Springwatch presenter Michaela Strachan started a pension and began investing in the stock market at the age of 21 – after taking advice from fellow kids TV presenter Timmy Mallett.
She says Mallett, who famously used to hit children over the head with a giant pink foam mallet, gave her some savvy financial advice and she has now built up a diverse investment and property portfolio.
She would introduce a tax on single-use plastic if she were Chancellor of the Exchequer and tries to invest her own money in ethical companies which do not harm the environment.
Now 53, she will be speaking this week at the Motorhome and Caravan Show, that runs from Tuesday to Sunday at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham. Tickets are available from website mcshow.co.uk.
Michaela Strachan started a pension and began investing in the stock market at the age of 21
What did your parents teach you about money?
That you can have a lot of money one minute – and it can disappear the next. My family went through a big financial crisis when I was 15. My father lost his job at a building society and we lost everything, including our home. I was attending a private school and had to get a bursary for my last year. We went from being a secure middle-class family to one that had nothing. I learned from that experience to put money aside and not spend everything you’ve got. That was a good lesson to learn young.
What was the first paid work you ever did?
Delivering leaflets when I was 15. I remember thinking I would get it done a lot quicker if I did it on roller skates. But I was not good at stopping so I used to crash into people’s front doors, put the leaflets through their letter box, then off I’d go again. I would get home covered in bruises.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
No, never, but I have supported myself since the age of 16 when I started paying rent to my mum. At college studying musical theatre, I worked part-time as a dancing showgirl at a hotel near Heathrow. I earned about £100 a week for four evenings’ work.
That was a lot of money for a student in those days. I got my first job in TV at age 20, presenting The Wide Awake Club on Saturday mornings. I have always lived within my means.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Yes, when I modelled clothes for Kays mail order catalogue in 1991. I got paid thousands of pounds for about two days’ work, plus I got to keep all the clothes.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It has to be 1998. I was so busy that year – I’m not sure I ever had a day off. I was presenting The Really Wild Show and lots of other wildlife and family TV shows as well as headlining the pantomimes I was in. You get paid well for panto and I was in two of them that year.
TV presenters were paid a lot more, relatively, in those days than now. I don’t get much more for doing Springwatch than I did for doing The Hitman And Her late night TV show in the early 1990s.
Svvy advice: Kids TV presenter Timmy Mallett
What is the most expensive thing you bought for fun?
It was a convertible MGB GT. I fantasised about owning one for a while. I bought it before I had children. I can’t remember how much it cost – it was 25 years ago – but I know it was an extravagance. I wouldn’t buy a car like that now. The car I currently have is a Fiat 500. The boot is so tiny I had to measure my son’s cricket bat before I bought it to make sure it would fit.
What is your biggest money mistake?
Buying my son an Xbox games console. He’s 14 and I so wish I hadn’t bought him one. It wasn’t a lot of money but the games are addictive and as a parent you have to keep on top of it. I wish I’d been stronger and just said no.
The best money decision you have made?
Purchasing a two-bedroom flat in Highgate, North London, 25 years ago for £75,000. It’s been a great investment. I’ve paid off the mortgage and rent it out which provides me with an income. I would also imagine it must have gone up a lot in value since I bought it, but I haven’t had it valued.
Do you save into a pension and invest in the stock market?
Yes, I have done both ever since age 21. I was lucky: the 1980s were a good time to start. The person who advised me to take out a pension and invest in the stock market was Timmy Mallett, my fellow TV presenter on the Wide Awake Club. He was really savvy about money.
I was buying my first flat and he said that if I was going to get a mortgage, I should think about a pension. He sent me to an adviser he knew at an investment company and we set everything up.
Michaela Strachan would introduce a tax on single-use plastic if she were Chancellor
What’s your investment strategy?
Not to just invest in property. I have learned over my 30 years as an investor that it’s good to have a spread of investments. When interest rates go up, property values go down and when interest rates go down, property values go up. You should never put all your eggs in one basket.
I don’t pick the stocks myself, I invest in funds, but I do have criteria. I try to put my money into ethical investments. Not all of it, but I’ve had an ethical portfolio for years and I never invest in any company that exploits the environment or uses slave labour.
I avoid tobacco companies as well. I don’t think enough investors think about what companies are doing, particularly to the environment. I want to make a profit but not at the expense of the planet and of people.
Do you own any property?
Yes, I own flats in London and a house in Cape Town, South Africa, where I live. It’s a spacious, open-plan house in a beautiful private estate in Hout Bay, nestled between Table Mountain National Park and the sea. We have fantastic views and you just go out of a gate and you are straight into the national park.
I’ve been living in South Africa for 17 years. I bought a holiday home initially and then met my partner and decided to move there permanently.
Michaela has donated to Greenpeace and conservation charity WWF since she was in her 20s
What is the one little luxury you treat yourself to?
I like a sports massage. I have one regularly because having trained as a dancer I put a lot of wear and tear on certain parts of my body. In Cape Town it costs only £25 an hour.
If you were Chancellor of the Exchequer, what is the first thing you would do?
I would put a tax on single-use plastic and use the proceeds to help fund projects that are trying to find alternatives. I think the only way you’re going to reduce the amount of single plastic produced is if you give financial incentives to the companies that are working hard to find an alternative.
Do you donate money to charity?
Yes. I’ve donated to Greenpeace and conservation charity WWF since I was in my 20s. I also give a lot to the Seabird Rescue Centre in South Africa.
I’ve had breast cancer so I also support breast cancer charities and – because we live in Africa – I sponsor a child from a disadvantaged background through a local charity.
What is your number one financial priority?
To be financially stable for the rest of my life. I want to make sure I have enough put away to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle in the future.
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