United Kingdom

John Sergeant says being a vicar's son shaped his finances

Key move: John Sergeant took his pension at 55

The best money decision that broadcast journalist John Sergeant has ever made was buying his home in West London 40 years ago for £56,500. 

The large Victorian house has increased in value by a 'ridiculous' amount and is now worth well over £1million. 

The former TV political editor who starred in Strictly Come Dancing in 2008 spoke to DONNA FERGUSON from his home in Ealing where he lives with wife Mary, also aged 76. They have been married for 51 years. 

What did your parents teach you about money? 

Not to talk about it. My father was a vicar, so I grew up in a wonderful old vicarage. It was a large, lovely house but we had no money and, as vicar's children, my siblings and I were very much in the public eye, which was annoying. We couldn't be as riotous as we wanted to be. 

I had a happy childhood but I always knew we were poor. For example, we didn't have a washing machine or a fridge and my mother cooked on a paraffin stove. There was no central heating and it was extremely cold in winter – I remember we had very thin curtains. We couldn't even afford a turkey at Christmas – once, we had to kill one of my sister's bantams. 

I suppose that as a result I have always been a bit frightened of money: getting it, keeping it and dealing with it. 

Did your parents pay for your education? 

At first I went to a local school. But after my parents split up, my father went to teach at Millfield in Somerset which was then the most expensive school in the country. I was allowed to attend for £100 a year. 

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet? 

Yes – when I was 23 and working in Liverpool as a reporter. It was my first proper job in journalism and I was paid £12 a week. You could live on that in those days, but things became more difficult when my girlfriend, who had no money, moved in. We had to rent another room in the house to give the impression we were not living together – which, of course, we were. Money was tight, but it didn't matter. We were very happy together. Because I had been brought up poor, I was not frightened of poverty. 

Have you ever been paid silly money? 

Yes, when I did a Christmas advert for Marks & Spencer at the height of my fame after appearing on Strictly Come Dancing. I'm not going to say how much I was paid because it was grotesque, but it was the same amount as Stephen Fry and Joanna Lumley who were also in the advert. It was thousands of pounds for a day's work. 

I was sensible and invested it in an Isa – a decision that stemmed from my fear of money. I certainly didn't go round buying caviar and jumping into baths of champagne.

What is your biggest money mistake?

 I don't think I've made any big money mistakes. At least I can't recall any. If you've got my attitude to money and make an error you deliberately forget about it. 

What was the best year of your financial life? 

It was 2004, I think. I had just left ITN. I got a three-book deal, went on an after-dinner speaking tour and was asked to do a lot of topical programmes such as Have I Got News For You. You can be a serious journalist but once you start making jokes and silly remarks, that's when you can really start making money.

The most expensive thing you have ever bought for fun? 

It was a silvery grey BMW Z3 sports car for more than £30,000. I bought it when I was 55 – which I later discovered is the average age people buy a sports car. 

It could do well over 100 miles an hour. I am not going to say whether I did more than 100 mph in it... but you can assume I did at one point. 

The best money decision you have made? 

Buying my home 40 years ago. It's a lovely detached Victorian house in Ealing, West London, which cost £56,500. It's gone up in value so much since then it's ridiculous. It's now worth well over £1million. 

Best foot forward: The former TV political editor starred in Strictly Come Dancing in 2008

Do you save into a pension? 

Not any more. I now receive my BBC pension, my ITV pension and my state pension. 

I started saving into a pension when I joined the BBC. The key decision I made was to buy extra years. I left the Corporation after 30 years but my pension is calculated as if I had been there 37 years. It is a final-salary, inflation-proof pension and I've been receiving it since I was 55, so for 21 years. 

At one point, we were all offered a 10 per cent salary increase to leave the BBC pension scheme. It never crossed my mind to accept it because my wife is a teacher and has a pension – and I thought I should have one, too. But I know people who took that offer and have regretted it ever since. 

Do you invest directly in the stock market? 

No, but I used to do regularly. I'm not keen on spending so I built up an Isa when I was earning lots of money. I stopped investing because when you get to my age, you realise you're not immortal. I thought, I'm not going to live forever, why am I building up this fund? We haven't had a mortgage on our house for years. I know I've got enough to keep me going. I like to be boring and sensible with my money and remove it from my thoughts.

What is the one luxury you treat yourself to? 

I like a £50 or £60 bottle of French red wine – a Burgundy or a claret. I don't treat myself every day but it's fun to open an expensive bottle when someone comes round. 

Even a £30 bottle is considerably better than a £15 one. The wine itself doesn't have to be rare or terribly old or bought from a fancy shop. You can buy a decent bottle from a supermarket. 

If you were Chancellor, what would you do? 

I would increase the sugar tax. I think it's a bit like smoking: if you can wean people off sugar, it will reduce obesity. At the moment, it's so cheap for manufacturers to bung in some sugar. 

What is your number one financial priority? 

Making sure my home doesn't fall down. It's old and needs looking after.  

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