Nichola McAuliffe: How a furry alien helped me buy my first house


Class act: Nichola McAuliffe

Class act: Nichola McAuliffe

Class act: Nichola McAuliffe

Actress Nichola McAuliffe says the best money decision she ever made was fixing her mortgage at 6 per cent, shortly before interest rates rocketed in the early 1990s.

The star of former hit TV series Surgical Spirit, she is a property millionaire who bought her first home using the money she earned from playing a furry green alien in a commercial.

She gradually moved up the property ladder in the 1980s to her current home, a £1.7million six-bedroom house in the leafy South-East London suburb of Dulwich.

Well known for her work as a successful playwright as well as for acting, the 62-year-old loves travelling first class but believes strongly in the importance of giving to charity.

She is currently touring the UK as Miss Havisham in a theatre production of Great Expectations. See  

What did your parents teach you about money?

Not much. My parents were scientists, risk averse and careful with their finances. Although they were not short of cash, they never threw out anything that could be mended. They had a wartime mentality.

What was the first paid work you ever did?

Delivering milk in Dulwich aged 11. It meant getting up at six o’clock on Saturdays and Sundays and four o’clock in the holidays. I was paid two shillings and sixpence – 12.5p – for between six and eight hours’ work. I learnt to carry six bottles at a time.

I would save up my money so I could bunk off school and go to matinees at the Old Vic Theatre in London on Wednesday afternoons when I was supposed to be doing PE.

Nichola McAuliffe in TV’s Surgical Spirit

Nichola McAuliffe in TV’s Surgical Spirit

Nichola McAuliffe in TV’s Surgical Spirit

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

Yes. About 15 years ago I had a lot of property maintenance bills at the same time as I was doing artistically wonderful jobs that did not pay. It created a perfect storm of problems.

Rather than borrow on a credit card, I sold a small amount of gold jewellery I had bought for £400 a few years earlier. I went to a tiny place in Hatton Garden, London, and got £1,500 for it.

Have you ever been paid silly money for a job?

Yes, in the 1980s when I did a commercial for the old gas board. I had to dress up as an enormous pear-shaped alien in a green fur costume and knit. I cannot remember why, but I do remember I was paid £1,000.

It enabled me to buy my first house in South London for just £2,000 from my father – a two-up, two-down terrace regarded as a slum dwelling because it had an outside toilet.

I got a grant from the council to make it habitable and lived there happily for years.

Eventually, I sold it for £85,000. Looking back, that commercial was more important than I realised at the time.

What was the best year of your life in terms of the money you made?

Last year. I earned a lot of royalties from plays I have written and a theatre tour I did. I was definitely a higher rate taxpayer, but I do not remember how much I made exactly. All I do is send information to my accountant, sign a form and pay my tax. I never think about money. It is like sex. The only time you think about it is when you do not have it.

Luxury trip: La Gomera in the Canary Islands - the trip cost Nichola £5,000

Luxury trip: La Gomera in the Canary Islands - the trip cost Nichola £5,000

Luxury trip: La Gomera in the Canary Islands – the trip cost Nichola £5,000

What is the most expensive thing you have ever bought just for fun?

It was a holiday last year to La Gomera in the Canary Islands. It cost £5,000. My husband, journalist Don Mackay, had been diagnosed with a rare blood cancer, post-polycythemic myelofibrosis, and he was dying. We went for a month. It was one of the greatest holidays we ever had. Three weeks after we got back he died.

What is the biggest money mistake you have made?

Buying a Persian rug in Morocco for £500 and allowing them to wrap it up. It was switched for a nylon mat. Two things I learned: never allow anyone to wrap a valuable purchase and do not go to Morocco. I have followed both rules scrupulously ever since.

Do you save into a pension or invest in the stock market?

No. I do not do either. I was planning to sell my home when I retired and rely on the proceeds in my later years. But my husband, who was 63, had a final salary pension and because he died before he turned 75 I have inherited the pot he would have got as a substantial tax-free lump sum. That means I will not have to sell my beloved home. I can stay here for the rest of my life and it is all because he made sure I would be secure before he died.

What is your best ever money decision?

Nichola with her late husband, journalist Don Mackay

Nichola with her late husband, journalist Don Mackay

Nichola with her late husband, journalist Don Mackay

Getting a fixed rate mortgage when I moved up the property ladder and bought my current home in Dulwich. I fixed at around 6 per cent and then interest rates jumped to 15 per cent.

Do you own any property?

Yes, my house. It is a six-bedroom and I bought it in 1988 for £170,000. Even if I had saved every penny for the past 40 years, I still would not have saved what it would sell for today. It is probably worth ten times what I bought it for.

What is the one luxury you like to treat yourself to?

I am fond of travelling first-class on trains and turning left, not right, on aircraft. I love champagne and find in first-class that I am less likely to be surrounded by people with noisy stereos and phones. I crave the quiet of luxury.

If you were Chancellor of the Exchequer, what is the first thing you would do?

There is no magic wand anyone can wave but I would like to see elderly and vulnerable people cared for properly.

This is vitally important. Such care should be a given, instead of being regarded as the cherry on the cake.

I would like to see all care homes taken out of private hands and funded properly to improve the quality of care people receive. I would make sure there is no longer a threat of a care home closing every ten minutes.

I would also try to make caring a higher status job. Carers should have good qualifications and speak a standard of English that is easily comprehensible to elderly people.

Is it important to give to charity?

Yes. I support the Salvation Army, Guide Dogs, Age UK, WWF and Marie Curie. If you have money, you should spread it about a bit.

What is your number one financial priority?

To make sure I never have the bailiffs at my door. I can easily imagine the stress, sleepless nights and utter misery of being in unmanageable debt because once, when my doorbell rang, there was a bailiff standing there.

It turned out he was there for the man next door, but it did not stop me going into shock. He had to come in and make me a cup of tea so I could calm down.




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