Anne Widdecombe tells Me and My Money: “I got ridiculous money for Big Brother and paid accurately for my set!”
Let’s Dance: Anne Widdicombe with Anton du Beke on Strictly in 2010
Anne Widdicombe, 76, is known as much for her post-Parliamentary career as for her time as an MP, having left Westminster to become, among other things, a TV personality, a pantomime regular and, of course, a Strictly Come alumnus Dancing, which is broadcast by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). “, writes Angela Epstein.
It was a show she ran for ten weeks. The chain also paid for a swimming pool at its home on Dartmoor.
The former Maidstone Tory MP went on to appear on Celebrity Big Brother in 2018, a fee which Anne says is “ridiculous money”. It was rumored to be worth £100,000.
Despite spending 23 years as an MP, and a further 11 years as an MEP, Anne was never called to the House of Lords. “I was very disappointed, but no one had the right to direct me to go there,” she admits.
She was a member of the Brexit Party from 2019 until it was renamed Reform UK in 2021. Anne rejoined Reform UK in 2023, which she calls “the only logical party out there”.
What did your parents teach you about money?
My mother was very interested in saving – but for no particular reason – and from an early age I had a robin-shaped money box called a squawk: when you put money in it, it squeaked. I moved to a post office savings account. But it didn’t really last. If I’m asked whether I’m a saver or a spender, I say I’m a spender, because I spend first and save what’s left. Savers do it in reverse.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Oh, yes, during the credit collapse of the late 1980s and early 1990s when mortgages went through the roof. At that time, MPs were not as well paid as they are now, allowances were very limited and I had two properties: my flat in London and a small cottage in my constituency. So I had to muddle through with it for a few years. I was an administrator at the University of London before I became an MP – neither a banker nor a lawyer – and yet I had to take a pay cut to get into Parliament.
What is the most expensive thing you have ever bought for fun?
Last year, I took 11 members of my family on a holiday and safari in Kenya. It was pure fun, a once-in-a-lifetime trip. I turned 75 and I thought, well, I’ve been around for three-quarters of a century and there’s no guarantee I’ll make it to 100. I went to Kenya in 1989 when a friend was at the embassy there. I loved it and did the safari and wanted to do it again. Although I still don’t practice holidays as a ritual. Before this trip last year, I had not taken a vacation in five years. However, as part of my job, I lecture on cruise ships so I travel for free. If I had to pay for it, I wouldn’t do it!
What is your biggest financial mistake?
This was probably the cottage I bought for £56,000 in Sutton Valence in Kent when I became an MP in 1987. It was small and all I could afford, but I yielded to pressure from voters who wanted their MP to own a house in the area.
The problem is that the suits back then were not what they are now. I actually had a flat in London in Kennington (where all the MPs who couldn’t afford much lived). So I had to pay two deposits plus the principal payment. It was very difficult for a few years. However, some MPs took out interest-only mortgages and I was very glad I didn’t, because when I sold them I had paid off a lot of principal.
GAME STARTED: Anne as a newly elected MEP for the Brexit Party in 2019
Best financial decision I’ve made
Well, I never achieved my ministerial income level which meant I paid off the house mortgage faster. But there is no doubt that the last house I bought in London in 1999 was the best financial decision I ever made. I was thinking that I would need to leave my apartment for something bigger to take care of my parents. So I chose a four-bedroom house with garden and garage off Old Kent Road. This was the fastest profit I had ever made on a property and it was a solid investment.
If I hadn’t retired in the West Country, it would easily be worth seven figures now. I sold everything in 2008 and was able to buy something much larger – a five-bedroom 1970s bungalow near Hightower on Dartmoor – for the same price. It took a lot of work and I didn’t move in until 2010.
Are you saving for your pension?
One thing I’ve done my whole life is to be very diligent from the beginning about my pension. I’ve always had career schemes, and when I left my job at the University of London after being elected as an MP, I transferred them to the parliamentary scheme and worked long enough to maximize my pension. I was Pensions Minister from 1991 to 1993 and I got this right.
Do you invest directly in the stock market?
No, I can confidently say that I have never bought a stock or a stock. I’m not a great saver but my father also bought shares in all the nationalized industries after they were privatized and it was very difficult to sort through his will. I remember thinking I would never get into this and I never did.
How many properties do you own?
Only one – on Dartmoor – I bought for the views (it needed cutting up). I can see straight across Dartmoor to Torquay. On a clear day, the sea sparkles and I love sitting on the balcony. Admittedly, on a foggy day I can’t see a foot beyond the front door.
What was the best year of your financial life?
The year I retired in 2010, as I had saved up for a pension, I received a lump sum, and the MPs also received a resettlement allowance. I’ve earned profits from the books I’ve written, seven so far, and I have plans for more.
Bathtub Gay: Anne with Ashley James in 2018’s Celebrity Big Brother
Have you ever paid ridiculous money?
Yes, for Celebrity Big Brother. I will never earn anything on this scale again.
I told my agent that I would never be on the show. But he explained that next season they wanted to call her “Big Sister” – although that did not happen – and that they would celebrate 100 years of suffrage. So there will be more serious people than usual and there will be more serious discussions.
I said: A load of tosh. But my agent reminded me that I wouldn’t be in Australia, in the jungle. It was Elstree and I could get out at any time. So I did it on that basis – thinking I would last a week. But I stayed.
If you were a consultant what would you do?
Cut taxes immediately because this promotes growth, encourages business and fights inflation. I believe in a very small country.
Do you donate money to charity?
There are three charities close to my heart: the Leprosy Mission, the Holy Land Donkey Sanctuary, and the Buttercup Goat Sanctuary. I have always had a special affection for the leprosy mission. The way I donate is through speaking engagements.
What is your number one financial priority?
In my working life, my priority has been to maximize my pension, and now that I’m retired, I think I want enough to survive into old age.
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(Signs for translation) Daily Mail