Giles Coren: The main thing in haggling is, when they tell you the amount you say, 'no, I want more'

Giles Coren
Giles Coren was paid £220,000 to appear in Birds Eye adverts Credit: Wall to Wall Media

Giles Coren is a columnist, restaurant critic and broadcaster. His first television job was presenting The F-Word with Gordon Ramsay. TV credits include the BBC’s Edwardian Supersize Me, Back in Time for Dinner and ITV’s 500 Questions.

Coren, 47, and his wife, Esther, live in London with their two children, Kitty and Sam.

How did your childhood influence your work ethic and  attitude to money?

My mother was a doctor and my father [Alan Coren], who was the main breadwinner, was a writer. Basically, I knew the sound of my Dad banging out columns day after day on his old Olivetti was the sound of my school fees being earned. That was quite formative.

The way things worked in my childhood was that Dad earned most of the money but he wasn’t very good with it. My mother, on the other hand, was.

We sold a little house in the New Forest for £20,000 in 1982, a sum that my mother invested by buying shares on Ceefax.

By buying and selling shares like telecoms and gas, she turned that money into £100,000, enough to buy a house in the south of  France. I thought, “that is better than working”.

Has there been a time in your life when you didn’t know how you were going to pay the bills?

Not really, as I had a kind of famous and reasonably wealthy dad and mum.

After leaving Keble College, Oxford, where I achieved a very good first in English, in my twenties, I went to live in Paris, but I couldn’t pay my bills when trying to support myself through writing.

That doesn’t really count as poverty though, as I then went to work at Ralph Lauren’s boutique and was fine.

Giles Coren at the Daily Telegraph's Way with Words festival in 2010 Credit: Clara Molden

What was your first wage packet?

That job in Paris paid about 10,000 francs a month (which I think was about £1,000 as it was 10 francs to the pound back then) plus a commission of about 2,000 francs.

What has been your most lucrative work?

In 2006, I did some adverts for Birds Eye, not long after my first TV job, The F-Word.

I was initially offered £110,000 for two weeks’ work via my agent. I thought it was a bit of a joke at first so I said no, I’m not doing it. And then they said £220,000, so I said yes.

In terms of column writing, with the exception of one or two others, I am probably paid as well as you can be as a journalist.

I attribute some of this success to my ability to haggle. The main thing in this game is to ask for money and when they tell you the amount you say, “no, I want more”.

I don’t get paid a huge amount when working for the BBC, for which I do about two or three series a year. I did get well rewarded for presenting 500 Questions for ITV.

What has been your best business decision or best buy?

Doing the Birds Eye adverts.

My best investment was five years ago, when my first child, Kitty, was born, my wife went out and found me an office in Archway, which I rent for about £10,000 a year. It has probably paid for itself thousands of times. I prefer to work outside the home.

And your worst?

Not converting the top first in my year at Oxford into a job at Credit Suisse or a similar bank. I would have been earning about £10m a year.

Instead, I went home and tried to write books, eventually ending up as a columnist. You could say that was a bad decision.

And publishing your novel, which only sold 771 copies?

I was paid an advance of £25,000 for that, so it wasn’t bad, although the book did take two years to write.

So compared with my current rates of weekly income, that wasn’t so good. However, I have made a TV show, My Failed Novel, for Sky Arts, about it, for which I was also paid.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I’m a saver. I don’t care about clothes, cars, watches or anything like that. For years I have invested in a pension and then they took away all the benefits, so I now save via Isas.

Do you invest in stocks and shares? How do you invest exactly?

In the stock market through Isas. I also take my full Isa limit every year and I invest in restaurants within the Enterprise Investment Scheme, with the hope that I will make millions later on down the line.

Five tips for managing your stocks and shares Isa Five tips for managing your stocks and shares Isa
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I don’t invest in wine. I have some in the cellar at Berry Brothers but I don’t invest in it.

I know nothing about art. One of my best friends is the artist Jonathan Yeo. I have a couple of his portraits, plus very early sketches that he gave me as presents before he was famous, which are worth an enormous amount of money but I can’t sell them because I know him.

Are you naturally good with money or do you have to work at it?

I am afraid that I am actually naturally good with money. My wife thinks it is because I am a Jew, which is both slightly anti-Semitic and also correct. Frankly, all my “goysha” – gentile – friends haven’t got a clue.

Ever since I have started in the business, I have squirrelled money away. I have bought property and invested in shares and businesses.

What’s been the most difficult lesson you’ve learnt about money or business?

I don’t think I have ever learnt a difficult lesson. Probably sports betting, which I have lost money on. I did lose money on Apple. You’d have thought you could only make money on Apple but I was one of the people who managed to lose.

It taught me to gamble only on things you know, so now as a restaurant critic  I invest in restaurants.  I don’t think that is a harsh lesson, though.

Are you worried about Brexit and how it might hit the restaurant trade?

I can’t see any problems with Brexit really. Most of the businesses that I have invested in are very pro-Brexit.

Do you prefer to pay by debit card, credit card or cash?

Cash. I carry up to a few hundred quid at any time in my pocket. I love to pay cash although I feel it is considered old-fashioned now.

I would never use a credit card because they have interest rates in the teens. I don’t use a debit card. I bank with C Hoare & Co in Fleet Street.

Do you have a pension or a long-term financial strategy?

I bought a pension with the funds I was paid for doing the Birds Eye adverts plus money I inherited a little later. I’ve been told it will probably get to a million quid before I am 65.

What are your financial priorities for the next five to 10 years?

I have two small children, so there are school fees to pay. Plus I have a house in London and one in Gloucestershire so I have to pay two mortgages, the wages of two gardeners, a housekeeper and holidays.

There is no real grand plan for my career, just to carry on with both broadcast work and print journalism.

What about doing a show like I’m a Celebrity?

Yes, absolutely. Unfortunately, the level of celebrity that I am at is low, so I am possibly worth £40,000 to them, but I would like £200,000.

Do you meet regularly with or use a financial advisor?

Once a year I see Paul Rothwell at St James’s Place.

Are you a good tipper?

Not only am I a massive tipper, but because I have small children who create carnage wherever they go, I leave £20 on top of any other tip by way of an apology.

If there was one thing you could change about the financial world what would it be?

I would go back to the Sixties when a gentleman stockbroker was a respectable position on a par with doctors, lawyers and journalists. Now we have this global financial elite.

At the kind of private schools that my children might go to, the parents are exclusively international banking hoodlums, so I would regulate the City to within an inch of its life.

When is the best time to give my children their inheritance money? When is the best time to give my children their inheritance money?
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Do you give regularly to charity?

I give regularly but not very much, so maybe £2,000 a year. I am a patron of Save the Rhino, and like most people, I sponsor a child through Plan International UK.

Is there anything you don’t like about handling money?

I love money, so no.

Do you bank online?

A little, my bank has a website, but as far as I am concerned I bank with Ann and Byron from C. Hoare & Co.

Does money make you happy?

Whenever some lucrative advertising job is offered to me, I consult my wife.

Her attitude is that we are incredibly happy; we have our lovely children, our health, and a home.

The only thing we could do with more of is a little bit more money. So as long as you have everything else, more money is always good.

Fake! The Great Masterpiece Challenge presented by Giles Coren and Rose Balston starts on March 28 on Sky Arts