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Friday 18 July 2008
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Angus Deayton: Fame and Fortune


Last Updated: 1:07am BST 18/07/2008

Equitable Life victims included judges, accountants - and TV personality Angus Deayton. The former host of the weekly satirical show, Have I Got News for You, told telegraph.co.uk/money how Equitable’s setbacks hit him hard. The 52-year-old lives in North London with his girlfriend, TV and scriptwriter Lise Mayer, 50, and their seven-year-old son, Issac. He talked to Mark Anstead.

  • Fame & Fortune: more financial secrets from celebrities
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    Angus Deayton: Equitable life victim
    Angus Deayton on Have I Got News For You

    You’re talking to man who had his entire pension with Equitable Life. Talk about earnings sailing off into the sunset. The lesson I’ve learned is to avoid putting all my eggs in one basket. Or indeed any of my savings in a company with the words “Life” and “Equitable” in the title. Actually, it was all solved quite simply – by paying their very reasonable 20pc exit charge. It was only my with-profits fund that was affected, so I think I paid about £15,000 to get out.

    What do you hate about dealing with money?

    All the jargon that goes with it. Talking to my accountant is like to talking to a car mechanic. I find myself nodding sagely whilst understanding maybe every third word. There’s plenty of jargon in the comedy world, but I wouldn’t expect a financial adviser to understand a ‘reverse gag’ or ‘the rule of three’, so why does he expect me to understand “tax bond annuity capital exemption”?

    What’s the secret of making money?

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    I’m not sure there is just one. Or we’d all be millionaires. In truth, there are probably hundreds, and we just have find the one that suits us best. In show business it’s simply a case of working hard – the main exception being if you create or format a show. But then for every Eastenders, there are twenty Eldorados.

    What has been your best buy?

    Strangely, because I have a bit of a passion for it and never normally find business and pleasure mix, my best investment to date has been wine. It seems that because of Russia and the Far East suddenly discovering the joys of fine wine, the value of some top labels almost doubled in a year. A crate of 1996 Chateau Lafite Rothschild cost me £2,700 in March 2006. A year later it was going for £5,700. I haven’t drunk, or even seen, any of it, as it’s kept in a cellar somewhere near Basingstoke.

    And your worst buy?

    Did I mention Equitable Life?

    How did your childhood experience influence your attitude to money?

    My father was an insurance manager for Prudential in London, and my mother was a cookery teacher. I grew up with two older brothers in a four-bedroom detached house in Caterham, Surrey. There was never very much money around. We weren’t poor, but my parents basically spent everything they had on three sets of school fees so there wasn’t much left over for luxuries, like Variety packs of cereal (“waste of money” as my Mother would say) or Arctic Roll (“only for special occasions”). I’m sure a certain degree of deprivation makes you more appreciative later in life. It’s sort of the opposite of ‘a little of what you fancy does you good.’ ‘None of what you fancy does you good.’

    Are you cautious with money or liberal?

    I don’t really understand money. Or crave it particularly. And the idea of dedicating your life to making it strikes me as the dullest thing imaginable. For me it’s only the fortuitous by-product of working, and it’s the piece of work that’s interesting. Consequently I don’t have much option but to be cautious with money as any attempt at capitalising on my earnings would probably result in those earnings sailing off into the sunset.

    Now that you are better off, are you happier?

    That’s one of those questions like, ‘Would you have had a nicer life if you’d lived in Australia?’ There’s obviously no way of knowing if my happiness quotient would be higher or lower had my income remained the same. I’m certainly happier with the fact that I’m better off, but that’s probably not the same thing. I once did a documentary called In Search of Happiness and we found that wealth on the whole didn’t make people more content. Those who had won the lottery or lost a fortune experienced initial highs and lows, but after a short time they returned to their original level of contentment.

    What has the change in your financial circumstances meant to you?

    Apart from being able to afford Variety cereal packs and Arctic Roll whenever I want, I guess it means I don’t have to worry about the future. That in turn means I can be quite picky about offers of work that come in and I don’t have to stray too far outside my comfort zone. As a result I take fewer risks professionally, which isn’t always a good thing. After all, it’s only when you take those leaps into the unknown that you develop the muscles to deal with them.

    Does talking about money embarrass you?

    I’m not embarrassed talking about money and earnings, but I have to admit to being quite British. In countries like America they ask you how much money you make almost as the next question after, “How are you?“ I’m happy enough to discuss the price of things, but I do get irritated when people say, “So how much did your house cost, if you don’t mind me asking?” when the second part of the sentence is completely redundant – they’ve already asked.

    How do you prefer to pay for things, cash, card or cheque?

    I prefer to pay by credit card – someone else’s, ideally. I tend to opt for ones that offer Air Miles – such as British Airways Amex and Visa – but I’m not sure why, as Air Mile seats never seem to be available for any flights I want to go on.

    Do you use high interest savings accounts?

    Yes, if 5pc is high interest. I’m not sure it is anymore.

    How do you tip? Are you an easy tipper or do they have to work hard with you?

    I always get into a terrible flap about tipping and worry whether I’ve tipped too little or too much. In London I’ve started to notice that waiters who’ve been largely absent throughout a meal suddenly start getting terribly chatty and attentive the closer you get to the bill. I generally try and leave at least 10pc, but the really flash thing to do is tip before the meal. That way you have their undivided attention throughout. Though I think technically that’s called bribery.

    What’s been your greatest extravagance?

    The only things I really splash out on are cars and parties. I seem to have major blow-outs for the big birthdays – 40th in Paris, 50th in Venice – and family Christmases when I hire a big house in the country and see how long it is before we all get sick of each other. Sometimes it’s over an hour. As for cars I drive a Lexus SC340, which I bought new in 2002 for about £60,000, and I’ve had Porsches and Lancias. But nothing compares with the Triumph Spitfire I bought when I was 19, for £218. It lasted about five years.

    Do you have more than one home?

    I live in a five-bedroom Georgian terraced house in North London and I have a 16th century farmhouse in a tiny hamlet in central Italy with six bedrooms, which I bought years ago using lire. It used to be bad enough buying a coffee for 15,000 lire, but buying a house meant negotiating in sums of tens of thousands of billions of lire. The euro was introduced overnight in Italy and lire were forgotten in an instant. I wonder why.

    Have you ever invested in shares?

    I’ve never really trusted my instincts enough to dabble in the stock market. I bought shares in Capital Radio when I used to work there in the 1980s, and I received a cheque for them the other day, which presumably means I’ve sold them.

    What about individual savings accounts (ISAs) or personal equity plans (PEPs)?

    I do have all of them. Although I’m not entirely sure I know the difference. I do know that they’re meant to be a jolly good idea, and a way of sheltering money from the taxman, so to be commended on all levels. In fact, I must buy some more.

    Do you use a financial adviser? How often do you talk?

    I’ve divided my savings into three equal parts, and given them to two investment managers and a private bank. The aim being to see which one performs best. At present, it looks like I would’ve been better off putting it all in a shoe box under my bed. We have the occasional lunch to discuss strategy and “attitude to risk”, during which my eyes start to glaze over around the hors d’oeuvres.

    What has been your favourite holiday?

    My favourite kind of holiday is skiing. It seems to incorporate everything – exercise, fresh air, scenery, over-eating, over-drinking, party games, staying up late, and always with the opportunity of a major sporting injury. For the last 20 years, I’ve taken a bunch of like-minded funsters on an annual ski trip, the only rule being we never go back to the same resort twice. Something the resort always seems quite happy about. Occasionally, we push the boat out and stay at a luxury hotel but last time it only cost £750 for the week.

    What do you love to spend money on for fun?

    Restaurants are probably where far too much of my income ends up going. London is now ahead of almost all its European rivals when it comes to Michelin stars, even though Jacques Chirac criticised it for having the worst food outside of Finland, thereby losing Paris the British vote and Finnish vote (and as a result the Olympics). Prices can be a bit mad in town. At one restaurant in the West End last autumn, ‘Tagliatelle with white truffles’ was on the menu for £98. At the trattoria 10 minutes from my house in Italy it’s nine euros.

    How will you finance your retirement?

    My pension is now in a self-invested personal pension (SIPP). The strange thing about working in television is that you’re always semi-retired. Last year I recorded two series for BBC1 and one for ITV, but even that only constituted about 20 weeks’ work. Most actors or presenters have more than half of every year off, which is something to bear in mind when you next hear one complain about being worked to the bone.

    Angus Deayton presents Would I Lie to You? on BBC1 Fridays at 9pm.

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