Fast buck: Simon Day as Dave Angel in The Fast Show
Simon Day charges considerably less than fellow comedians David Mitchell and Harry Hill for corporate gigs – but he can still command fees of up to £10,000 for seven minutes’ work.
The 60-year-old, who is best known for his work on The Fast Show, tells Donna Ferguson that he stupidly turned down the opportunity to have his own BBC TV series.
He also reveals that he was briefly homeless as a teenager in London, before he started to earn a living from comedy. Today he lives in Willesden, North-West London, with his wife Ruth and their two children.
What did your parents teach you about money?
They tried to teach me the value of money but it didn’t work. I was never really very good with money. It flowed through my hands – as soon as I got anything, I’d spend it.
Dad was an architect and my mum was a teacher. I suppose I was middle class although my dad was working class and my mum had grown up with not much money to go around. Both were frugal and would often tell me I was lucky and that money doesn’t grow on trees.
After my parents got divorced when I was 15, Dad was often in the red and money became very tight for my mum.
How did that affect your finances?
I had a period of being homeless for about a year when my parents broke up. I started sleeping on friends’ floors and sofas. Occasionally, a friend would say, ‘You can’t stay here tonight’, and I’d sleep rough in a park or a car. And then the next night I’d be OK. I had lots of friends, so I wasn’t a full-on tramp.
I kept getting and losing jobs at the job centre: I did everything from packing and labouring to toilet cleaning and sewing. Eventually, I got work as a landscape gardener, which is the best job in the world in the summer and the worst in the winter. I moved into a council flat but continued not to prosper until I started doing comedy, when I was 29.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
I got £10,000 once for a seven-minute corporate gig. I got a few laughs – and it was over in a flash. I had a chat about corporate gigs once with Harry Hill and David Mitchell, whose prices are considerably higher than mine. They both said they charge so much that they either won’t get offered the job or if they do, it’s worth doing.
When Harry and David found out how much I charge for these gigs, they told me I was underselling myself. I said, ‘It’s all right for you two, you’re never off the telly. If I were to go back to my wife and tell her I’ve turned down this gig for that much money, she would go absolutely insane.’
What was the best year of your financial life?
Around 2003, when I wrote and starred in my own BBC TV show, Grass. I also did an advert for Powergen. I earned a six-figure sum that year.
What is the most expensive thing you’ve bought for fun?
A Grayson Perry print for several thousand pounds in 2003. It’s called Print For A Politician and I should think it’s gone up in value. There’s only six of them in red, like mine is, and apparently Ronnie Wood [the Rolling Stone] has one. If I wasn’t a comedian, I’d like to have a job going round buying art for hotels.
What is your biggest money mistake?
In the 1990s, I won Hackney Empire New Act of the Year with my character Tommy Cockles. I had a meeting with Janet Street-Porter [then a BBC TV executive] who offered me my own series, doing a series of Tommy Cockles stories. Someone else, very famous, told me not to do it. They said they’d get me a sitcom. So I turned Janet down. Of course, this very famous person couldn’t get me a sitcom and I lost out on my own series. That was pretty stupid. You don’t often get offered your own BBC comedy show and turn it down. There aren’t many comedians who have achieved that.
Happy couple: Simon says getting married to Ruth was his best financial decision
The best money decision you have made?
Getting married. Because once you’ve got married and you have kids, you start growing up. Until I met my wife, I had a lot of hangers-on around me. A good woman fillets those people out, because she cares about you. My finances improved because I was spending my money on my wife, instead of everyone else.
Do you save into a pension?
I’ve been saving into a pension since I was in my 30s. Sometimes I look at it and think: it’s very little. But it’s something I’ve got put by for when I’m older. In my job, you work as long as you’re fit to work.
Do you invest directly in the stock market?
No, I’ve never been interested in stocks and shares.
Do you own any property?
My home in North-West London. It’s nothing special: a three-bed detached house in Willesden, near a park. It cost over £1 million when my wife and I bought it in 2009. I should think it’s gone up in value since then.
If you were Chancellor, what would you do?
I would tax billionaires and big global companies properly. I’d spend the money on refurbishing Strangeways prison. It’s come to something when an Albanian prisoner can’t be extradited here because our prisons are in such a bad state.
Do you donate money to charity?
Primarily to Shelter, because from my own experience of homelessness I know how easy it is to slip through the cracks. And once you get to that point where you’ve got nowhere to live, it’s very hard to get back.
What is your number one financial priority?
To provide for my family. I have a 14-year-old daughter and a 16-year-old son and I don’t want to be too frugal, like my parents were with me.
But I also don’t want to go too far the other way and spoil them. So it’s a challenge. It must be very hard for millionaires.
- Simon Day is on tour with his comedy character show (West Hampstead Arts Club on September 21-22; Barnfield Theatre Exeter on September 23; and The Old Market Brighton on September 28). Tickets are available from simondaycomedian.com
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