Emma Slade

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Emma Slade, the first British woman to be ordained as a Buddhist nun - in Bhutan

Emma Slade, also known as Ani Pema Deki (born 16 July 1966) a University of Cambridge educated former "high-flying" financial analyst[1] who worked for HSBC in New York, London and Hong Kong, is a British yoga and meditation teacher, an author and founder and CEO of the charity "Opening Your Heart to Bhutan." The charity focuses on helping children in need in the Himalayan kingdom, particularly those in rural areas. It provides access to education, to medical care (including the helping with training of medical practitioners) and supplies basic amenities, including sanitation and transport.[2]

Invited to give talks internationally, Slade's appearances as a public speaker have included the Oxford Human Rights Festival in 2018 and a TEDX talk in January 2017.[3] She is the subject of a short film – "Happiness" – that is part of a schools education project set up by the Dalai Lama Centre for Compassion in Oxford.

Slade received a Points Of Light Award, conferred by 10 Downing Street, from the British Honorary Consul Michael Rutland OBE and Lyonpo Damcho Dorji, Bhutan's Minister for Foreign Affairs, in January 2017. The ceremony took place at the Draktsho School for Special Children (which is supported by her charity) in the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu. She was also short-listed for the Asian Voice Charity Award for "Most Inspiring Individual in Charity" in January 2018.[4]

Having met children who are directly benefiting from Slade's endeavours, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge met with Slade and discussed her work during their 2016 tour of Bhutan.[5]

After rigorous training – and unusually for a mother (she has one son, Oscar, born 14 September 2006) – Slade was ordained as a Buddhist nun in Bhutan in February 2014,[6] the first (and as of 2018 still the only) Western woman to have achieved this.

Her autobiography, Set Free: A Life-Changing Journey from Banking to Buddhism in Bhutan, published in April 2017, reached the number 1 spot in the Amazon charts in the Religious Biography category[citation needed] and details the role of traumatic events in changing the course of her life.

Slade gained one of only two first class honours degrees awarded by Goldsmiths College in Fine Arts in 1993 (the other going to fellow student Steve McQueen). But grief[clarification needed] turned her away from a career as an artist/sculptor. It compelled her instead to become a "High-rolling, high-stakes banker" managing "accounts worth upwards of a $billion."[7] After being robbed and held hostage at gunpoint in her Jakarta hotel room by a man also carrying hidden knives, PTSD Post-traumatic stress disorder and a sharpened awareness of the value of life underpinned Slade's eventual decision to leave HSBC,[8] although she returns there by invitation as a motivational speaker.

Early life and education[edit]

Emma Alexandra Slade was born on 16 July 1966 in Whitstable, Kent, the eldest of three children. Her sister, Katherine Lucy Clarke, was born on 31 May 1968, with brother Toby James Newcombe Slade following on 5 May 1970. Their mother, Zinnia Slade (née Devan), who was born in London, grew up near Chilbolton in Hampshire and went to finishing school. Whilst in London in the early 1960s, Zinnia met David Slade, an insurance broker with Willis, Faber and Dumas, who was born in Epping, Essex. They married in the parish church in Chilbolton and moved to Whitstable in Kent. Here, Zinnia Slade, who had been cared for by a nanny, was determined to become a stay-at-home mother and bring up her children herself.

Emma attended Joy Lane Primary School, and on passing the Eleven Plus (known in Kent as the Kent Test), she attended Barton Court Girls Grammar. Describing herself as tall and shy,[9] she gained eight O-levels and went to Sevenoaks School as a boarder in the sixth form. Gaining straight As in English, History, and Geography at A-level, she also passed the higher S-level in English and Geography. Offered an unconditional place at Cambridge to study English at Selwyn College, Slade was not required to sit the Oxbridge entrance exam.

Attending Selwyn College between 1985 and 1989, and after swapping from English to History, she left in the autumn term of her final year, prior to graduation. After spending time with her parents, who had moved to Summit, New Jersey, whilst her father worked in Manhattan, Slade shaved off her hair and returned to Cambridge. Taking a job in an Iceland supermarket, she was asked to wear a wig,[10] to which she set fire upon being accepted to the Art foundation course at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology (Later Anglia Ruskin University).[11]

Completing this, Slade landed a place on the prestigious Fine Art degree at Goldsmiths, University of London. She gained one of the only two first class honours awarded on the course to those who graduated in 1993. The other was given to her fellow student, future film director Steve McQueen.



Whilst she was in her final year at Goldsmiths, Slade's father was diagnosed with lung cancer. She told Lauren James of the South China Morning Post: "The first real shock was the death of my father when I was 26. When I was 10 or 11, my Dad had said he could see me going into investment banking. Until his illness I imagined I would be an artist or a curator. But, with his death, I could not continue with that plan. I needed to make sure I could make a living and not lean on mum."[11]

After her graduation and working in an old people's home in Whitstable for a "few months",[12] Slade applied to the HSBC global graduate scheme. After a series of tests and interviews held over a period of weeks, Slade was one of six people (and the only woman) out of hundreds of applicants[full citation needed][13] who was successful.[citation needed]

Placed in London, Slade gained her Investment Management Certificate. She then embarked on the prestigious three-year Chartered Financial Analyst course,[14] at that time run by AIMR. Slade completed the first level in New York, in 1995, whilst working in the fixed income and corporate bond investment team and living in mid-town Manhattan. Back in London and working for the Chief Investment Officer on Special Projects, Slade was assessing the fund management market potential of all the other European countries whilst completing the second level of her CFA exams.

In July 1996, Slade was sent to Hong Kong, initially to work in marketing, and "became a South East Asian Emerging Debt Analyst" whilst studying for the third level of the CFA examinations (that included statistics, compliance, and equity and debt markets). She gained the qualification in 1997 and the highest marks possible in her annual appraisal that year.[15]

In September 1997, Slade was in Jakarta on a solo business trip (not on holiday as reported in the English press)[16]) and was robbed and held hostage at gunpoint in her five-star hotel room by a man who was also carrying hidden knives.[1][17]

Subsequently, assigned a bodyguard, Slade continued with her four-day business trip and returned to work in Hong Kong. Receiving counselling, Slade was diagnosed with severe PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder). "It meant", she said, "suffering constant flashbacks."[2] In her description of the aftermath of her experience, there is no separation between the past and the present[18] and "you lose trust in everything – in yourself, your body and the world around you."[11] This, combined with sudden unexpected hostility from a trusted boss, caused Slade to return to England.[19]

After receiving intensive two-week therapy at the PTSD unit at Ticehurst Priory, Slade returned to work for the Chief Investment Officer at HSBC in London, but found that "making money and having a career – two things she had equated with success and happiness – were a very small part of who she actually was,"[18] saying, "Once you think you are going to die you do start to live your life in a different way. I had survived this experience and I wanted to explore more of what I could potentially do with my life."[18] Having been shown a picture of her captor, slumped, bloodied and in his underpants, by the police in Jakarta on the day of her ordeal, she says: "I just was absolutely overwhelmed with compassion for him, and for me, and for the whole situation. It definitely ignited something in me."[7] And "I wanted to explore more what it is to be a human being and what is this strange feeling of kindness we can have to each other even in these situations."[18] Slade resigned from HSBC in June 1998.[20] She returned to HSBC in 2005 for three years, working in London until 2008 as an analyst in the hedge fund sector.[21]

Teaching yoga[edit]

In the summer of 1998, Slade's mother paid for her daughter to take off on an 'alternative holiday' packed with courses such as 'making mosaics' on the Greek island of Skyros. Here, Slade tried a yoga class for the first time and discovered she was 'a natural' saying: "I had found my thing."[22][page needed] Slade then travelled the globe to study with the best teachers in order to become a yoga teacher herself; her teachers included Nancy Gilgoff in Hawaii, Tias Little in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Dena Ginsberg in Byron Bay, Australia, David Swenson in Costa Rica, and John Scott in Cornwall.

Slade qualified in 2001 as a British Wheel of Yoga instructor and set up her ongoing yoga teaching practise, Whitstable Yoga, in a dedicated studio in Whitstable, Kent.

Becoming a Buddhist[edit]

In July 2003, she attended Kagyu Samye Ling Monastery and Tibetan Centre in Eskdalemuir in the Scottish Borders, for a series of short retreats to focus on her increasing interest in meditation and Buddhist philosophy, particularly in relation to its teachings on compassion – Chenrezig. (Avalokiteśvara in Sanskrit). Slade formally converted to Buddhism in 2003.[11]

In going to Bhutan in 2011, Slade realised a childhood dream. On that first visit, she had two meetings that would change her life. The first was a profound meeting with a man she assumed was a monk in the Druk Wangyal Lhakhang temple in the Dochula Pass, at an altitude of over 3,100 metres. The second was a fortuitous conversation with Brent Hyde, the General Manager of Paro's Zhiwa Ling Hotel, in which she was staying. Hyde mentioned that the hotel would need a yoga teacher over the Christmas period, and Slade got the job.[23]

Returning to Bhutan to teach yoga, Slade searched for the monk she had met at the temple, only to be told that he'd gone on retreat for three years. She felt that all was lost, but discovered that although the monk had gone on retreat, she had met not a monk, but a Lama. Lama Nima Tshering (meaning "Teacher Sun Long-lasting" – Tshe means life and ring means long in the Bhutanese language Dzongkha). Lama Tshering was not on retreat but in his home village, and he agreed to come and meet her at the Zhiwa Ling Hotel on 31 December 2011.

Slade's tuition in the practice of Tibetan Buddhism began in the Shrine Room of the hotel on New Year's Day, 2012, with compassion prayers and the correct practice of the mantra 'om ma ni padme hung' the "concentrated expression of compassion".[24]

Continuing with tuition over regular phone calls from Slade's home in Whitstable to Lama Nima Tshering on his mobile phone in Bhutan, and on her trips back to the Himalayan Kingdom, Slade plunged into her studies. Her Lama suggested that she 'change her dress', swapping western clothes for the robes of a Buddhist monastic in 2012; she had already shaved her head. She was given the name Ani (meaning 'nun') Pema (Lotus) Deki (Blissful) in a 2013 naming ceremony performed by her Lama's teacher, Rinpoche Gyalsey Tenzin Radgye. Naming was a great honour, but she had yet to qualify as a nun.

Becoming a nun was an avenue that Slade had assumed was closed to her, because she was bringing up her son in England and would not be able to complete the necessary retreats required to perform the qualifying practices.

Making an unprecedented suggestion, Lama Nima Tshering told Slade/Pema Deki that whilst she must continue caring for her son, she had "the mind of a nun."[25]

So she set about the fitting in the necessary Ngöndro (involving four sets of one hundred and ten thousand practises that combine visualisations, prayer and movement), with the demands of her daily life in Whitstable.

Returning to Bhutan with her seven-year-old son in February 2014, Slade became the first (and as of 2018) the only Western woman to be ordained as a Buddhist nun in that country. Rinpoche Dorji Lopen, "the number two in the monastic structure in Bhutan" and who had performed the ceremony in which her Lama gave his vows, performed Slade's ordination ceremony.[26]

Continuing to study with her teacher in Bhutan and learning classical Tibetan – the language of the Buddhist texts – Slade explores the answers to her questions about their teachings, study and practise.

Charity CEO / founder of Opening Your Heart to Bhutan[edit]

Following a visit to Meritsemo, a small village in rural, remote Southwestern Bhutan, in April 2015, Slade set up a fundraising initiative with the help of one of her yoga students in Whitstable, Adrienne Shaw. Their mutual friend, Simon Knibbs (an IT specialist), set up the website, and they raised money initially to install cold showers and toilets in the local monastery before widening their operations to help the entire village, including improving facilities for the local school.

Opening Your Heart to Bhutan was inaugurated as a British charity in 2016, helping children both with and without special needs across the country. It focuses on providing access to (and training to ensure) safe medical care and to education (including building a school for "specially abled Bhutanese children").[1] It supplies disability aids and basic amenities and sets up educational projects.[2]

After meeting some of the children directly benefiting from Slade's endeavours, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge subsequently met with Slade and discussed her work at a reception with the King and Queen of Bhutan at the Taj Tashi Hotel in Thimphu in April 2016.[5] The charity's work is ongoing and effective thanks to expert local knowledge and Slade's own expertise in financial analysis.[27]

According to Slade, "No one is paid to run the charity and costs are kept at a bare minimum to maximise funds going directly to those most in need."[3]

Opening Your Heart to Bhutan benefits from the entire proceeds from the sales of Slade's autobiography, Set Free: A Life-Changing Journey From Banking to Buddhism in Bhutan, written on the suggestion of one of her yoga students and with the blessing of her Lama.[28]


Slade's autobiography, Set Free: A Life-Changing Journey From Banking to Buddhism in Bhutan, written between April and October 2015, was published by Summersdale in April 2017. Also featuring Slade's ten teachings for everyday living, by May of that year it had hit the number one spot in both the Amazon Charts' 'Philosophy Biography' and 'Travel Writing' categories[citation needed][clarification needed] and number 6 in books overall.[citation needed] It has garnered positive reviews from press across the globe.[citation needed]

Slade was recorded reading the text for the audio book release, and the title has been translated into Czech, Hungarian, and German. It is due for release in Italian in 2019.[citation needed]

Public speaking[edit]

As a public speaker, Slade has given talks internationally, including at the Foreign Correspondents Club In Hong Kong on 6 November 2017,[29] and the Oxford Human Rights Festival in 2018.[30] Her TEDx Talk in January 2017 took place in Sevenoaks Kent.[3]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Emma Slade was awarded the British Prime Minister's Points of Light Award for her services to Bhutan. She received it from the British Honorary Consul Michael Rutland OBE and Lyonpo Damcho Dorji, Bhutan's Minister for Foreign Affairs, in a ceremony at the Drakstsho School for Special Children (which is supported by her charity) in Thimphu in January 2017. Rutland said:

"Emma Slade combines her style and experience in the world of international finance with the attributes of a Buddhist nun to bring to her charity enormous energy, dedication and sensitivity. Her work is making a real difference to lives of many children in the remote Kingdom of Bhutan, and provides a unique example of the power of volunteerism to have a positive effect on the lives of others."[18]

Slade was also short-listed for the Asian Voice Charity Award for "Most Inspiring Individual in Charity" in January 2018.[4]

As the subject of a short film, "Happiness," Slade discusses her experience and understanding about what makes us happy, and suggests how this might be achieved. Produced by Green Lions, "Happiness" was part of a school project set up by the Dalai Lama Centre for Compassion in Oxford to raise awareness about the importance of compassion and its different aspects.

Regarding compassion, Slade told Laignee Barron of Time magazine: "Mindfulness makes you calmer. Compassion makes you happier. I'm always going to encourage people to help others as a route to happiness. I believe in the transformative power of compassion."[7]

Slade has appeared on radio and television in the UK, including in 2017 on Clare Balding's Sunday morning Radio 2 Show, with Davina McCall on Davina Hour, and Nicky Campbell's Big Questions.

Personal life[edit]

Slade's long-term relationship with an English sculptor, during which they lived together in Whitstable, Kent, ended in 2005 amidst complications that included Slade being informed that she was biologically unable to have children. Slade gave up teaching yoga to return to banking in London. There she met Mark, a fellow banker, and the two embarked on a brief relationship. As this ran its course, Slade discovered that she was pregnant. Though the couple are no longer together, their son Oscar was born in September 2006. Remaining friends, the two share parenting. Slade lives in Whitstable, Kent, teaching yoga and meditation. She continues to study Buddhist philosophy with Lama Nima Tshering and raises money for and runs her charity, Opening Your Heart to Bhutan, returning regularly to that country.


  1. ^ a b c "Meet the British banker who turned Buddhist nun in Bhutan". The Economic Times of India. 28 August 2017.
  2. ^ a b c Addicott, Ruth (23 April 2017). "Mum who was taken hostage by gunman on Jakarta holiday - and how it changed her life forever". The Mirror.
  3. ^ a b c "BW Interview: Emma Slade Gave Up a Career in Finance to Become A Buddhist Nun After a Traumatic Incident". Buddha Weekly.
  4. ^ a b "Charity Awards 2018 shortlist announced". 14 April 2018.
  5. ^ a b Rose, James (20 April 2016). "Kate Middleton and Prince William meet with Buddhist nun from Kent in Bhutan".
  6. ^ Slade 2017, pp. 263–273.
  7. ^ a b c Barron, Laignee (Nov 28, 2017). "This High-Flying Banker Became a Buddhist Nun. Here's Her Advice on Happiness". Time.
  8. ^ "I Was Held Hostage At Gunpoint". huffingtonpost.co.uk. 2017-04-04.
  9. ^ Slade 2017, p. 71.
  10. ^ Slade 2017, pp. 79–80.
  11. ^ a b c d James, Lauren (10 Nov 2017). "Hong Kong banker turned Buddhist nun on how being held at gunpoint in Indonesia changed her life". South China Morning Post.
  12. ^ Slade 2017, p. 91.
  13. ^ https://news.efinancialcareers.com/binaries/content/gallery/efinancial-careers/articles/2013/07/agr-applications-per-place.jpg
  14. ^ "CFA Institute". CFA Institute.
  15. ^ Slade 2017, pp. 44 and 59.
  16. ^ Addicott, Ruth (23 April 2017). "How almost being killed in a violent attack inspired me to become a nun".
  17. ^ Slade 2017, p. 33.
  18. ^ a b c d e Blair, Olivia (13 April 2017). "Banking to Buddhism: Five lessons from a woman who left the City for Bhutan". The Independent.
  19. ^ Slade 2017, pp. 57–67.
  20. ^ Slade 2017, p. 94.
  21. ^ Slade 2017, pp. 157–169.
  22. ^ Slade 2017.
  23. ^ Slade 2017, pp. 175–177, 192–194, 202.
  24. ^ Slade 2017, pp. 209–220.
  25. ^ Slade 2017, p. 244.
  26. ^ Slade 2017, pp. 264–273.
  27. ^ Slade 2017, pp. 287–300.
  28. ^ Slade 2017, pp. 299–300.
  29. ^ "From Banker to Buddhist Nun: Emma Slade on her journey to enlightenment". fcchk.org.
  30. ^ "2018 Programme". oxfordhumanrightsfestival.net.


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