Actress and singer Kerry Ellis talks to ME & MY MONEY
By number: Kerry can earn thousands from business gigs
Actress and singer Kerry Ellis will never forget the day she accidentally transferred £12,000 to her contractor. The award-winning musical theater star planned to transfer just £1,200 – and realized her mistake seconds too late. It was, she says, one of the financially scariest moments of her life.
Kerry, 43, has hit the shelves of many famous West End shows and played Elphaba in Wicked; Nancy in Oliver!; and Grizabella in Cats. She tells Donna Ferguson that she can get several thousand pounds for singing a few 15-minute songs. Her best financial decision was to get on the property ladder in London at the age of 19.
Now she lives in a four-bedroom barn conversion in Hertfordshire with husband James Townsend and children, Alfie, nine, and seven-year-old Freddie. She has toured with Queen Machine (queenmachine.dk), a Scandinavian Queen tribute band – and will release a new album next year. Her book, Bumpkin To Broadway, which she wrote as she struggled to make ends meet during the pandemic, is out now.
What did your parents teach you about money?
To be independent and self-sufficient. I vividly remember my father telling me that if I wanted something, I had to buy it myself. That has stayed with me.
I come from a real working-class family. My father was a police officer while my mother worked in social services. I didn’t want anything when I was growing up. I was lucky. We went on vacation once a year and my parents always made sure I had what I needed.
If they ever felt stressed about money, they hid it from me – as I do with my own children. I think that’s your job as a parent – to support your family and make life as smooth and enjoyable as possible.
Have you ever had trouble making ends meet?
Yes. The pandemic was the scariest of all time. I had shows and concerts lined up for two years when the lockdown started – and they were then postponed or cancelled. I had a mortgage to pay and two kids to take care of.
To earn some money, I started teaching online – acting, singing and musical theatre. It was something I hadn’t had time for before and I really enjoyed it. I also created my own podcast and wrote a memoir, Bumpkin To Broadway, which kept my mind occupied. I wasn’t making as much as usual, but I was making enough to pay the bills.
Have you ever been paid stupid money?
Yes. The lump sum I received for my first album deal with Decca Records was overwhelming. I don’t want to say exactly how much it was for, but it was a large amount. I’ve also been paid funny money to do business gigs – a few thousand pounds for doing a couple of ten to fifteen minute songs.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2014 when I went back to play the lead Elphaba in the musical Wicked – I had played the green witch five years earlier. If I revealed how much they paid me, I’d be smothered. What I can say is that performing in a musical is a big sacrifice. I did eight shows a week and worked every day except Sunday. It was like running a daily marathon.
The most expensive thing you bought for fun?
My wedding dress for £1500. It was not a designer dress but from my local bridal shop in Hertfordshire. But it was beautiful, made of lace with a long fishtail. I bought it in 2011 and still have it in the box. I don’t dare take it out and put it on for fear I can’t get in.
What’s your biggest money mistake?
It was accidental transfer of £12,000 to a builder when I wanted to pay him £1,200. I was doing some work on our house six years ago, converting the garage into a room. I made the last payment in a hurry. Just as it went through I realized what I had done. It was a scary moment.
I called the builder and explained that I was sorry, but I had mistakenly given him an extra £10,800. Luckily he sent it back to me. It took 24 hours to arrive, but it all came back. He could have said, “Thanks for the tip, I’m going on vacation.” But he didn’t.
The best money decision you’ve made?
When I was 19 I came up the property ladder in 2000. I bought a flat of two upstairs and two downstairs in a former council house in Brockley, South East London, with a mortgage of £95 each. It cost £92,000.
I was already working full time and had the security deposit saved while working on a cruise ship. My father told me, ‘If you want something, go get it’ – and I followed his advice. That decision enabled me to move up the real estate ladder and buy the house I have now.
Star quality: Kerry has taken the stage in many famous West End shows, including Wicked (pictured), Oliver! and cats
Are you saving for a pension or investing in the stock market?
When I go to see a musical, I save for a pension because the show also contributes on my behalf.
But otherwise I don’t do that because I’m self-employed and don’t have much faith in pensions. I don’t know enough about the stock market either. I prefer to invest in real estate.
Five years after buying it, I sold my first flat in Brockley for about £150,000. I bought another apartment in the same area that I still own as a buy-to-let investment. I think of that asset as my pension – or a nest egg for my two children.
Do you have other properties?
Yes. Just over 18 months ago my husband and I bought a four bedroom barn conversion with a garden backing onto fields in Hertfordshire.
It is a 40 minute commute to London. We bought it during the stamp duty holiday during the pandemic so we could save money on the purchase. It was stressful, but we managed.
What’s the one luxury you treat yourself to?
I like a night away in a hotel with my husband. We both work and we’re busy, so it doesn’t happen often – maybe once every three months or so.
If you were chancellor, what would you do?
I would like to see more creativity in schools, so I would increase funding for musical theatre, drama and sports.
Kids these days are always looking at their phones and have lost their interpersonal skills. I think that by doing more sports and theater at school, they would learn to communicate again.
Do you donate to a good cause?
Yes, I support the wildlife charity, the Born Free Foundation.
What is your first financial priority?
To cover my bills and make sure I can support my family. Family always comes first.
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