The chef and TV presenter Rosemary Shrager once struggled to afford food and clothes before she became famous.
Shrager – who famously appeared on Castle Cook, Ladette To Lady, The Real Marigold Hotel and I’m A Celebrity – told Donna Ferguson she had a privileged upbringing in Regent’s Park in London, but lost her inheritance and all her assets in the recession of the 1990s.
She went on to command six-figure sums for her TV work. The 71-year-old will appear at Theakston Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival, which is taking place from July 21 to 24. Her latest novel, The Last Supper, is out now.
Ingredients for success: Rosemary Shrager on the cookery show Culinary Genius
What did your parents teach you about money?
They tried to teach me the value of money by keeping me very short of it. My father was first a managing director, and then went into the banking industry. My mother was a housewife, although when my siblings and I were young she employed a cleaner and a nanny, and then we went to boarding school. She did lots of cooking and baking, and grew her own vegetables.
We lived in a beautiful house, designed by the famous Regency architect John Nash, in Regent’s Park in London. It was an absolutely stunning place to live, the garden went right down to the old canal. We had three houses – another overlooking Regent’s Canal, and a very old house in Cornwall, which belonged to my mother.
Despite this, I had a Victorian upbringing and was kept very short of stuff. For example, my siblings and I used to have to wear our school uniforms during the holidays, because they kept us short of clothes. I remember once getting a few pounds to buy knickers – I couldn’t believe I had this money to spend. My mother was a tricky lady. I’d worry about bringing friends home, because I didn’t know what mood she’d be in.
So while it was privileged, I didn’t have a very happy home life. Eventually my father went off with the housekeeper and my parents divorced.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes. I lost everything almost overnight during the 1990s. My husband and I had sold our house in London and he invested all our money in houses in Cornwall. He was doing them up when interest rates leapt. He couldn’t afford to finish the project.
The bank took everything from us. I had to sell all the land I had inherited from my father to pay everything off. It got to the point where I couldn’t afford food, clothes and everything else.
My husband never recovered from what happened to us and we separated. Even now, 30 years later, I find it hard to talk about.
What scares me is that interest rates are going to go wild again and I am sure there’s going to be another recession.
How did you turn your fortunes around?
I moved back to London and started trying to earn money. I’d always worked as a chef because I loved the industry.
But now, rather than working because I loved it, I had to work to get a roof over my head. I lived in the spare rooms of three different friends’ homes, over a period of about four years.
I worked myself silly, cheffing all over the place at different restaurants. Cooking was my life.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Yes. I was doing a TV show and the production company wanted to keep me exclusive. So in the late 1990s, I was paid £10,000 for agreeing not to do another TV show with a different production company. It was ridiculous.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2001, thanks to my TV series and book, both called Castle Cook.
I also did some fun game shows. TV paid a lot of money in those days. You’d get £30,000 just for one week. Plus I was head chef at Amhuinnsuidhe Castle in Scotland.
I have made more money since then, but that was the first time I made a six-figure sum so I see it as my best year.
What is the most expensive thing you have ever bought for fun?
Two handmade fibre-glass plant pots for £2,000. They are on wheels so I can move the trees planted in them around my courtyard. That was an incredibly extravagant purchase, but I love being able to move huge trees around.
Queen of the jungle: Rosemary as a contestant on I’m A Celebrity in 2012
What is your biggest money mistake?
Not using that £10,000 cheque I was given to put towards a deposit on a house. I frittered the money away on family instead.
I don’t regret selling my land or my home during the recession. I did that for my husband because I loved him. Now, I’ve got everything I need back again, through sheer hard work. I always say to people: never look back. You can’t change what has happened in the past, but you can change the future.
The best money decision you have made?
Buying my home three years ago. It is a flat in a converted old chapel in East Sussex. I renovated it so it is exactly how I want it, with an office, two bedrooms and a studio kitchen where I do cooking demonstrations.
I’d rather not say how much it’s worth, but I have spent £100,000 on it and I think it’s gone up in value by at least that much. I plan to stay here for the rest of my life. At my age, you need security.
Do you save into a pension?
I started saving into one when I was 50. Now I receive it, along with my state pension and half of my late husband’s state pension. He didn’t leave me a penny when he died, and I wasn’t expecting him to because he didn’t have anything. So I can’t tell you how excited I was to discover I was entitled to half his pension.
Do you invest directly in the stock market?
No. I have always felt I never had enough money to do that. I bought some Stellars, which is a cryptocurrency. They have gone right down in value. They’re a pain in the neck.
What is the one little luxury that you treat yourself to?
An hour-long massage, once a month. It costs me £100.
If you were Chancellor what is the first thing you would do?
I would fund kitchens in all secondary schools so cooking can be taught, and so I could make home economics lessons compulsory from the age of 11.
I think it would help with the obesity crisis. I have met so many kids who think chicken comes out of a piece of plastic.
What is your number one financial priority?
To make sure I have enough money for my future and to be able to leave everything I have to my children.
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