Fame and Fortune: Edwina Currie

By Edwina Currie
Last updated 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.

She lives 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.

Are you cautious with money or liberal with it?
I suppose I am quite cautious – I play the stock market, but I also act prudently.

Last summer, 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 we
would not regret.

Has being better off than your parents made you happier?
No. I think I'm happier anyway, but money hasn't had much to do with it.
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.

Does talking 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.

How much 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.

What have 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.

Three years 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 you invest?
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.

What is 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.

What's been 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 reception.

And your worst buy?
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.

Barclays are quite good – I get decent service from them and, anyway, I've got a lot of inertia over changing banks.

How do you tip?
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.

What's been 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 wouldn't buy
anything right now – my feeling is the market has still got some way to drop.

Do you bank online?
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.

What's been 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.

Are pensions 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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