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Actress Harriet Thorpe talks to ME & MY MONEY

West End: Harriet Thorpe's first year as Madame Morrible in 2009 was her best year financially

Actress Harriet Thorpe says the best financial year of her life was when she played Madame Morrible in West End hit musical Wicked. 

Thorpe, 64, has also starred in Absolutely Fabulous and The Brittas Empire, but struggled to make ends meet as a single parent in the 1990s. 

She is playing the Wicked Queen in pantomime Snow White at the New Victoria Theatre in Woking, Surrey, which opened yesterday. Tickets at atgtickets.com. She spoke to Donna Ferguson. 

What did your parents teach you about money? 

To always work your hardest and take responsibility for supporting yourself. Both my parents had a wonderful work ethic. My dad, Edward Thorpe, was an actor, a dance critic for the Evening Standard and a novelist. My mother, Gillian Freeman, was a well known novelist and film writer. They worked hard to provide for me and my sister. Sometimes, money was tight and sometimes it wasn't. Working in the arts is a rollercoaster ride – some years are better than others. For example, if one of my parents was working on a film, we knew we would enjoy a holiday. But we were always aware of the need to earn money to do the things we wanted. 

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet? 

Yes, of course. I work in the entertainment industry after all. The most difficult time was in the mid-1990s when my kids were aged eight and five. I raised them on my own and that has its financial challenges. When there was no work as an actor, I didn't sit on the pity pot. I created work. For example, I taught performing arts at schools and colleges. I learnt from my parents that if I am unable to do one job, I need to do another. I will move heaven and earth to provide for my family. 

Have you ever been paid silly money? 

I once did a voiceover for a Thomas Cook commercial. It took an hour and I earned the equivalent of three months' wages. That was in the 1990s. You don't get paid that much nowadays. 

What was the best year of your financial life? 

It was 2009, the first year I played Madame Morrible in Wicked, the West End show. 

I only ever seem to play psychotic mad women. That role meant I had a regular weekly wage. That's not normal in our business. It was fantastic because it was the most beautiful show about trying to fit in. We can all identify with that, whether we're nine or 90. I'd rather not say how much I was paid, but it was a wonderful job for a wonderful company – with a wonderful regular wage.

What did you get paid on Absolutely Fabulous? 

It would have been a nominal BBC fee when the show was starting out. But I was also doing another show called The Brittas Empire and I can't remember what the individual salaries were. 

Whatever it was, I jumped at the chance to be in it. You can't ever know a show will be a success. But Jennifer Saunders' writing and talent was such that I didn't doubt for a minute that it would be anything but brilliant. We're great friends and we have known each other since drama school. 

I think it was an important show because it was about women being funny, reflecting on our society and taking the p**s out of it. But I could never have predicted when I went for the role the extraordinary heights that show would go to. 

What is your biggest money mistake? 

Using credit cards. I had a card for more than 25 years. Then I cut it up when I was in my late-30s. I was paying interest on my card balance and I just had a moment of realisation about what credit cards do. They encourage you to buy things you can't afford – and then when you pay back the money, you pay twice the amount. I feel a sense of freedom not having one. 

The best money decision you have made? 

Not taking my estate agent's advice. Five years ago, just before the Brexit vote, I was downsizing and I rejected an offer below the asking price that my estate agent advised me to accept. I listened to my son instead who said hold out for more. I sold my former home in North London four weeks later for an extra £30,000. 

Do you save into a pension or invest in shares? 

No, I don't. I haven't had enough money to do either of those things. I'm 64 and I regret not saving into a pension. In an ideal world where I wasn't bringing my kids up on my own, I would have had the money to do so.

Do you own any property? 

Yes. I own a small three-bedroom, mid-century house in London. 

I grew up in a 1960s build and couldn't wait to get out of it. I wanted to buy something with history, nuance and lovely cornicing. Then you realise what that means. 

Builders say to you: your roof's gone, your windows have gone, there are no foundations... and you think, 'OK. Get me back to a contemporary home. 

The one little luxury you like to treat yourself to? 

I love a good night out with dear friends at any Corbin & King restaurant, Joe Allen's or at The Ivy in London. 

My favourite cocktail is a Twinkle. Once you've have had a Twinkle – vodka, elderflower liqueur, champagne brut and garnish with lemon zest – you never turn back. 

I have no idea how much I typically spend on a night out like that. I try not to look at the bill.

If you were Chancellor, what would you do? 

I would support working parents, particularly single parents, with free childcare. 

Many parents struggle to pay for it. As a result, some can't work and have to depend on the Government for support. 

I'd make it possible to get free childcare as soon as your maternity leave rights end and your child turns one. 

Do you donate money to charity? 

Yes. I'm an ambassador for Walk the Walk, a breast cancer charity that arranges an annual walk through London. 

My mother had breast cancer and survived it. 

What is your number one financial priority? 

My family. I want to make sure they have enough money to fulfil their dreams.