Defining moments interview series: Sabrina and Idris Elba
15 November 2021
What Sabrina and Idris Elba have learned about partnership.
We all know who Idris Elba is. The 48-year-old Hollywood star is acclaimed for his work on The Wire and Luther and for playing Nelson Mandela, and, of course, for being voted People’s sexiest man alive. He was the star DJ at Harry and Meghan’s wedding, and he has just launched a lifestyle brand with his wife, Sabrina Dhowre Elba.
For Dhowre, it took being married to one of the world’s most famous men to realise her ambitions. “I’m from a small town compared with London – Vancouver, Canada – and I just don’t know if I had the same scope for my life vision,” she says. “Being with Idris totally changed that. Now all I want to do is talk business, start businesses and learn about business.”
The pair’s lifestyle brand, s’able labs (Elbas backwards, geddit?), is a global community celebrating partnerships of all kinds – from romantic couples, business partners and creative duos to long-standing friends and family ties – along with a podcast, Coupledom. They even have plans to launch products.
They also hope the space will speak to a demographic both believe has been neglected. “As a woman of colour, I don’t necessarily feel that there are any products in the wellness space that are marketed towards me, and I feel we’re trying to create a space that everyone can come to,” Dhowre adds. “People don’t talk enough about the fact there’s a whole demographic that’s left out in this new wellness conversation.”
It’s not hard to see why the idea of partnerships appealed to them. They have an easy chemistry, bouncing off each other, allowing each other space to answer and praising each other’s contributions, even though they’re speaking from different countries. Despite their jet-setting lifestyle – she’s packing to leave Rome and he’s quarantining in a hotel – the chat is cheerful, self-deprecating and down to earth.
Dhowre met Elba around five years ago, an incident both have described as love at first sight. For Dhowre, it was a defining moment. She says: “He really inspired me to start dreaming big.”
Dhowre had left law school – something that she says she’d now consider going back to finish – that or studying for a masters in agriculture.
She was crowned Miss Vancouver in 2014 and says she’s proud of the charity work she was able to do as part of her role. But Dhowre laughs and adds: “I just know that, if I ever go missing, I’ll be known as ‘former beauty queen’.”
For his part, Elba says: “Sabrina came into my life at a juncture where I was completely resigned to being a single man and just getting on with it. She opened up my eyes to what the strength of a partnership could be.”
Working and living together is a challenge for many and the Elbas are no different. “We’re new in marriage, but also new in business,” says Dhowre. “For me, the most important part of the learning curve is to carve out separate time for each so that they don’t become muddled together. I’m realising now that you learn and grow in business and in love. So we’re just kind of doing them side by side.”
Running a business isn’t new to Elba. He reveals that his production company Green Door (behind the Sky 1 comedy In The Long Run and Netflix sitcom Turn Up Charlie), “enabled me to mature as an actor and become a producer. I now have a group of companies but it all started with Green Door.”
Starting Green Door in 2013 was a defining moment for Elba: “I’ve been very fortunate to have been employed for most of my career and there are lots of people I know that are equally as – if not more – talented than me who just didn’t have the same shots and opportunities as I did. The company is called Green Door as a metaphor for an opening for others to come through.”
He adds: “We’ve had quite a lot of success with talent that ordinarily wouldn’t have got a look in.” Success stories include Kate Herron, lead director on the new Disney+ Marvel Loki series who first got her shot at directing on a short film at Green Door.
The very early days of Green Door were a struggle, says Elba, “And then I learned to delegate.” He’s now executive producer on the long-awaited forthcoming Luther movie, which starts production this month.
Another defining moment for Elba was getting a grant from the Prince’s Trust at the age of 16 to join the National Youth Music Theatre, where he played Nathan in Guys and Dolls. “For a young black kid from East Ham, that was pretty defining,” he says. “My work for them now has a special place in my heart and I try to be there for them whenever they need me.”
In addition to business and philanthropic interests, the couple are UN Goodwill Ambassadors for the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and have been praised for their efforts to convince the Canadian government to assist struggling farmers post-Covid.
For Dhowre, the work represents another defining point in her life and a crucial part of her heritage. She explains: “I’m a first-generation Canadian. My mum and dad were born in a rural community in Somalia. She came from a family of farmers and herders and understands the importance of using the land in ways that are efficient and sustainable.”
Elba adds: “We are both proud Africans and we know that Africa is a place that could benefit from some help in terms of making sure that people who eat from the earth are supported.” And he’s proud of the work they’re doing: “We are actually getting governments and countries to pay attention to what IFAD are doing, and that’s been really successful.”
First published on the FT.com and produced in partnership with the Financial Times Commercial department.
What does it take to be successful and how do we navigate key moments in our lives? We explore stories of success with the FT.Defining moments interview series