Author and celebrity agent Melanie Blake never washes her own hair. Instead, she spends £150 every week on a hairdresser to come to her home and do it for her.
Blake, who grew up in poverty, earned millions of pounds as a celebrity agent before writing hit novel Ruthless Women.
Her latest book, Guilty Women, is published on Thursday. Blake, who is 42 and single, spoke to Donna Ferguson.
Stars in their eyes: Melanie Blake became a celebrity agent aged 23
What did your parents teach you about money?
That I didn’t want to live like them, in poverty. My dad was a printer who gave all his money to a fanatical Christian cult. My mum was a cleaner. I grew up wearing charity shop clothes, getting food from food banks, living on benefits and free school meals. I was desperate to escape. I ended up homeless at 16 because I couldn’t live in the family home any more – it was too stressful with all my parents’ religious stuff.
I moved into a squat in Manchester and got several jobs, saving all the time so I could fulfil my dream of going to London and breaking into showbusiness. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I planned on getting absolutely loads of money – which I did.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
No. From the moment I left home and arrived in London at 17, I didn’t feel like I was struggling because it had been so awful at home. I had £1,500 – money I’d saved by working from the age of 12 – which felt to me like £1million. That kept me going as I applied for work at every single TV company I could find.
I spent a year and a half doing promotional work, handing out drinks at events and getting within touching distance of celebrities. But I was on the wrong side of the rope. Just as my savings were running out, I got a job as a camera assistant on Top Of The Pops. There, I befriended various pop stars and actresses. I also started working as an extra on TV soaps.
How did you make your fortune?
I got to know Claire Richards from pop band Steps and Claire King from TV series Emmerdale. They both liked my opinions about what could be done to make their careers even better. They decided to make me their manager at the same time. My life changed overnight. I went from holding the cables of studio cameras to being a celebrity agent at 23. Within my first week in business, I had secured £100,000 of contracts for my clients.
Back then, many celebrity agents just sat around waiting for phone calls. They didn’t go out and find work for their clients. I took a different approach and by the end of my second year in business, I had made £1.5million profit. When I closed my agency down to focus on being an author, we had generated revenues of £30million and I’d personally made £6million.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Yes. I wrote bonkbuster Ruthless Women in seven weeks and have made half a million pounds from that book so far.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2011. I earned £800,000 as an agent. I was looking after panellists on TV show Loose Women and leading actresses from every TV soap. I worked long hours and I had no life at all. I was giving everything to my work.
Then, my mum was diagnosed with cancer and died quickly. It changed my perspective, I didn’t want to work like that again.
What is the most expensive thing you bought for fun?
Five pieces of jewellery from Jackie Collins’ estate worth £100,000. One is a 50-carat Morganite diamond pendant which she wore when she was writing 1990 novel Lady Boss. I read all Jackie Collins’ books when I was a teenager and she inspired me. I liked the fact that her heroines didn’t marry money, they were all independent women. I dated rich men when I was younger and I had offers from them to look after me for life – but I kept thinking no. I want my wealth to be my own.
What is your biggest money mistake?
Spending too much renovating a five-bedroom house in Crouch End, North London. I was engaged at the time and thought it was my forever home. When I sold it last year for £2.25million, I didn’t make a profit. I just broke even after living through a seven-year refurbishment.
The best money decision you have made?
Buying a five-bedroom, five-storey terrace house in Kentish Town, North London, for £1.1million in 2009. I only spent £150,000 renovating it and I sold it in 2015 for £2.7million.
Do you save into a pension or invest in the stock market?
No. I’ve only ever heard terrible stories about stock market investments and pensions. I don’t understand the stock market and I don’t believe in pensions. Everybody I know who’s done well financially has done it through bricks and mortar. Besides, I’m financially secure now for the rest of my life. I could stop working today if I wanted to. But I’ll never retire. They’ll be nailing me down in my coffin and I’ll still be working.
Do you own any property?
Yes, my home in Chelsea, West London, which I bought last year for £1.1million. Nobody was able to view the property during lockdown, but I knew the house, so I paid for it unseen in cash and got a bargain. It’s a gorgeous little detached studio house, probably now worth about £1.8million as I have renovated it. I’m going to try to put an extension on it and add another million pounds of value. I’m also planning to buy a property in Amsterdam this year for around one million euros (£829,000).
What is the one luxury you treat yourself to?
I like a blow dry. I never wash my own hair. Once a week, my hairdresser comes to my home to wash and blow dry it for me. I pay her £150 each time. I’ve got hair extensions and it’s high maintenance to have a glamorous look. To me, it’s worth it.
If you were Chancellor, what is the first thing you would do?
I would increase benefits for struggling families. Those who are in need should be supported more than they are. At the same time, I would get rid of business rates. I think these taxes are killing this country. My heart breaks for all the high street businesses which have suffered during the pandemic. Getting rid of business rates would change people’s lives.
Do you donate money to charity?
Yes. Under my tough exterior, I’m a real softie, especially when it comes to children. Maybe this is because I don’t have children of my own. I give to a lot of personal appeals made on crowdfunding website GoFundMe when someone is trying to raise money for a sick child. I also donate to children’s charities and food banks because I relied on them as a child.
What is your number one financial priority?
To have enough money to never have to worry about it. That, to me, is freedom. Thankfully, I’ve achieved that – so everything else I now earn is a bonus.
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