The Scottish Mail on Sunday
Yes, things DID only get better ...I earned £2m from that song!
ME AND MY
PETER Cunnah, lead singer of band D: Ream, has made more than £2million from 1994 hit Things Can Only Get Better. The song was famously used as Labour’s theme tune for its 1997 General Election campaign that saw Tony Blair swept into power. Cunnah, now 54, told DONNA FERGUSON that he is relying on the income from a mix of royalties, property and Bitcoin for his pension. D:Ream’s latest album, Open Hearts, Open Minds, has just been released.
Q What did your parents teach you about money?
A VIRTUALLY nothing. Money was tight when I was growing up in what we now call Derry-Londonderry. I was a latchkey kid from a working-class background. My mum worked in a factory, sewing cuffs on shirts. My dad was an old-school insurance salesman who walked the streets collecting pennies for premium payments.
We never went short of food or heating. But there was one Christmas when my siblings and I had to share a present – a box of Lego – between the three of us. I also remember we had to share a pushbike. But at the time, I didn’t think anywhen thing of it. Those were the days when kids played outside on the street. We didn’t need phones or expensive laptops.
As a child growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, I thought it was normal to get searched and deal with bomb scares.
I remember saving up my pocket money so I could buy half-price Action Man toys from Woolworths after there had been a bomb in the vicinity. The shop reduced them in price because they would often be bomb damaged and smell of smoke, but I could put up with that. I figured Action Man had been through a war, and I quite liked that.
Q Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
A YES. The worst time was after
I got divorced in 2010. Even though my wife and I decided to be nice to each other, and keep our money rather than give it to lawyers, my debts spiralled out of control.
Getting divorced is hard, especially when you’re a dad, and it really hit me. I felt I’d lost everything. I was beyond depressed. I was on the floor, properly on the floor. I lost my spirit and I lost heart in my music which meant I stopped earning any money. But I had twice as many bills to pay after I moved out of the family home, along with my two daughters’ upkeep.
I started struggling financially, but I couldn’t sign on like I did I was 18 because I had too many assets. I was asset rich, cash poor. I had all these outgoings and no income. I started borrowing from everywhere I could, getting final notices and bad credit records.
Q How did you turn things around?
A IT WAS tough. I was still trying
to be there for my two girls three days a week: cooking for them, running around taking them to classes and being a dad. But at the same time I was in the wilderness. I was looking at debt down the wrong end of a barrel.
What saved me was taking on some teaching work, lecturing on song-writing and production. I wrote a degree course on the subject. Once I was earning again, I came up with a plan to pay off my debts, spoke to my bank and utility suppliers and took advantage of some 0 per cent interest credit cards. Then I put my head down and worked hard.
Q Have you ever been paid silly money?
A YES. For one big gig at a festival in the mid-1990s I got paid tens of thousands of pounds for about 40 minutes’ work. But when you’re the flavour of the moment, that’s the kind of stupid money you can command.
Q What was the best year of your financial life?
A IT WAS 1995. We did two world tours and then more gigs when we came home. Our second album, World, went into the top ten in the UK. It’s difficult to say how much I earned that year. After everyone else took their cut, it was probably between £150,000 and £200,000.
Q How much have you earned from Things Can Only Get Better?
A IN total, I would estimate I’ve made about £2million. If I had wanted to retire in 1997, after Labour won, I could have done so quite comfortably. I went from having nothing to having loads. I’ve learnt that money doesn’t buy you happiness, but it does enable you to have some good times.
What is the most expensive Q thing you bought for fun?
A IT WAS a graphite BMW M3 series and cost £50,000. I bought it in 2009, just as I was getting divorced. I was stupid.
Q The best money decision you have made?
A BUYING my first house in Ladbroke Grove, West London, in 1996. I paid £175,000 for it and sold it three years later for £300,000. That allowed me to buy a place in Ealing for £450,000 which I sold for nearly £1million in 2007. Then, I bought three properties: a family home in Ealing for £500,000 and two investment flats in West London for £250,000 each. When my income as a musician has fluctuated over the years, the rental income has kept me going.
Q Do you save into a pension?
A NO, I don’t believe in them. I don’t believe they’ll pay out what they promise and money gets devalued over time anyway. My pension is my royalty income, my properties and my Bitcoins. I have a few coins but I’d rather not say how many. I bought them three years ago. A currency that is not controlled by governments gives you power: people power. I like that.
Q Do you invest directly in the stock market?
A YES, I’ve got a few shares in
companies I like. I admire Elon Musk, so I’ve got some shares in Tesla. I’m also an investor in Hipgnosis which buys up the music catalogues of major songwriters. I found out about them because they were looking at one point to try to buy my catalogue.
Q Do you own any property?
A YES. I’ve still got my two investment properties in London – and I now live in a beautiful old home called Elsonore House in County Donegal, Ireland. It overlooks Lough Swilly, a fjord which leads into the north Atlantic. Ruth, my wife, and I bought it outright for 300,000 euros (£260,000). It had been split into four apartments. We’ve kept it like that, and rent out two of them.
Q What is your number one financial priority?
A TO GO on holiday after all the pandemic restrictions have ended. There are cities I went to on tour where all I saw was the hotel and the venue. I see that as a missed opportunity – I want to go back to those places and absorb them.