Some see Gina Miller as a heroine who has battled tirelessly – despite much abuse – to uphold due process in what they regard as the disaster of Britain’s exit from the European Union.
Others think the 53-year-old has attempted to use her wealth to frustrate what is, in their eyes, the democratic will of the people.
Either way, during an appearance at the UEA Literary Festival, Miller showed that there is much more to her than the Brexit campaign.
Last year Miller published a memoir, Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall and Leading the Way, a book that she described during her appearance as “a virtual cuddle”. It aims to help the reader to “use the lens of … failures of my life to make them feel better about their life”.
“I’ve been a campaigner for 30 years. How do you become a campaigner? How do you pick yourself up again? How do you face life?” she said during a discussion with Professor Sarah Barrow, Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the UEA’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities.
“I thought the book would be something that makes people feel better about themselves. Even if it makes one person feel better, that’s enough.
“I’ve been incredibly honest. I’ve exposed every part of myself. I’ve been a victim of violence. I talk about being the mother of a child with special needs.”
On the subject of Brexit, Miller showed what some might see as a surprising willingness to criticise efforts to bring about a second referendum or people’s vote.
“There are big egos, big agendas and it’s splitting the money. It breaks my heart how much time and effort we’re wasting,” she said.
If a second referendum is given the green light, Miller said she thinks “we’ll lose it”, adding that the “well resourced” leave side had “already started mobilising” in expectation that this second vote will happen. She contrasted this with the remain campaign.
“It’s the same people who ran the referendum and they haven’t learnt anything. If we do this again it has to be decisive,” she said.
“There’s 16% in the middle thinking about changing their vote. What’s the point of doing marches with people who voted remain? It’s about the 16%.”
Miller said she did not know who would be the best person to lead the remain campaign in the event of a second referendum being called, although she would “definitely do it if I thought I was the best person”.
“But I don’t think it should be one person. We need different people talking to different audiences. There’s work to be done. I’m very concerned,” she said.
Miller spent the early years of her life in the country of her birth, Guyana, where her father rose from humble beginnings to become attorney general and “one of the most respected criminal barristers in the world”.
“I was incredibly fortunate to be brought up at my father’s knee. He was incredibly humble. He and I had an incredibly special bond,” she said.
“He always saw something in me … He was my inspiration and made me believe that anything I wanted to do was possible.”
Miller said that she was always “an incredibly difficult little girl”, being very curious and always wanting an explanation for how things were.
As an adult living in Britain, she faced adversity when caught in a troubled marriage and said her publisher’s lawyers “were having a heart attack” when they found out how she wanted to use these experiences in her book.
Miller described how, after walking out on her husband, she went on to live in her car for three weeks with her daughter. Even at such a low point, she was planning her recovery, an example that she hopes others might follow.
“I literally wrote a business plan in the three weeks in the back of my car, which led to my next business,” she said.
“There’s so much pressure to succeed and to be a mantelpiece child where you’re perfect at everything. But you have to get used to failure because that’s the one thing that’s going to happen to you.”
It is important, said Miller, to develop a “toolbox” to cope with failure, adding that in her book she details concrete steps that can be taken to deal with adversity.
It was facing some of these challenges in life that made Miller, who now runs an investment firm that she co-founded with her third husband, realise that she could be “a lioness”, and also showed her the power of the law.
She went on to deploy this when she took the government to court to challenge – successfully – its triggering of Article 50 (Britain’s notice to leave the EU) without an act of Parliament.
Miller said that she “cannot think of a worse time on the geopolitical stage” for Britain to be leaving the EU.
“There’s disquiet on all the continents. We’re going through seismic, pivotal change, and challenges that we haven’t talked about – the environment, a digitised world where 75 jobs will be replaced by one. That will hollow out the middle class. Where’s the tax going to come from?” she said.
Miller forecast that Brexit would take up all the government’s “bandwidth” at a time when “big conversations” around important issues needed to take place.
“We’re going to be facing four or five years of really hard political negotiations or trade negotiations around the world … The tough work is yet to come,” she said.
Miller said the bullying that she has faced has been “extraordinary”, but admitted to being “a bit too cautious” about describing this in the book.
“I’m very honest about what happens in green rooms [at television studios]. I wish I had done a bit more of that. Things I was told and said, [things] politicians say to me,” she said.
“It’s odd, but people see me as a threat. I don’t know what they feel threatened by. I’m just trying to help. I’m not a threat.”