Handy: TV presenter Craig Phillips
Former bricklayer Craig Phillips made hundreds of thousands of pounds as the first ever winner of TV’s Big Brother 20 years ago, but says his best money making venture has been to invest in buy-to-let property.
The 49-year-old spoke to DONNA FERGUSON from his home near Liverpool where he lives with wife Laura and their one-year-old daughter Nelly.
He presents DIY workshops and ‘how to’ videos on website mrandmrsdiy.tv.
What did your parents teach you about money?
That it was hard to come by. Money was tight when I was growing up. My dad was a manual labourer with British Gas. He would take up the roads and lay the pipes. We lived in a flat above a small grocery store where mum worked during the day. At night, she did bar work. We didn’t have half as much money as some of my school friends and had to be careful about what we spent.
I was 13 when we lost my dad. He was walking the dog one night and a drunk-driver raced down the road and ran him down. His death had a horrific impact on me, my 15-year-old sister and my mum – and money became even more tight. My mum had to get a third job to pay the mortgage as sadly we didn’t have life insurance and would otherwise have lost our home.
What was the first paid work you ever did?
Working in a butcher’s shop when I was 13 – shortly after my dad died. I got the job so I could pay a bit of my keep to Mum and worked there after school every day as well as on Saturdays for £10 a week.
The benefit of working at the butcher’s was that I could bring meat home every night. The greengrocer next door also gave me small amounts of fruit and vegetables to take home. I didn’t understand the full impact of this until I got older, but that little bit of extra food and money was such a big help to my mother.
I still remember her telling me not to drink all the milk or eat all the food in the cupboard because she couldn’t afford to buy more until after she got paid. Even now, I don’t like to waste food or throw things away.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes, when I first started my building business. I was 19 and it was tough being self-employed. To save money, I lived with my mum and bought tools from car boot sales. I took on two or three jobs at a time and worked long hours to make ends meet.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Yes. After Big Brother, companies paid me thousands of pounds just to turn up somewhere for an hour or two, be photographed and meet a few people. I remember thinking to myself, ‘Wow, this is easy money.’
The silliest money was when I did my Christmas single. It took a day and a half and I earned more than £50,000. And it was fun to do. That was an unbelievable payday.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2000, the year I won the first series of Big Brother. After taking into consideration my agents’ fees, I probably earned about £300,000 from interviews and personal appearances that year.
In those days, that was a lot of money and you have to remember there were no reality stars 20 years ago. So I wasn’t expecting to earn that much when I came out of the Big Brother house.
I genuinely thought I would be straight back on the building site Monday morning because I always knew I was going to donate the £70,000 prize fund to my friend Joanne Harris – to pay for her heart and liver transplant. It was a wonderful position to be in. For the first time in my life, I felt like I could buy anything I wanted. I could buy myself clothes or presents for my friends and family without thinking, ‘Can I afford this?’
The most expensive thing you bought for fun?
It was a sculpture I bought in 2008, the year Liverpool was European Capital of Culture. It was called a ‘Superlambanana’ and cost £12,000. Seventy were made and they were auctioned for charity. I got one that had been painted up as a builder with a hard hat on, a toolbelt and a hi-vis vest.
Star Quality: Craig with Big Brother presenter Davina McCall after winning the show’s first ever British series in 2000
The best money decision you have made?
Investing in buy-to-let properties. My best purchase was probably a four-storey house in Liverpool which I bought at auction for £11,200 in 2002.
I spent £140,000 doing it up and have been renting it out ever since. It’s probably now worth between £350,000 and £400,000.
Do you save into a pension?
No, I stopped about 15 years ago and started putting everything into property instead. My mum and stepfather had saved into a pension plan and it didn’t work out well for them, so I lost faith in pensions. I don’t invest in the stock market either. I don’t feel I know enough about it.
How much property do you own?
As well as my home, I own 23 buy-to-let properties which are a mixture of houses and luxury apartments, mostly in and around Liverpool. I’ve spent the last couple of years building my dream home on the outskirts of Liverpool. There are pictures of it being built on mrandmrsdiy.tv. It’s got eight bedrooms, a games room, a bar room, a gym and an external studio and workshop: it’s about 5,000 square feet. We can fit 26 cars on the driveway.
The land cost me £300,000 and the build itself has cost me about £750,000 because I did a lot of the work myself. I think it’s probably worth about £1.5 million.
What is the one luxury you treat yourself to?
I like a sports massage and have one a month. I’m 49 and I’ve done a lot of physical work in my life and my muscles and bones are starting to ache a bit. I’m not sure how much it costs as usually my wife or PA books it. I think it comes to about £85.
If you were Chancellor, what would you do?
It breaks my heart that not all of our waste is recycled properly and ends up sent to Third World countries. So I’d put some money aside to make sure that doesn’t happen and I’d also get the manufacturing giants who wrap their goods in plastic to pay more tax to cover the cost of recycling.
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