Léa Legraien talks to pharmacist, business owner and MasterChefUK 2018 finalist Moonira Hinglotwala about her experience in the show, success and love for the profession

Q What inspired you to become a pharmacist?

A When I was a little girl, my dad always wanted me to do something science-based and I did enjoy science.

He said: ‘My daughter is going to be a chemist.’ So I looked into that when I started my GCSEs in college. Pharmacy seemed really interesting to me because I really enjoyed chemistry at A-level.

I love the aspect of the profession where you get to communicate with people and help them with their health.

Q What’s your key to success? 

A Working hard and keeping going. I’ve had quite a lot of obstacles along the way but I’ve always tried to get the best.

When I bought my first pharmacy, my husband lost everything. He had his own pharmacy, which he had opened in conjunction with friends from university. But because I got this opportunity, his partners weren’t happy for me to pursue my own pharmacy, as a woman, so they removed him from the company.

My husband wanted this pharmacy I was going to buy and said: ‘I can’t take it off my wife and give it to you guys because it’s going to her, it’s her opportunity.’ He was quite supportive.

I think it’s the mentality in Blackburn. It’s a manly thing that women should just be at home looking after the children cheerily and not going into business.

Q What are the key qualities that make a good female leader?

A You have to be ready to work hard and do everything you have to do in the process. You have to set a good example for your staff and show them you’re not scared to work hard.

Also, you need to be able to communicate well with your patients and staff and know how to run a successful business.

Q What advice would you give to women who want to be leaders in the profession?

 A If you feel you have the attributes and qualities you think will make you a successful businesswoman, then you should definitely go for it.

It is hard work, especially as a mother and a wife. Having a family, you do sacrifice a lot of time away from the children.

But once the business is up and running, it is very rewarding. It’s definitely worth it.

Q How do you juggle all your roles day to day?

A It requires a lot of planning. I preplan any events. So while I have the children at school, I try to do all the stock buying, cash-and-carry and so on.

I focus on the business, health advice, injections and all the services we provide at the pharmacy. I try to do these things before 3pm. Once I finish work, I pick up ingredients for food we’re going to cook that night and pick the children up.

After they’ve got changed and ready to do their homework, I make tea for the evening. Sometimes, once I’ve sorted them out and they’re in bed, as a director, I’ll fiddle with my paperwork, VAT, staff wages and all of that.

Q What makes you happy at work? 

A When patients come in and are in pain or have a problem, it’s really rewarding to be able to help them or relieve them off pain and see they’re happy. You’ve made a difference to somebody’s life or health.

Q What are the biggest challenges in pharmacy?

A There have been a lot of cutbacks and not a lot of funding available.

Prescribing has reduced in surgeries, with cutbacks on a lot of prescriptions such as gluten-free or nutrition products. It has affected pharmacies and businesses themselves.

Q How can pharmacists overcome challenges?

A The only way forward is to evolve because there are a lot of new services that pharmacists can provide. Hopefully, there will be some funding with it.

Pharmacists aren’t just dispensing tablets and pills. They also give advice for people who come in.

I think you have to try to be the best pharmacist you can be.

Q What changes would you like to see in pharmacy?

A More focus on pharmacies. A lot of patients do come in for advice whereas the doctor doesn’t have time to see them.

A lot of pharmacists are now finding that the pay side of the job is not as good as it used to be so they are considering other careers.

Q Are you confident about the future?

A At the moment, the future looks quite bleak for community pharmacy.

It seems like NHS England and the Government are just cutting back funds and don’t want to pay for anything but want us to work more than what we have been doing.

It’s a tough one. It’s going to be a struggle but I think if you’re a good pharmacist who gives good advice, you’ll still be ok because people will always need this. You have to give a really good service to patients.

Q Why did you apply for MasterChef?

A I’ve always enjoyed cooking from a young age. I used to watch my mum cook from the age of 9 and could cook all her recipes by the age of 13.

For the first 18 years of my life, my mum used to always cook at home, we never ate out. I used to watch MasterChef and thought it would be lovely if I could take part in it but never had the confidence to apply until my 11-year-old son, who is a child actor, printed out the application form.

He’s worked for BBC One and told me that if he could act in front of the cameras, then why couldn’t I do it too? He just forced me to apply! I couldn’t say no.

It’s a very big achievement, something I’ll always be proud of.

Q Have your pharmacy skills helped you throughout the competition?

A Yes, definitely. I was able to do a lot in the time given because of planning, delegating and making sure I get so much done in a limited time. I think that definitely comes from the pharmacy where sometimes I do 10 things at one.

I don’t like patients waiting. I like to get things out of the way, not having things hanging around.

Having my own business helped me when we did the challenge in the RAF air force base, where I was the leader for my team. I planned it so that everybody was doing something they were good at and we knew exactly what everybody was doing. Once I got my dessert out of the way I went around to help everybody else so we didn’t run out of time and were on top of it.

Q What lessons did you learn from MasterChef?

A It helped me see how people perceive pharmacists and what they think of the profession. I’m hoping that MasterChef showed a good light on pharmacists.

It also shows you that, as a chef or a pharmacist, if you’re passionate about something and you care, especially if it’s your own business, then you’ll always do well and give 101% to whoever comes in, patient or customer.

I’m very passionate about pharmacists giving advice and making a difference to somebody’s life. In food it’s the comfort, people want to eat, enjoy and be happy. They are very similar in that sense.

Q How did your customers feel about you making it to the finals?

A I think they were over the moon! People came to see me. The support in Blackburn was absolutely mental, from young children at school to elderly, it’s like it’s brought different communities together.

Everybody was really proud I was from Blackburn, representing it on national TV.