Interactive Investor

Richard Curtis gets personal about money in first ii Family Money Show episode

10th June 2021 12:17

Jemma Jackson from interactive investor

The first episode of the new interactive investor podcast series with Gabby Logan is live.

  • You can listen to the interview in full here

Heard the story of the world-famous, award-winning screenwriter, producer and film director whose lack of interest in wealth propelled his career to astronomical new heights? You probably haven’t – because he’s never spoken publicly about his own money habits before.

Speaking exclusively and frankly on the inaugural interactive investor Family Money Show podcast, Richard Curtis opens up about his childhood, his “obsessively careful” approach to money, narrowly avoiding a marketing job at Unilever, his dad, private school privilege, and how he thinks attitudes to money can be both generational and inherited. He also talks about how he and his children invest in line with his trailblazing ‘Make My Money Matter’ campaign to make pensions more ethical.

Curtis tells host and interactive investor Family Money Ambassador Gabby Logan that agreeing to take a pay cut for his hit film Four Weddings and a Funeral helped get the film made.

He says: “I didn't get paid very much for it - I mean I certainly didn't get paid a living wage for the amount of time I'd spent on it.  [The film budget was cut] …and I was told to halve my fee to get it made. I said, “Can we have some points in the future earnings of the film?” and my agent said: “Yeah, but getting that negotiated by lawyers will cost exactly your wages, so you will earn nothing from the film.

“His advice was to accept it because it was exactly the film I wanted to make; I shouldn't worry about the money and, if it worked, I'd get paid more for the next one. And strangely, I remember a friend of mine who wrote what I thought was a better script; his agent got sticky and said unless he gets quarter of a million pounds for it, he’s not doing it, and then [it] never got made, because they over focused on the money, not actually making the thing.”

Family and money

Curtis says that he adopted a moderately cautious approach to money from his father who disliked gambling and was against making money without working to earn it.

He says: “I remember he used to say that his dad made two mistakes… one of which was investing all his money and then losing it in the [1930s] Depression. And secondly, dying.”

Explaining that his aspirations for a career in showbusiness were at odds with his father’s attitude to risk, Curtis says: “My dad made a deal with me when I left university. He said, if you're making enough money to survive [in] a year from now, you can go into entertainment. Otherwise, you have to join the marketing department of Unilever.

“I just got my first commission working for a show called Not the Nine O'Clock News, literally, on the day [a year later], having survived on benefits till then. And after that it turned out surprisingly well. And my dad was so thrilled by that, and actually for about 10 years handled my money and used to have charts of [which shows] made the most […] When videos came in or, which was even before DVDs, he couldn't believe that Blackadder, which hadn't been played much, then suddenly became a big earner.”

Are attitudes to money hardwired into our DNA?

Curtis continues: “I think [your attitudes to money are] almost born into, like sexuality or tastebuds. I feel we've given [my children] the same education, but two of them are more rash, and two of them are more cautious. And I think I certainly followed my dad in being moderately cautious by instinct, never gambling, never thinking you could make a quick buck and everything like that. So, I've always been relatively, if not obsessively, careful.”

Charity work

Curtis, the co-founder and co-creator of Comic Relief, is also known for his charity work – something he says accounts for three-quarters of his work. He tracks his interest in charity work back to actions taken by his mother, who “cancelled Christmas” and donated money that would have otherwise been used to celebrate the festivities to the Biafra appeal of the late 1960s.

He says: “I think that probably did have a rather profound effect on me and then I was raised for four years in the Philippines and was very aware; there, you know, on my way to school you'd pass 25,000 people living under corrugated iron with no sanitation. So, some little thing must have tweaked me.

“I remember making a speech at my public school, where I spoke with horror about the fact that when the collection went round, which was always for charities, quite a lot of people put in buttons and Maltesers and things like that. I mean, they literally did not give a penny and I could never understand why you wouldn't share those things that you had; so, I think going to those wealthy schools did fill me with a sense that it was unjust, and that it would be good to do something.”

Make My Money Matter Campaign

Curtis’s self-confessed “new obsession” is ethical investments, launching the Make My Money Matter campaign in June 2020 to lobby for the £3 trillion invested in UK pensions to be used to build a better world. His children’s attitudes to charity and world issues have also been inspirations for the campaign.

As Curtis powerfully points out: “The single biggest weapon in the battle against injustice is your pension.”

He says: “I started… charity [work] in 1986, and I still believe in that hugely. But in 2005 I did the Make Poverty History and Live8 campaign, and that's this whole other way by influencing things [by] asking the Government to do those things that you passionately believe in.”

Curtis believes that young people are very passionate about the big social and climate issues of our time: “They don't feel that just delegating it to a charity or hoping that the government they voted for few years ago will solve it. And from this idea of ‘What can I actually do in my behaviour, in my action, in my activism?’, I sort of clicked on this extraordinary idea that the single biggest weapon you've got in the battle against injustice is your own money. It is your pension money which will be more than anyone would ever give to charity.”

Curtis says: “There's £2.6 trillion in UK pension pots and $50 trillion around the world…If that was reapplied into better, more sustainable, more moral businesses [it could create] a huge shift in how capitalism operates.”

He adds: “What's interesting about this money argument is that it… is gathering force with some incredibly important companies…shifting their behaviours and accelerating their behaviours…so that you've got more and more companies, and as they shift their pension they make a commitment to the rest of the companies’ behaviour, and those companies that change their behaviour feel that it's inconsistent not to shift their pension.

“Mark Carney described sustainable investment as the greatest business opportunity since the Industrial Revolution. Because he said, just look at all the money there is in fossil fuels; if that moves into renewable energy, that's a hell of a lot of money to go into new thriving businesses.

“So, I think…if it works for individuals, it works for businesses, and it works for government - and all of us [have] got to feel impatient.”

From an intergenerational perspective, Curtis urges young adults to quiz their parents on where their pensions are invested. While parents might nag their children to take up a pension – Curtis suggests they give them a taste of their own medicine and ask them where their money is invested.

interactive investor, the UK’s second largest DIY investment platform, supports the Make My Money Matter campaign.

Becky O’Connor, Head of Pensions and Savings at interactive investor, says: “Swathes of people are increasingly demanding that their money is invested sustainably. While large pension companies are starting to listen, there is still a very long way to go.

“I completely agree with Richard Curtis – instead of relying on governments and large companies to get their act together (but we very much hope that they do), sometimes you have to roll up your sleeves and do it yourself.

“A Self Invested Personal Pension (SIPP), or ISA, can put you in the driving seat. That’s because you can select funds, investment trusts and shares that best reflect your values.

“That’s why interactive investor publishes an ethical investing long list for investors who want to better navigate this important area. We also publish an ethical rated list, ACE 40, which stands for Avoids, Considers, Embraces, again to help investors choose what we think are the best investments within that framework, along with a ready-made ethical growth portfolio and sustainable Quick Start Funds to help people who are less confident get started with investing.”

Gabby Logan, interactive investor Family Money Ambassador says: “Big thanks to Richard Curtis for such an open interview. Like so many other things, our relationship with money begins at home – children start to mimic what they see their parents do from a very early age, and clearly world-famous film makers are not necessarily any different.

“Richard’s view that our spending habits can also be somehow hardwired into us is fascinating – but I particularly like the idea that the tables could be turned later down the line, with Richard encouraging young adults to grill their parents on how ethical their pensions are. It really is a great way to make our family money matter.”

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