‘I al­ways bar­gain-hunt in su­per­mar­kets’

Oz Clarke in­vested wisely in vin­tage bordeaux and a Lon­don house, but his luck ran out when he dab­bled in shares, he tells Sarah Ewing

The Sunday Telegraph - Money & Business - - Money -

Oz Clarke, 60, grew up out­side Can­ter­bury with his par­ents and brother and sis­ter. He stud­ied the­ol­ogy and psy­chol­ogy at Ox­ford, where he first dis­cov­ered his love of wine. Af­ter grad­u­a­tion, he got a job mend­ing roads and busk­ing be­fore he landed his first act­ing job. He went on to star in ma­jor the­atri­cal pro­duc­tions with the Royal Shake­speare Com­pany and Old Vic, as well as films such as

Su­per­man. Oz got his big break into the wine in­dus­try on the BBC TV show

Food and Drink in 1984, and has since re­leased more than 45 books. He lives in Lon­don.

How did your child­hood in­flu­ence your at­ti­tude to­wards work and money?

I came from a long line of Ir­ish bak­ers go­ing back hun­dreds of years, but my par­ents’ gen­er­a­tion was the first to go on to fur­ther ed­u­ca­tion, dad be­com­ing a chest physi­cian and mum a nurse. My aun­tie Molly was the first Ir­ish woman to get a PHD.

Al­though dad bought a ram­bling house in the Can­ter­bury coun­try­side, we never had much money. When

I was very lit­tle, I once got a girl’s bi­cy­cle for Christ­mas and hol­i­days would be a week in a farmer’s field in Sus­sex. We grew our own fruit and veg and made the most of what we had. I was happy as can be.

Dad did a lot of pro bono work with coal miners and fish­er­men, all peo­ple who worked tremen­dously hard. I ut­terly re­spected and revered him for it. He’d take me down the mines to show me ex­actly what hard graft was.

He’d say to me: “We’re all in this to­gether, we’re all hu­man be­ings. You may be luck­ier than them be­cause you don’t have to do this, but you must al­ways re­gard them as your equals, as your hu­man friends.”

It was the kick up the bum I needed to work harder at school, but be­cause we didn’t have much money, I was never mo­ti­vated by it.

What is the big­gest les­son you’ve learnt about money?

As long as you’ve got some­where to live, es­pe­cially some­where that you can’t have taken off you, you can live rel­a­tively fru­gally but with enor­mous plea­sure.

That’s why psy­cho­log­i­cally, it was so im­por­tant for me to pay off my mort­gage, even when the rates were low.

Have you ever wor­ried about how you were go­ing to make ends meet?

Yes, reg­u­larly, but es­pe­cially when my par­ents em­i­grated to Canada when I was 19 and just start­ing at univer­sity.

They thought they’d left me in good hands with places to stay but I spent most of the time liv­ing out of the back of my car. The po­lice even did wel­fare checks on me. My par­ents would have been hor­ri­fied if they knew.

I man­aged to scrape to­gether lit­tle bits of money and eked them out. I was like a gan­net to the yel­low-stick­ered items in su­per­mar­kets and I still am.

When did you first feel less money stress?

When I got my first job as an ac­tor at the Northamp­ton Reper­tory The­atre in the early Sev­en­ties. I was paid the princely sum of £25 a week, which was £7 above the Equity min­i­mum. My rent was only £1.25 a week for a shared flat with the other ac­tors.

Why did you make the jump from act­ing to wine?

I de­vel­oped a real pas­sion for it at univer­sity, but never con­sid­ered mak­ing a liv­ing from it. I loved the senses it in­volved and I started en­ter­ing blind taste com­pe­ti­tions around the UK, and then in­ter­na­tion­ally. When our English team beat the French, Le Fi­garo

[the news­pa­per] had a black front page, only the sec­ond time since the Sec­ond World War. I knew I was on to some­thing.

Does talk­ing about per­sonal wealth em­bar­rass or an­noy you?

No, be­cause I’ve al­ways been very am­biva­lent about money. I’ve never craved it and I’ve never worked as hard as I could have done to get more. I of­ten turn down lu­cra­tive com­mer­cial op­por­tu­ni­ties that oth­ers would have snapped up.

Hav­ing said that, well-pay­ing cor­po­rate gigs that would be great for pay­ing off the mort­gage are much less com­mon since the crash. How­ever, I’m aware that hav­ing a rea­son­able amount makes life a lot eas­ier.

Are you a saver or a spen­der?

I’ve al­ways lived my life by the mot­tos: “If you haven’t got it, don’t spend it” and “If you want it, earn it”, which means I’ve never got into debt.

I hate, hate, hate debt, es­pe­cially as be­ing a free­lancer, you never re­ally know where and when the next piece of work is go­ing to come from. Even af­ter all these years, I’ve not con­quered that feel­ing of, “Oh no, what next?”

I’m al­ways keen to build a buf­fer for when the bad times come. I re­mem­ber how fright­ened I was in 2009 when the banks were tee­ter­ing on the brink of dis­as­ter, and think­ing I was go­ing to lose ev­ery­thing I had worked so hard for.

Roy­alty cheques cer­tainly aren’t what they used to be. The me­dia and pub­lish­ing in­dus­try has changed enor­mously in the past two decades alone. I’ve had to be con­vinced that so­cial me­dia is a big part of your per­sonal and pro­fes­sional brand and help pro­pel sales, but I’d still much rather stick to writ­ing books.

What is your big­gest money weak­ness?

I don’t spoil my­self enough. I need to give my­self a good talk­ing to some­times to even splurge £20 on some­thing nice, but un­nec­es­sary. Even some­thing like a posh cof­fee, rather than a free­bie, or sit­ting in a nice bar drink­ing a mar­tini with a good book. I al­ways talk my­self out of it.

But my real wants are few. I never sell my cars, they just grow old on me. In fact I’ve had my cur­rent one, a BMW Z3, for 16 years. It’s great for dash­ing to all my work com­mit­ments and to wine tast­ings I give. It’s also a good ex­cuse not to have room to drive back dis­or­derly friends!

What has been your big­gest money mis­take?

Some peo­ple might say it was when I was at univer­sity. I had the op­por­tu­nity to join the fa­mous fam­ily busi­ness, Sketch­ley’s, who were once one of the big­gest dry clean­ers in the UK. They’d got their ini­tial boost from a Bri­tish Army con­tract to dye all their khakis, and had made a for­tune. They’d seen the blos­som­ing dry clean­ing mar­ket in the US, and wanted one on ev­ery high street in the UK. My un­cles, Teddy and Ge­of­frey, came to see me and I told them I just couldn’t do it. It wasn’t a hard de­ci­sion for me. The only hard part was how to tell them diplo­mat­i­cally. Dad said he’d sup­port my choice, no mat­ter what, even though they were of­fer­ing me the chance to be a very rich busi­ness­man.

The un­cles thought I was be­ing very un­grate­ful for turn­ing them down, but I sim­ply didn’t want to be in busi­ness.

And what has been your best busi­ness de­ci­sion?

With­out a doubt, buy­ing my first flat just off Cale­do­nian Road in Lon­don for £32,000 in the early Eight­ies dur­ing my act­ing ca­reer, while I was do­ing a show called The Mit­ford Girls with Pa­tri­cia Hodge.

The show was planned to run for two years, so I thought it’d be pru­dent to buy a prop­erty. Shock­ingly, the show only ran for three months and we got our re­dun­dancy no­tices just be­fore Christ­mas. I was about to ex­change so I was in a ter­ri­ble panic. Pa­tri­cia sat me down and told me “to hell with logic”.

She sternly told me I would find work and to buy the flat. Of course, be­cause of boom­ing prop­erty prices it was worth four times the amount by the end of the Eight­ies.

What was your worst buy?

Back in the late Eight­ies, I in­vested all I could in Bri­tish Biotech, which was de­vel­op­ing lots of promis­ing drugs. Af­ter Biotech went pub­lic I quadru­pled my in­vest­ment. My friends told me to cash out, but I was adamant the lucky streak still had plenty of life in it. I thought my orig­i­nal £10,000 in­vest­ment could grow to mil­lions.

I was at an event and a fi­nan­cial jour­nal­ist there took me aside. He said he knew some­thing he couldn’t tell me to do with their med­i­cal tests, and warned me to sell within the week. I didn’t lis­ten.

A few days later, they hit the head­lines be­cause their ini­tially promis­ing test re­sults didn’t con­tinue and the com­pany went into freefall. My orig­i­nal in­vest­ment is worth some­thing like £17.96. It taught me a very im­por­tant les­son that I’d been too greedy, and as dad said, if some­thing looks too good to be true, it is.

I was lucky that I could af­ford to lose the orig­i­nal in­vest­ment, that my sur­vival didn’t de­pend on it.

What has been your best wine pur­chase?

Four cases of Chateau Petrus 1964 from Phillips sale rooms when I was an ac­tor. I got them for £4 a bot­tle. They’d now be worth around £30,000 a case.

At any given time, I’ve got hun­dreds of bot­tles of wine at home be­cause when­ever I go abroad I bring a few bot­tles back. I al­ways make cer­tain that I have good qual­ity bordeaux.

What is the best wine buy read­ers can make?

How long is a piece of string? Chilean and Ar­gen­tinian wines are great value, as are the non-rioja ar­eas of Spain, such as Aragon, which has got lots of undis­cov­ered vine­yards mak­ing great grenache wine. If you like barolo, try grumello in­stead – much bet­ter value.

What is the most over­rated wine cur­rently?

Bur­gundy hasn’t had a good run since 2009, not so much in terms of qual­ity but quan­tity, be­cause of bad weather con­di­tions. Even their top whites are over-val­ued.

Which char­i­ties do you do­nate to or work with?

The Lord’s Tav­ern­ers, a won­der­ful dis­abil­ity sports char­ity, be­cause when you see the chil­dren’s faces and the light you’ve brought into their lives, it’s an as­ton­ish­ing feel­ing.

What would you change about the busi­ness world if you could?

While I un­der­stand the an­tipa­thy some peo­ple feel about big bankers, hav­ing a healthy bank­ing sys­tem is vi­tal for eco­nomic sta­bil­ity. In or­der to have one, peo­ple do need big salaries, de­spite the jeal­ous naysay­ers.

Peo­ple need to fo­cus on be­ing as suc­cess­ful as they can be them­selves, with­out be­ing con­sumed by envy of oth­ers who have more. But I’d make sure that the dis­grace­ful sub­prime sell­ing scan­dal could never hap­pen again.

What are your fi­nan­cial plans for re­tire­ment?

I’ve got no in­ter­est in re­tir­ing at all. I love what I do. What on earth would I re­tire for? I get a tremen­dous amount of sat­is­fac­tion from learn­ing, writ­ing and speak­ing. It’s what gets me up in the morn­ing.

Bankers jus­tify their high salaries, said Oz Clarke. He feared he might lose ev­ery­thing in the fi­nan­cial cri­sis, in­set

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