, but I became obsessed with wanting to give her the best things in life. And I started a business from my bedroom. She slept with me. I ended up moving into her room. My partner wasn't always at the flat. He came and went. And I didn't question it, but I started selling mobile phones because I used to go downstairs to the newsagents and there was a guy that used to come in there sometimes, always really well-dressed.

I loved that he wore brogues and this check shirt. I followed him once to his car. And I said to him, "Can I ask what you do?" He said, "Oh, you don't need to know." He almost sort of dismissed me as my life I'd always been dismissed. Excuse me. But I heard him use the word "easy money", and I kind of captured that. And I wanted it for my daughter. I wanted her to have the best schooling, the best of everything. 

To cut a long story short, I became a mobile phone distributor for him. But I was doing so much business because I was so driven that I ended up taking it to a commercial property. And then I was suddenly in the center of a community hub, a small town. I became visible, and I made a very strategic decision to put my daughter where all of the lawyers put their children and where all of the doctors took their children and all of the professionals took their children, so I could network with them.

I knew nothing about networking, but I knew that if I go and pick her up at the same time, I can strike a conversation and let them know what I do and what I can give them. But I became this person that everybody in the town really liked, because I would listen. I would listen to what they needed, not sell them something just for the sake of selling. I would give them what they actually needed.

And I had very high integrity. If I said I was going to do it, and you know I'm a person of my word, I always did it. I was that one person they could rely on if at the last minute they needed something, I'd do my best to find it for them. I started to learn the power of having the right people around you. My business was just upwards and it was soaring.

I went on to have another baby. I had a baby boy. I felt I was in a relationship because I didn't know about going on dinner dates. I didn't know about holding hands. I still don't hold hands with people. I didn't know about simple things like hugs and kisses from a person that loves you. I just thought it was normal the way he behaved and that he lived his own life.

He didn't want to go anywhere. He didn't want to leave, because I was the source of money. I became his person that could attract money very easily. So he had a good life. We'd bought a brand new house that we turned into an eight bedroom property. I actually built the extension and I loved it. But he became very greedy. And the abuse was accelerating to a point where he'd actually set my pillow on fire at night, and my daughter put it out.

When I said, "Why have you done that?", he said, "Because I wanted to end it all," but I never saw he was trying to end me. I was told, "If you leave, I will kill you," but he was trying to kill me without me seeing it. And I got pregnant for the third time, and this is probably the hardest thing that I've been through, out of all of my life, and I don't think enough support is given.

But I got pregnant. And he said, "I won't come near you anymore. I actually have other people that I am in a relationship with. I don't want you anymore. I'm going to sleep in the spare room." And I thought, that's fine. I wanted three kids, and I just didn't think I was worth anything. He told me no man would ever want me, that I was ugly and fat. I'd been told that all my life. He wasn't telling me anything new. 

When I was eight months pregnant, he was going to Italy, and I remember it really clearly. He wanted £8,000 to spend when he was away, and that was his normal number. I didn't have £8,000. And he pushed me and I fell to the bottom of the stairs, and my daughter was at a sleepover. My son was probably 10 months old. I’d gotten pregnant really quickly, and I lay at the bottom of the stairs and I managed to call a friend, the people that owned the shop that I used to rent from, to help me with my little one.

At that time, really strangely, the way the Universe works, but my friend had been trying to get in touch with me from school, because I literally had two friends and she was Greek, and she'd been trying to get hold of me for a long time. She turned up at my house, but she was probably the worst person. But regardless, she was there. She did things like take the remote control because she thought it was a mobile phone. She was just in a state of anxiety as well, seeing me in such a difficult way. 

I said to her, "I need you to look if there's a foot hanging out of me." She said, "I don't want to." I said, "I need you to." And I got to the hospital and gave birth to Tyler, and he died shortly after. And I'm laying in the bed, holding my baby. He's not breathing, and I can hear all of the other children on the maternity ward crying, because they're born crying.

He told me no man would ever want me, that I was ugly and fat. I'd been told that all my life. He wasn't telling me anything new. 

But he isn't. And it broke me completely. I could not function. I could not look after my own children. I could not run the businesses that I wanted to say to the world, "Stop. Just stop." And it took a lot for me to come out of that dark place. I did get pregnant again, and I think I told myself I believed that God had given back what he'd taken. Because at that point, I believed that in God, now I just believe in a higher source.

Having my youngest son born, kind of prompted me to keep going. I never forgot about Tyler, because I couldn't. But he was born on the 7th of July, and then my other baby, he was born on the 10th. So birthdays were difficult, but I knew that I wouldn't have my youngest if it wasn't for Tyler not being there. And I felt maybe he was going to be that protective person around me, always watching over me, that it wasn't his time, it wasn't his place.

I went on to become very successful in my businesses. I opened several businesses, and I became a millionaire. I had invested in property, two commercial properties, and I did it all because I was doing it for the children, but secretly I wanted to turn around to my father and say, "Look at me. I'm just as good as the boys, aren't I?" It was never going to happen. But regardless, it pushed me to do it.

It got to a point where the abuse was getting very dangerous. And my daughter went off to university to study her first degree. She was a biomedical scientist, but now she's a dentist because it wasn't the right degree for her. And I encouraged her to follow her dream. My other son, I sent him to boarding school thinking I need to get him away from his father, because there were a lot of clashes.

I never once considered, you know what the solution is? You've got to leave, or tell him to leave. I never thought that was a possibility because I never thought anybody else would want me, because that's what he taught me as well. And I didn't really want myself. I had no self-worth at all. I was almost just putting one foot in front of another just to keep going.

But when my middle child went to boarding, my youngest son became very depressed because he'd lost that buffer, that person. I was constantly being beaten. They could hear everything. As I said, domestic violence affects a family, not a person. And he became seriously ill. He has an autoimmune disease caused by stress, which is called Crohn's, and it was because he was suffering alone, and he was in and out of hospital for a long time. I was in and out of the hospital with him. He sat his exams literally from hospital, and he passed every one with A stars, because that showed the sheer determination he also had.

The issue was that after a very big operation, I came home with him, and my daughter, who was at King's University studying dentistry by this time, she'd just got in. She was starting the career she really wanted to do and she received a picture message on her phone, and it said, "I'm sorry." And it was from her father. She always describes how she felt when she got this message, that her heart sank. Because I remember the last time I saw her and I took her to the train station. She said, "I feel this is the last time I'll see you if you don't leave." But I couldn't say to my own daughter, "I can't leave. I don't have the physical courage. I don't think I can do it alone." I didn't see that I was always running everything. I was the one paying the bills.

I just didn't see it, because of the voices of somebody else. And she tried to wake us up because the photo was of me asleep. I had insomnia because of the pillow incident. And also he would lock our doors every 11 o'clock at night, and he would reopen them at five. And that click noise was always in my head, and I just didn't sleep because I was panicked that what if my son needs to go to the toilet? He has Crohn's disease. What if he wakes up and he is ill? I can't even get to him. 

But it was almost a control thing that my partner had. And she knew that there was something wrong because of the way my son was also, he was almost in a very uncomfortable position on a chair. And it wasn't the way that somebody would normally naturally fall onto a table.

But I couldn't say to my own daughter, "I can't leave. I don't have the physical courage. I don't think I can do it alone." 

So she panicked and she tried to call us. People say, "Why didn't you call 999?" And in hindsight, we have the answers. But at that time and that place, she felt like ringing me. And I wasn't answering – and the more I wasn't answering, time was being lost. Time was really of the essence here, and she knew it.

When she eventually woke me up, my throat was super dry, and I said, "I need to get a glass of..." She said, "Let me stay on the phone. Let me stay on the phone, I've just got hold of you." And I went into the kitchen and I filled a glass of water. As I turned, I saw that he'd turned all the gas stove on, and the house was completely full of gas. People say, "But you can't die of gas." I've heard it so many times people have said this. We had passed out because of the carbon monoxide. If we had got up later and switched on the light, the whole house would've exploded. It's a very dangerous situation to be in.

That led us to being removed by social services. The police offered their assistance, if we needed it. We were put into a place which was really not habitable for humans. It had human feces smeared all over the walls. Our carpet was sodden with urine. And I remember walking in with just my coat and my son's hand in mind thinking, "Where have I brought him? From all of the hard work I've done, is this what I have?" And they tell you not to take money with you, but who has cash around the house? I didn't. We ended up in this place temporarily, because on paper I was a millionaire.

You’re reading an excerpt of this interview. To access the full Win the Day episode with Nina Aouilk, including bonus content that doesn’t appear here, check out the YouTube or podcast version. 🚀

But that night, I cried. I never used to cry because I was told, if you cry, you're weak. And you only see me cry now. But I was told, you're weak, that you shouldn't cry. Shake it off. What's wrong with you? All of these things were always thrown at me. But I actually allowed myself to cry. And I thought, I'm either going to drown in these tears or dance in them. And I have this habit of talking to myself. And I think we all do. We all talk to ourselves. We all tell ourselves, "You can do it," or, "I'm not going to be able to do this," or, "I'm about to pee my pants. I can't do this interview. I'm nervous." But you have to tell yourself the right things. And that led me to finding out who I was.

It's been a long journey, but at the age of 50, I stood in a grass garden. I've got grass in my garden, and I understood the importance of affirmations and the importance of words. And I said to myself, at the age of 50, I'm going to gift myself with my own words. I'm going to unlearn everything I've ever learned, and I'm going to create a new mindset. I already have a business acumen. I have that ability. But personal level is huge. What you think about yourself brings that energy to a room. It brings that love or unlove to a situation. 

I fell in love for the first time in my life, and that was with me. I decided I was good enough, that I was beautiful on the inside, that I'd never hurt anyone. I'd loved the people that hurt me the most. My father didn't teach me to ride a bike, but he taught me to love unconditionally.

I'm either going to drown in these tears or dance in them. 

And I used that love, bringing it forward to love the fear of anyone who feels they're not good enough. I used that ability to tell them, they choose the narrative. I was in the right place at the right time, as they say, and a whole load of UFC fighters came around the corner. I’d had drinks that night, and I never used to drink, but I started going out and learning about going out. So probably during my teenage years at the age of 50! 

I wanted to go in a fire engine because I'm silly like that. And the person that took me out the fire engine because I was refusing to get out was a very famous heavyweight champion of the world for the UFC. And I sat with him and some others from seven o'clock that evening until 11 o'clock the next morning. And we just sat in a hotel lobby talking about life, and I was answering everyone's questions.

I wasn't a therapist or a life coach, but my life lessons, my degree, my university degree was my life. And sometimes I feel, oh, I'm not qualified enough, but of course I am. I did a little course which gave me a certification, but really, you can't learn these things in books. From there I became the mindset coach for UFC fighters. One of them you've had on, the coach you've had on your show too. 

I really connect with men because I feel I have this maternal energy, but more so, I want the best for everyone. And I think that comes across. So that brought me to where I am today, and I am winning the day!

Why men fighters in particular? Do you ever think about that?

I think it's because they have to have this tough exterior. Everyone thinks they've got it together, and I just really understand them. I've always really understood my journey. A lot of people don't respect their own journey. 

My sons both were at high level football, or soccer, as it's called here, so I understood the mind of a sportsman from them. I didn't do it deliberately, but I understood it. Also my own life, I've had to go through each step of my journey to get to where I am today. That's what I've explained to them, that they are so focused on, "I'm not good enough." And when they win, they've had that journey leading up to the win, and then they don't celebrate it. It's a very short period in which they celebrate.

Then there's a really big low – and that's where I catch them. I teach them to win before they step into the cage. You've got a strike coach, you've got a physiotherapist, you've got a dietician, you've got all these people, someone holding your pads. But when you get into that cage or boxing ring, it's just you. And often, those negative thoughts come into your mind, that I can't do this because all the other voices have stopped. It's just you. So giving them the ability to walk in there and actually not showing people they own it, but believing that they own it, is such a gift.

But also to retain that win, because the lows they have from cutting weight, all the things that people don't necessarily see, they just see them turn up for a fight. But what they go through once they stand there and they're winning and they're celebrating, when they go back to the changing room, there's such a slump of what do I do now and am I going to be good enough for the next fight? Am I going to be fit enough?

It's a really disturbing, dark place that they enter. And a lot of them, it's not just one person, it's a lot of them, don't even talk about it because of the stigma that, "I'm this great big six foot four tall winner. How can I say to somebody I'm feeling like this?" But mental health in men's sports is huge, which is why ultimately I'd like to coach teams, because now I've started to coach coaches, knowing that those coaches can take that gift forward. They can take that gift forward to all of the fighters they're coaching.

Also when you coach people in numbers, they support one another because they're all in the same situation, they don't feel alone. And I think one of the worst things about me and how I've been through this life is I felt very much alone. Now, I have all of these other people sending me messages saying, "I thought it was just me. I thought the stigma and shame was upon me." There is no stigma and shame in asking for help. It's actually a strength, as we know.

Tell us about your nonprofit and how that’s all going?

So I've been running the nonprofit for a while, but I believe in divine timing and I just kept putting it off to register it because it's a lot of paperwork. I ended up registering the nonprofit in February and I did my probably 101st interview, which suddenly went viral. And I did lots of interviews before and they were successful, but not like this. This was on another level. I think we reached 14 million within 24 hours. It wasn't even 24 hours, it was just continuous. And people were constantly messaging me, "Have you seen your video? It just keeps coming up on my feed. It's your face. And I'm like, I know that voice. It's Nina." And it was really strange. But I understood the importance of believing in your journey, that when the timing is right.

Things were more settled with my family. My daughter had qualified, my son was better. When things are more settled, things come together and you've got to just remember that you've got to believe in it. That's when I started getting thousands and thousands of messages. But I had everything ready. My nonprofit was ready. I'd made connections with other nonprofits, because there's a lot of nonprofits out there that don't help people, which is why I set my own up. 

I know one of the biggest nonprofits in England, in the UK, that gets a lot of funding, and I've called them out for it because I don't care anymore, I went to them asking for help, and they told me they would come back to me. And I've got the paper trail, but they never came back to me. And then when I asked them about homelessness because I was homeless, they told me to Google it.

There is no stigma and shame in asking for help. It's actually a strength.

I don't want anyone to ever feel they've been turned away or they're not being heard or they're not being seen because I'm strong, and there's a lot of people that haven't found their strength yet.

So the nonprofit is doing amazing things. We do things like we will enable someone who's being at the risk of having a forced marriage or an honor killing, we will remove them. I've removed mothers and children, put them into a safe environment for two nights, because they need a break. They need some safe place that they can just stop and be. And I use a local hotel, but I find them places to do with demographics where there's not many people of their culture there, so there's no risk of being found.

Then we get the government offices to help house them because they need help. And then I leave them on their way, but then they come back to me once a month. We have a coaching session which is open to anyone, and everyone comes along. If they want to hide their name, they can. We do go through diligent checks to safeguard all of the attendees, but we talk about confidence. 

We have a starting again coach, and we have me. And I'm there for anybody that wants to ask a question or just wants to feel better about the fact their journey is going to be okay in the end.

When you open up social media and all you see is your own face and you get messages from other people that Facebook has become Nina-book, does it strengthen you, or do you feel a little bit overwhelmed? It's like you've been training, training, training for this moment, now it's time to help change the world. How do you feel when you see all that stuff?

It was never about Nina. It was about all of the other Ninas out there. It was really because of my sister, which I've not touched on, but I'd like to. I never used to speak out because there is a stigma, shame. I was scared of speaking out because my parents would want to kill me, my partner would want to kill me. There are real threats involved here. 

But I found out in 2015 when I was homeless, the police contacted me to say, "We need to speak to you." And I thought, "I wonder why they want to speak to me. Is it my partner who's done a missing person report? Or maybe because I've taken my youngest son with me." And I was all very confused, and they said they needed a character reference on my father. They needed to know what my relationship was like when I was growing up with my father.

It's so important to hold people accountable, otherwise they do the same thing over and over again.

I thought, "Am I going to be able to press charges now? Will there be justice?" But it was never about me then. It was about my six-year-old half-sister that he had abducted. And I didn't know about her. I just found out, James, her name is Julia. He'd had an affair with a Polish lady and she had a daughter and he'd asked her to abort the child, and she didn't. And he abducted her and sold her to human traffickers.

The police had gone over to India to try and get her back, but they couldn't. And when I started working and going down the rabbit hole, working with human trafficking organizations, I found out that the place that they left her is where they harvest organs. And it broke me in a way I can't even describe that I didn't press charges when I should have.

It's so important to hold people accountable, otherwise they do the same thing over and over again. And he feels very much untouchable, my father. So he was jailed for four years, but because of the cultural element of the charges, he didn't get the full sentence. So when he came out of prison, he was celebrated for the abduction because the community felt he'd upheld his honor.

But there is, as my TED Talk is called, there's no honor in killing, especially a child who should have been protected. So she started this journey of speaking out and seeing my face on social media, on other people's feeds, just reassures me that the message is getting out there for those who need it the most. 

I don't have, you know me, I'm not egotistical. I don't even care if people don't even reference me. The main importance is that people that need the most help will get it, and that I'm here to protect and serve them the way that our governments and police forces should.

You may have answered it there, but I wonder what this quote means to you that I mentioned at the start of the episode, "Nothing strengthens authority so much as silence."

Yeah, we've got a habit of staying quiet. We feel uncomfortable telling people what we really feel. And we are silenced. We're silenced by politicians, by laws, by governments, by societies, by culture, by partners. I never once said that my partner's not nice to me because I used to support him. I used to almost protect him by staying silent. 

That's what victims need to also understand, that by staying in silence, they're protecting the perpetrators that are performing such cultural crimes. Or even if you're not from my culture and you are in a bad relationship with a boss, you are protecting that boss by not speaking out. And if it's not you, it'd be someone else.

And the question is, how would you feel if somebody else was being treated the way you are?

What do you love most about yourself?

I love everything about me. Everything that everyone didn't love, I love. 

Where I was called fat and ugly, and I don't see that anymore. I see a pure person and I know that I've done, as I said earlier, nothing wrong to anyone, and I never would.

So there's nothing I don't love about me.

On your best day, what's an affirmation that you would write on a flashcard that you could show yourself on your worst day?

I'm not normally lost for words. It would probably be that you can do it. Because sometimes I feel, and you know this because this is what I come to you for, sometimes I feel I can't do it because it's not happening quick enough and I'm impatient.

So I've been practicing a lot more patience recently.

Final question, what's one thing you do to Win the Day?

I'll smile and wake up with gratitude, which is what I do every day. I know I shouldn't necessarily be here, but I am, and I'm grateful.

This has been a long time coming, Nina, but thank you so much for your time, your energy, and your commitment to make the world a better place. I really appreciate it.

I've done so many podcasts. I've done over 120, but this is the first one I asked to be on, and it means so much to me today to be here sitting with you! Thank you.

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Resources / links mentioned:

🆘 End Honor Killings

⚡ Nina Aouilk website

📷 Nina Aouilk Instagram

🎤 TEDx Talk ‘There is no honour in killing’ by Nina Aouilk

📲 Nina Aouilk TikTok

📚 ‘Master Your Life: Live The Life Of Your Dreams’ by Nina Aouilk

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