Shaftesbury’s new cocktail bar has opened and owner Ciel Taylor says that having her name above the door of ‘Ciel’s La Dolce Vita’ shows the world how far she’s come.
Ciel talks with Keri Jones of ThisIsAlfred about how she dealt with domestic abuse, racism and suicidal thoughts to become the strong, happy, confident business owner that locals know today.
Ciel has a powerful personality. As we chatted we enjoyed some laughs. But Ciel’s life has not always been filled with laughter. Times were tough for the former primary school teacher when she escaped to Shaftesbury twelve years ago. And she was escaping.
“I came in through the refuge. I survived domestic violence. It had been going on for a few years,” Ciel explained. “I was going to different refuges but I was always being found. One day I just decided I had to be somewhere different. Women’s Aid helped me. We just decided on Dorset. And I ended up here.”
Ciel says that moving from London to a completely different area of the country, where she didn’t know anybody, was terrifying. “It was scary. It was daunting. It wasn’t very welcoming but when people got to know me and my personality they warmed to me.”
Ciel felt that she stood out when she first arrived in town. “When I came here, there wasn’t much colour. I was ‘the only black in the village’,” she said, smiling as she borrowed and adapted a catchphrase from TV’s ‘Little Britain.’
“Because Dorset is mainly older people, they are set in their ways and I wasn’t welcomed by a lot by them,” Ciel continued. “I used to do volunteering in the Cancer Research charity shop, because my dad died of cancer at a really young age. I got to know a crowd of people from there but the older people in Shaftesbury were still quite negative towards me. So I just ignored it,” she said.
After relocating from the capital to escape physical abuse, Ciel found herself confronting verbal abuse, and it wore her down. “It was really extreme. At one point in Shaftesbury I was so depressed I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself. I was so low that I thought about taking my own life,” she said.
The turning point came when she phoned her family back in London. “I called my sister and I was in tears because somebody had said something abusive to me on the High Street. My sister said ‘you’ve either got to be strong, like you are, and stick it out or just pack up and come home’. I decided I was going to be strong and it all came good,” said Ciel. “I met some other people who led me on to other things and it just got better. Those really nice people are still really good friends with me now. They set me straight.”
It was hard but Ciel rose above the verbal abuse. That was over a decade ago. Society has changed a bit. The town has changed a great deal and so has Ciel’s day-to-day experience of life in Shaftesbury. “I love it now. I love the people. I have been embraced. I’m more ‘in their faces’ now because I do hospitality and so they can get to know the real Ciel, the personality, the happy, ‘laughy’ girl,” she beamed.
Ciel still catches sight of those people who were once so unpleasant towards her. “They avoid me and quite a lot of them don’t come to any place where I am. They will stay away. Prior to this, I worked over at Angola ‘76. That was a really good stepping-stone. A lady I know was having a birthday there and she had done a group chat on Facebook and sent an invite. One person said that she would not have come because I worked there. It didn’t stop the party from going on,” said Ciel, with a hint of satisfaction.
I asked Ciel what she would say to these people if they walked into her bar? “I would just be nice. I’d be me. It was never me that had the problem. It was always them. I don’t have anything to be guilty about, as I’ve never done anything wrong. They need to get over themselves. I’ve only ever been nice to people and one of my problems is that I think I was too nice. My kindness was taken as a weakness. I was just trying to get along with people as I had come somewhere new,” she said.
Ciel says she has bought a car with a registration that shows the world the extent of her progress. “It says WON, because I have won,” she said. “I have continued to be strong throughout all the negativity that I’ve had to deal with in Shaftesbury and I continue to rise.”
And now Ciel has her own bar, too. It’s only just opened but she has dreams of future expansion already. “I would do another bar somewhere or maybe make this one bigger,” Ciel said. She says she has many ideas. “I am a trier, you know, I’ve worked all my life and I’ve got dreams and I’ve realised that you’re the only person that can make those dreams come true.”
Ciel’s goal is to build up the bar. “I want a lot more people to come and a lot more people to know about it, but that’s going to happen in time.” And she’s already hatched a plan for promoting her new business. She’s going to target the after-work crowd. “I’ll call into the solicitors and give them deals so they can come in here. I’m going to adapt some sockets so they can plug their laptops in and do their work while they have a nice cocktail or a beer in a calm atmosphere. The music will be just slightly in the background, so you can hear people speak.”
Ciel was 53 at the end of February and she feels that a venue that serves her own age group has been needed for some time here in Shaftesbury. “Everybody’s welcome but I am focusing on the people of my age, the older people. I don’t think there is anywhere really in Shaftesbury that can accommodate us,” she said.
As Ciel is a big fan of Motown and soul music, the bar’s soundtrack choice was obvious. “We’ll have a nice little party night on a Saturday, but nothing really loud,” she says.
Ciel qualified as a primary school teacher in the 1990s, and as we head towards the 2020s, she hopes to be the owner of multiple bars. That’s quite a career change, although she jokes that there are similarities between the roles. “I’m still dealing with children,” she laughed, “But the thing is, just like when I was a teacher, they listen to me and that is a good thing.”
And then, for a moment, Ciel became serious once again. She said that her job is not really to talk but to listen. “I don’t just pull pints and make drinks for people. I talk to them, you know, and that is what I’m good at. I’ll sit down and I will always have time to take five minutes and talk to somebody. If they’ve got an issue, I’ve always made it known, they can come to me.”
And Ciel wants anyone who is experiencing the abuse that she overcame to understand that she is there for them. She believes that she is a living example that, with support, you can take control and change your life for the better. “I will talk to anybody about my past because it’s nothing that I’m ashamed of. I can help them,” she said. “At that time I needed somebody to talk to. I had that in one of my friends. She was really strong for me and she helped me through more than she knows. And so I know that I’ve always been an ear for anybody that needs it.”
Ciel’s La Dolce Vita can be reached by walking through Amore on Mustons Lane.