Friday, December 18, 2009

Bits from here and there

Crafty Move

With a new album on the horizon and a baby clamped to her side, the last thing singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor needed this year was a major property renovation project.

But that's exactly what she has faced - and conquered - in an action-packed 2009.

'It sounds like a stressful combination of things to be doing at the same time, but that is how I have always lived my life,' says the star.

After selling their three bedroom Victorian townhouse off Ladbroke Grove in London's trendy Notting Hill in September for a reported £1.3 million, Sophie and her Feeling guitarist husband Richard Jones, bought a dilapidated five-bedroom Victorian Arts and Crafts style property in Turnham Green near Chiswick in West London.

'Parts of the house were pretty much a shell,' says Sophie. 'When we first visited there were no floorboards - it was hard-hat territory.'

'The previous owner had been there for 60 years and just lived downstairs so there was no central heating and only sporadic electrics.'

'So that has all been gutted and updated and a rear exterior outhouse has been replaced with a modern extension, but I can't take credit for the building work as a contractor was already involved when we exchanged.'

Inside, however, Sophie - who is appearing in a celebrity online video advent calendar in support of Great Ormond Street Hospital this year ( - has been more hands on.

'I love Fifties fashion and bright colours - the TV show Mad Men was a big influence. There is a dark navy room, powder blues and greens and lots of rich Fifties shades,' says Sophie, right, whose big hit was Murder On The Dancefloor.

'There is a fine line between creating something that's stimulating and something that looks like a children's TV set, but hopefully we've pulled that off.'

'We are just relieved that it is finished before Christmas.'


Designer Clothes Are Wasted On Me

The singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, 30, is now a bigger star than her mother, the former 'Blue Peter' presenter Janet Ellis. She lives in Chiswick with her husband, Richard Jones, and their two young children.

How did your childhood experience influence your attitude to money?
I'd never really thought about it before, but now you ask I can see that how my parents handled money definitely affected my relationship with it. It's a bit like the degree to which they are respectful to one another affects the expectations you have of marriage. My parents divorced when I was young and I now have two very different influences from two very different characters. I can definitely tell when mum has got money because then she likes to go shopping to spend it, whereas dad is steadier and avoids splurges. I like to think I've inherited both sides.

In what way do you show both tendencies then?
Like my mum, I sometimes buy things I shouldn't and fill my house with rubbish. But, like dad, I try to take a more measured approach because I'm frightened by the idea of debt. Mum is happier than I am to run up a balance on her credit card. When I was 18 she told me I only needed to pay the minimum amount and I did that for a while until I got a store card and realised the interest on it was absurd. I paid it all off and I've never had another one since.

What credit cards do you have?
I only have one, a Visa, and I pay that off every month. I bank with Coutts and they also gave me a debit card, but I'm not very organised and I don't have a proper purse or wallet so I put both cards in my handbag and one day I couldn't find the debit card. I cancelled it and started using the Visa instead and now I use it for everything. I pay it off automatically each month so I think of it as more like a debit card anyway.

Are you good with money or cautious with it?
I think I'm fairly good with money, but I've developed some strange tics – in shops I don't like to go to the counter unless I've got at least two things to buy. If I'm walking around with just one thing in my hand I'll put it back and wait a few weeks because that doesn't seem like a proper purchase. I don't know whether that's a good thing because it stops me spending money so frequently or a bad thing because when I do spend it I go home with more than I came out to buy.

Do you have a financial adviser?
Yes, but I probably throw the net too wide when I want advice. I talk to my parents quite a lot about money and also my manager. My parents are good role models because they've worked hard and gave me a happy childhood. I also have an accountant and it can be difficult balancing the different advice.

How do you separate responsibility for finance with Richard? Do you have the same financial outlook?
We're pretty similar and we make a lot of decisions together. We haven't had any arguments about money. We run a joint household account and we have separate bank accounts as well so that we can enjoy a bit of independence. I think that's important, especially at a time like Christmas when you want to receive gifts without feeling you've basically bought it yourself.

Have you learnt any difficult lessons about money through mistakes?
I started my music career at 18 and for a long while I let other people handle my affairs. It's only since I've been with Richard that I've woken up to the need to take more responsibility and start planning for the future. Not that I've got very far – I'm still working out what my goals are.

Haven't you set up a pension?
Sadly no. My financial adviser brings the subject up every once in a while, but it just sounds so unsexy.

So what do you do to invest?
Apart from my home – we have a five-bedroom detached house in Chiswick – and two other properties I let, I put money into individual savings accounts (Isas) each year – my accountant makes sure of that. And I have some money saved on deposit. I'm with Coutts and they have set up my current account so that when it reaches a certain defined amount, anything over is automatically transferred into my deposit account to get a marginally better rate of interest.

Have you ever been in serious debt?
Thankfully no, but I've had a few near misses. After I had my first baby I took three years to make my next album. I wasn't touring or working and I had my head in the clouds. I was very lucky to have enough money to do it, but when I took a proper look at my accounts towards the end of that time I realised the end was in sight – if I didn't get my skates on the money would run out. I haven't let that kind of thing happen again but it's difficult to plan to be creative, it either comes or it doesn't. Still, I'm young enough that if everything went pear-shaped in my career I'm sure I could find something else. And I have a plan B.

What's your plan B?
I've got those two flats I mentioned earlier that I could sell. I bought one near Swiss Cottage as a home seven years ago and kept hold of it to let when I moved. The other one is a flat we bought earlier this year near Westbourne Grove for our nanny. She was looking for somewhere and we thought it made sense to buy it as an investment and let her rent it as part of her salary package.

What has been your best buy?
Richard and I both had our 30th birthdays this year and we decided to keep it low key. We just had a series of meals with family and friends and it was really lovely taking people out and getting together. So the pop music world is not all about materialism – my favourite way to spend money is to have warm experiences with people I love. But if you want me to cite a physical purchase, at the beginning of this year we bought a brilliant new super king size leather Chesterfield bed. It is so big all four of us can squeeze into it without touching each other and I love it.

And your worst buy?
Generally speaking, I'm quite a frugal shopper, but when I first became successful I wanted to know what it felt like to buy a really expensive dress. Designer clothes are usually wasted on me because I can get the same pleasure out of something that costs as little as £20, so I might as well go for the cheaper option. However, I bought this one for £1,000 and I have never even worn it – it's still got the label on. I don't really know why I did that except I just wanted to know what it felt like. Now I want to know what it feels like to have the money back.

Do you bank online?
The great thing about being with Coutts is they are on the end of the phone 24 hours a day. That's really helpful to me because I sometimes tour abroad and am unable to get to a British bank for long periods. I've got a code for online banking, but I've never used it because I can just as easily pick up the phone.

How do you tip? Are you an easy tipper or do they have to work hard with you?
I'm too frightened of confrontation, so I will always tip – even if the service has been really shoddy. I'm a British girl so I stick to the standard British 10pc, but I go to 15pc in restaurants and hair salons.

What has been your favourite holiday?
Last year we went to Italy and it was our first proper family holiday – the first time the three of us went away together for longer than two nights. We had 10 days on the Amalfi coast in Italy and it didn't cost as much as I thought because it's not a tourist destination – it's where the Italians go for their holidays. I think it only cost us £4,000.

Sophie is in Waitrose's online advent calendar. Waitrose donates 25p to Great Ormond Street Hospital for every UK resident who changes their home page to for 24 hours, any day before Christmas


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