TV presenter Diane Johnson, better known by her stage name Diane Louise Jordan, says the best year of her life was 1990 – the year she got her job on Blue Peter.
Jordan, the show’s first black presenter, talked to DONNA FERGUSON about growing up ‘extremely poor’ and how Blue Peter helped transform her finances.
The 61-year-old, married to musician Giles Broadbent, is now an ambassador for CBM, a charity that works in the world’s poorest places.
‘Pension’: TV presenter Diane Louise Jordan has bought some buy-to-let properties
What did your parents teach you about money?
To have stressful thoughts about it. My parents were extremely poor and they struggled with money. I was always concerned we would run out of it because I saw them worrying. My parents were migrants from Jamaica. When they first came over, my dad worked on the railways and my mum was a nurse. But after she had four kids, she took on any extra job she could get – cleaning, working in a slaughterhouse, anything to make ends meet. Money was tight. I didn’t know it at the time, but my mother would go without food to make sure my siblings and I had enough to eat.
We couldn’t really afford much meat. I remember her eating whatever we left, and drinking the water used to boil the vegetables. We had to put coins in a meter for gas and electricity. Often, we ran out of money and would occasionally have to spend a night in darkness with no heating or lighting, unable to cook. It was tough.
How did your childhood influence your attitude to money?
It made me determined that I would never be in a situation where I’d be desperate for money. That was such a fear of mine.
When I started life as an actress, I treated it almost as a hobby. I thought: I’ll do this for a while, until the work runs out and I need to get a proper job. I was very lucky because I don’t think I was ever out of work. But I was frugal. I always put something aside because I didn’t want to be in a position where there was no safety net. For example, I took up knitting so I could knit sweaters to sell and sometimes I used to clean on the side, on top of my acting jobs.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Not really, although there was a period of about nine months when I was living on benefits. In 1989, when I was in the middle of a tour with the National Theatre, I got the sudden news that my sister had died. She was a single parent to a two-year-old. So I became a parent at the age of 29 to my niece, who is now my daughter.
After my tour ended, I stayed at home with her and that was when I lived on benefits. But my upbringing made me resourceful and it wasn’t a struggle to make ends meet. Becoming a parent, on the other hand, was a baptism of fire.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 1990, the year I got my job on Blue Peter. It was transformational, a game changer. For about 20 years afterwards, I earned huge amounts of money, always more than the year before. But I kept thinking: this may not last forever. I just knew I had to save, which is what I did, mainly by investing in property.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Yes. I’ve been paid really outrageous money for giving a motivational speech and, shortly after I left Blue Peter, I did a commercial where I was paid bonkers money – more than most people earn in a year.
What is the most expensive thing you have bought for fun?
It was a black and white coffee table that cost £4,500. I saw it in a magazine and designed the interior of a whole room in my house around it in my head. It’s modern and Italian.
What is your biggest money mistake?
Buying that stupid coffee table. It’s insanely heavy and very imposing. It goes with nothing. It doesn’t suit the style of my house and it was such a waste of money.
The best money decision you have made?
Paying for my daughter to have a private education. She is seriously dyslexic and really struggled at a state school.
We could not work out why she was having such a miserable time and then a teacher suggested she might need more support than the state system could offer her.
It was difficult for me because I believe in state education and providing an equal playing field for all children. But it was the right decision for her. That school really saved her.
Do you save into a pension?
Yes I do, every month. I have a small pension which I started saving into when I was 32. I wish I’d started earlier. I also have a couple of buy-to-let investments in London that I see as part of my pension.
Do you invest directly in the stock market?
No, not outside my pension. I’ve never thought about doing that. I don’t really understand it.
Do you own any property?
Yes. Five years ago we bought a 16th Century farmhouse with just under an acre of land in a Cambridgeshire village. It’s got five bedrooms and a granny annexe. Plus, I have my investment properties.
If you were Chancellor what would you do?
I would reduce income tax to ten per cent across the board. At the moment, if you can afford to hire a good accountant, you end up paying less tax. I have a hunch that if everybody only had to pay ten per cent, they would be more inclined to pay that and we would end up with more money in the Treasury overall.
Do you donate money to charity?
Yes, I donate to CBM, a small charity that gives support to people with disabilities around the world.
I got involved with them because of the work they do to help people with sight loss in developing countries.
In these remote places, if you lose your sight, it’s devastating. But often it’s sight loss that is preventable and cheap to put right.
There’s a fundraising campaign, Light Up Lives, (lightuplives.net) which is running until May 20. Every pound that is donated to CBM will be matched by the Government.
What is your number one financial priority?
To be able to support financially my grandchildren if they need it, so the next generation don’t have to worry about money the way I worried as a child.
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