and Fortune: Edwina Currie
By Edwina Currie
11:07am BST 16/04/2008
Novelist and former MP Edwina Currie, 61, may
still be remembered for her remarks about salmonella in eggs as
Junior Health Minister in Margaret Thatcher's cabinet.
with her second husband, 67-year-old former policeman John Jones,
near Redhill, Surrey. She talked to Mark Anstead
How did your childhood experience influence your attitude to
My father was a tailor who ran his own business in Liverpool
making suits and overcoats for sea captains. We were a singleincome
family living in a semi-detached house, and I suppose my
childhood established the minimum I would accept owning your
home, being in charge of your income and having a bit of savings.
Growing up in Liverpool we were surrounded by poverty, some of it
the result of recklessness. My father was always quite scathing
about people who got paid on Saturday morning and had spent it
all by Saturday night. As a lower-middle-class family, education
was prized over wealth.
cautious with money or liberal with it?
suppose I am quite cautious I play the stock market, but
I also act prudently.
for example, we paid off both our mortgages. It felt slightly ridiculous,
as the stock market was still doing well, but I didn't like the
American news about sub-prime lending. I took Economics at University,
and it seemed to me that dispensing with our mortgages was a move
would not regret.
better off than your parents made you happier?
I think I'm happier anyway, but money hasn't had much to do with
My father would have loved to go into politics but in 1945 there
just wasn't the money. Neither of my parents seemed fulfilled
they worked below the level of their abilities. I feel lucky to
have had the career I have.
Since I lost my seat as an MP in 1997, the bulk of my income has
come from writing books, broadcasting - I had a radio show on BBC
Radio Five until 2002 - and public speaking. I set up a small limited
company in 1992 because I wanted to separate my parliamentary income
from my non-parliamentary activities. I was advised by an accountant
to pay myself just a small salary and take the rest of income by
dividend, but it doesn't make much difference nowadays because we
only live fairly modestly.
about money embarrass you?
No, although I'm always surprised that people assume if you're well-known
you must be filthy rich. Like a lot of creative people, we're not.
I would rather
spend a year writing a book than a year working in a bank, so we're
not nearly as well off as some of our neighbours in Surrey.
is your home worth?
Our five-bedroom barn conversion near Redhill cost £422,350
when we bought it in 2001 and last summer we put it on the market
for £835,000. We haven't managed to sell yet, so we have reduced
the price to £799,000, but we are in no hurry.
What's interesting is that, last year, the people looking were aspirational
upgraders who couldn't quite afford it. This year, all the viewers
have been downgraders with larger homes, but they are unable to
sell theirs either.
Are you good with money or irresponsible with it?
My husband says I am very good. I don't leave money hanging around
in a building society I enjoy investing it on the stock market
instead. As someone who was taught economics, I feel I should be
able to handle investments.
How do you
separate responsibility for finance with John?
When we first got together, I paid the mortgage and he paid the
utilities. I've now paid off our
mortgages, so I feel I've done my bit for a while. John still pays
the utility bills and we share the groceries whoever feels
fed up with an empty cupboard goes online to Tesco and pays. Probably
at some point in the future we will review this arrangement, but
it works for now.
We don't have
a joint account, but that's partly because we spend so much time
across a kitchen table we can always work out how to share things.
We have just
bought a motor caravan for holidays because the struggle to accommodate
two large dogs and an ageing smoker has defeated us. We looked at
it together, I paid the deposit and we split the remainder between
us and a small loan at a good rate of interest.
you learned about money by mistake?
Financial advisers don't always know what they're doing. They are
endlessly advising you to buy individual savings accounts (ISAs),
self-invested personal pensions (SIPPs) or venture capital trusts
(VCTs) for tax reasons, but these can be rip-offs.
ago, we were told to put £10,000 into a VCT to reduce our
tax bill. Since then, it has only paid out 2.5 per cent, which is
pathetic. The value of our capital has gone down and even taking
into account what we saved on tax we've lost overall.
So how do
Each year I put money into shares through a self-invested ISA and,
when my maximum tax-free allowance is used up, I add individually-purchased
shares to my portfolio.
If you are
going to invest in shares, I think you have to be ready to move
quickly and keep up with the business news. By far our biggest investment
is now our home, having paid off our mortgage.
I also kept
the flat in Clapham I was using as an MP it was a two-bedroom
apartment bought new in 1995 for £153,000 and I think it's
worth £450,000 now.
the secret of making money?
Working hard, finding a niche and being prepared to always say 'yes'.
I'm not hugely rich because I often don't say yes on a day
when the sun is shining I'd rather go for a long walk with the dogs
than sit at home writing.
your best buy?
Sportingbet.com, which I bought on AIM at £1.50 a share just
as online betting became all the rage.
I sold them
in 2006 for £4.50, after which they crashed. I wasn't particularly
clever I just needed the money to pay for my daughter's wedding
The VCT I told you about. The value has dropped because nobody buys
a second-hand VCT you don't get tax relief on it. And yet
they are still being recommended by financial advisers.
How do you
prefer to pay by cash, card or cheque?
Direct debit is my favourite. If I'm in a shop and they charge for
credit I'll use a debit card. I've got a Barclay's debit card and
two credit cards as back up which I usually pay off straight away.
I bank with Barclays and I have a company credit card as well.
quite good I get decent service from them and, anyway, I've
got a lot of inertia over changing banks.
How do you
They have to work hard for me, but if I've had good service I will
tip more than 10 per cent. I do get cross if they've already put
service on the bill and in that case they're not getting any more.
They would do better from me if they didn't do that.
your greatest extravagance?
Getting married again in 2001 we really splurged on the wedding.
We had worked out that it would cost £25,000 to do it in a
hotel, but we had a conversation with OK! magazine and ended up
spending twice that at Hever Castle.
We had the
place for the whole weekend and when the guests arrived for the
evening party they gathered outside and at seven on the dot the
torches were lit and the drawbridge came down. It was spectacular.
Do you use
high interest savings accounts?
I've got one, but I only have £1 in it. I keep an amount in
my current account for a working balance and any spare I prefer
to invest. I look at my share portfolio about once a week, but I
anything right now my feeling is the market has still got
some way to drop.
Do you bank
Yes, I look at my account online and move money around a bit, but
I still pay a lot of my bills using a cheque and snail mail.
your favourite holiday?
Each year we go on a long-distance cycle ride for charity, which
doubles up as a holiday. I've cycled St Petersburg to Moscow, London
to Paris and London to Amsterdam. I've ridden in the Sinai desert,
which was awesome, and we've done a lot of cycling in Poland. I
found myself cycling in a part of Poland my grandfather came from,
although I didn't realise it at the time.
a good idea?
I think they are essential. I started late and didn't have a proper
job until I was 36, so today my parliamentary and state pension
after tax is just £545 a month, which is pathetic.
I read the
stories of what MPs are paying themselves nowadays with green eyes.
It wasn't like that for us Margaret Thatcher used to say
an MP gets a part-time salary for a part-time job. I only really
got cracking with a personal pension using the income from my books.
I think with this whole thing with ministers' expenses is a rope
with which they are hanging themselves. Because tax on income is
so high, MPs have used tax-free expenses to relieve the burden,
creating a gap between their experience and that of their constituents.
That is why the nation is so cross.
When I left
my ministerial office I had an £8,000 overdraft because I
subsidised my office expenses from my own pocket.
I had a very
funny text from my daughter Susie when she read about Derek Conway
paying his son £1,000 a month. It said, 'Your two daughters
are very cross. In our day the going rate was much less
and you actually made us work for it.'
Edwina Currie is supporting the Marie Curie Cancer Care 60th
anniversary cycle challenge in August. www.bikethebaltic.co.uk
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