The entrepreneur who went from the MGM Grand in Las Vegas to a million-pound property portfolio in Lancashire
The life story of Kristina Castellina contains multitudes. Her childhood was transient and tumultuous, taking her from the Midlands to the Scottish Highlands to Blackpool. She was bullied and withdrew into herself, igniting an inner fire which fuelled her resilience and passion for the performing arts. Naturally emotional, she nevertheless erected barriers.
An enthusiastic figure skater, she fell in love with dance, throwing herself headlong into the world of entertainment, working jobs as variegated as Preston Panto and the MGM Grand in Las Vegas. She sang on cruise ships and with Bonnie Tyler, but found the instability of the work unsettling, so invested her life-savings in a property development course and now runs an award-winning, multi million-pound real estate portfolio.
And she’s a mother-of-two.
Struggling to fit in
“As a kid, I didn’t know I was adopted,” says Kristina, now 36. “I lived a regular life growing up in Birmingham and Cannock Chase until I was about 10, when we moved up to this tiny little village in the Scottish Highlands. Up until that point, I was a pretty normal little girl, but I was badly bullied in the local school because I was different.
“I had a Brummie accent and I’m half-Indian, so I didn’t fit in,” she adds. “The people and kids in the small village just weren’t used to that, and I was bullied to the point where I just wouldn’t go to school. I ended up travelling into Inverness 35 miles away just to go somewhere where people were a bit more open-minded.
“From about 13, I became very independent to escape trauma - even coming back to the village after school made me feel sick, which really knocked my confidence. “Losing myself in music became an escape; I’d listen to it on the bus and it was like therapy, resonating with the lyrics. Then, just as I started to fit in, we moved to Thornton.”
Finding her feet in the North West
Despite turning up expecting more bullies, Kristina’s single year at Millfield Science & Performing Arts College was dramatic for another reason entirely: it was the period when she fell in love with dance.
“My mum and dad had gotten me involved in figure skating and I kept it up in Blackpool,” she explains. “I remember seeing Phil Winston, the choreographer for Hot Ice, parading around the rink with these gorgeous girls and I remember thinking ‘who are these people?’ I went along to one of his classes and fell in love.
“I was born with that passion for performance in me, but I also had fire in the tummy and resilience which came from trauma, so - after GCSEs - I told my parents I wanted to go to Phil Winston's Theatreworks to sing and dance instead of Blackpool College,” Kristina adds. “But it was private, so we had to pay.
“They didn’t have loads of money, but said they’d help as much as they could as long as I got a job to support myself too. So I auditioned, got a place, and landed a job at the Hilton Hotel as a waitress. That’s where it all started and, from the very start, I loved it. I was a showgirl!”
The showgirl is born
Heading off with no previous training and going up against performers who had been honing their singing and dancing skills since the age of four, Kristina says she revelled in her status as the underdog, but also wishes she had been more self-confident at times, too. But the course was cut-throat, so she focused on working hard, determined to make it.
In her third year, a now 19-year-old Kristina started auditioning for parts in London, landing her first job as a singer and dancer on a P&O cruise ship. She’d taken her first step on a journey which was to see her travel the world, living the life she had dreamed of as a teenager and performing alongside some of the planet’s top entertainers.
But, to a certain extent, life rang hollow.
The curse of the industry
“I loved it, but I’d had it drilled into me that it was never enough,” says Kristina. “I wish I could go back and tell myself to chill out because I was constantly thinking about the next job or a better show, always chasing and never happy. That’s the curse of the industry; it’s a ticking time-bomb, especially when you want a family
“The work was all nights and jobs at the drop of a hat and, if I lost my voice, that was it: I’d earn no money,” she adds. “So I gradually left it, knowing the lifestyle wasn’t sustainable. I started reading about passive income and a lot of it was about property, which was something I thought rich people did, not singers. But I loved the idea of it.
“After reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki, I went to one of his free seminars in Leeds, which was about buying property and being creative with deals,” she continues. “I was 26 and had never bought a house, so I took it all as gospel and decided to sign up for the course. I invested my life savings - about £18k saved from singing to buy my own place.
“My mum and dad hit the roof!” she says with a smile. “They thought I’d been scammed and that I was a lunatic, but I had this gut instinct. I was hungry to create wealth and I wasn’t afraid of hard work, although I’m grey now compared to when I started!”
The renovation begins
Within two years, Kristina had renovated two houses, learned to delegate and manage big projects so that she didn’t get bogged down. Her portfolio grew more and more impressive over the years and now features more than 30 homes across the North West and beyond, boasting a total value in the millions. But her most recent project is her crowning glory.
“I’d spotted a gap in the market for bigger properties to accommodate big family gatherings, and I already had some lets under my belt after buying six holiday apartments on Cleveleys seafront,” explains Kristina. “It was during the winter 2020 lockdown and I was miserable apart from when I was viewing properties, so that’s how I found Empress Hall.
“It sparked my interest so I went for a viewing and, the moment I walked in, it was like Aladdin’s Cave,” she adds. “I was like ‘wow’. It had this amazing feeling - high ceilings, four storeys, eight bathrooms, four living rooms. The owner was fab too, this eccentric, tan-tastic woman with massive teeth and big boobs who was like ‘oh, hello darling!’”
Welcome to Empress Hall
A passion project which saw her harness her zeal for uniquely beautiful spaces and design, Kristina converted Empress Hall into a celebration retreat house for groups of friends, entrepreneurs, or colleagues. An homage to her showbiz background, the property sleeps 20 and features everything from a cinema and a games room to karaoke and a pool table.
“I saw the vision of what it could be as soon as I walked through the door and the rejuvenation process was probably the most enjoyable one I’ve ever done,” says Kristina, who won the ‘Deal of the Year’ award at the Property Industry Awards last year for her renovation. “I’m usually level-headed with business, but when we finished it, I cried.”
“I knew from the start it was special,” she says of Empress Hall. “The award was just the icing on the cake.”
Follow Kristina on Instagram at www.instagram.com/thegoodlife_propertyinvestor/