TV presenter Johnny Ball has never forgotten the days he struggled to make ends meet, playing drums in Liverpool and hanging out with The Beatles.
Ball, now 81, went on to earn six-figure sums presenting science and technology programmes for children throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
He has never tried to give his daughter, DJ Zoe Ball, any money advice, just a financial safety blanket. His one-man show Wonders Beyond Numbers, based on his book of the same name, is on hold at the moment, but will hopefully be back in the autumn.
His book, with the same title, which unravels the tale of how humanity built up a knowledge and understanding of shapes, numbers and patterns from ancient times, is available via bloomsbury.com.
On the Ball: Johnny believes his best money decision was buying his Buckinghamshire home, now worth £1.5 million
How has the coronavirus affected your life?
My wife Diane, who is 69, and I are currently self-isolating. We don’t find it a problem, but I’m sorry my roadshow, Wonders Beyond Numbers, has had to be put on hold. Still, we’re very happy and are keeping well. I’ve been doing lots of cooking because Diane broke her collarbone skiing. She’s getting better though.
What did your parents teach you about money?
Not much. My dad was an iron founder and moulder. He kneeled in sand all his life and ended up with no hair follicles on the skin of his legs. My mother had a job in a boot factory during the war and then in a weaving mill. They worked hard for their money. We did fine – we were never short of anything – but we never had any extra money.
What have you tried to teach Zoe about money?
I’ve always said this: you can never teach your kids anything, but they learn everything from you. I’ve never given her any financial advice directly. But I hope I’ve shown that I will always be there for her if she needs me, because family is important.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes, in the winter of 1960. I was living in Liverpool. I was working for a shipping company and my income was £7 a week.
My digs and meals cost £3.50, I had to pay £2 a week for a drum kit I’d bought on hire purchase and I spent £1.50 a week on cigarettes. That left me without a penny for anything else, including my bus fare to work. I had £20 in savings, but that soon went, so I was really strapped for cash. But then I started working nights as a drummer for another £11.50 a week, and that meant I could afford a pint on a Friday night.
I shared a house with a guy called Rory Storm who had played in a band with Ringo Starr. George, John and Paul used to come round and play music at the house because their parents didn’t like them playing at home – and thought they were layabouts. When I’d get home in the early evening we would chat. I got to know them all really well but I was closest to George. I thought they were very talented.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Yes. In 2000, I wrote a five-man show for the Mindzone in the Millennium Dome, London, and got paid £100,000 on top of what I asked for. It was crazy.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2000. As well as the Dome show, I toured with my stage musical for kids, Tales Of Maths And Legends. I also did corporate speaking as well. I earned well into six-figures that year.
What is the most expensive thing you bought for fun?
It was a brand new, metallic gold BMW 5 series – bought seven years ago. I can’t remember how much I paid for it, but it would have been around £40,000.
What is your biggest money mistake?
I haven’t really made one. I did invest money in insurer Equitable Life. But I got out before any financial damage because I saw it coming. I don’t remember how much money I lost but it wasn’t much.
Security: Johnny says he’ll help his DJ daughter Zoe if she needs it
The best money decision you have made?
Buying our home in south Buckinghamshire for £50,000, which seemed like a fortune at the time. It was a wreck, but we’ve slowly been doing it up and doubling its size over the years.
As a result, it’s now a five-bedroom house with three gazebos in the garden that I built myself. We’ve been here 40 years. It’s probably worth £1.5million now.
It was a great decision financially, but also for my career because of its location. We live just off the M40. When I was working for the BBC, it only took 20 minutes to get to the studios. Yet it’s outside London and has a lovely garden with huge trees.
Do you save into a pension?
No, I used to. I accumulated a substantial pension pot during the 1990s after I paid off the mortgage. Now, I’m drawing it down – but I only take out what I need, which isn’t much.
Do you invest directly in the stock market?
Yes, I have a stocks and shares Isa. I chose all the investment funds myself. I enjoy it and I think it is important to learn how to handle your investments yourself. I cannot tolerate some financial adviser saying: ‘Leave it to me.’ The recent drop in the value of the stock market is horrifying, but it will recover.
What is the one little luxury you treat yourself to?
Holidays. We probably go on holiday three times a year. Given that my wife usually does all the cooking and looks after me at home, we always stay in nice places if we can. Sometimes that means a five-star hotel, sometimes it’s a lovely little guesthouse in an idyllic setting. We mix it up but we don’t scrimp and save on holidays.
If you were Chancellor what is the first thing you would do?
I would reduce all subsidies on green energy. We are having to pay for those subsidies via our taxes. Everyone is poorer as a result.
Do you donate money to charity?
Not regularly. I’ve worked with lots of charities over the years, and sadly I’ve met quite a few charlatans.
What is your number one financial priority?
To keep working as long as I am fit enough to do so. If I do that, then financially my family will be comfortable.
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