Actress Harriet Thorpe Talks to ME & MY MONEY

West End: Harriet Thorpe’s first year as Madame Morrible in 2009 was her best year financially

Actress Harriet Thorpe says the best financial year of her life was when she played Madame Morrible in the West End hit musical Wicked.

Thorpe, 64, also starred in Absolutely Fabulous and The Brittas Empire, but struggled to make ends meet as a single parent in the 1990s.

She plays the Wicked Queen in the pantomime Snow White at the New Victoria Theater in Woking, Surrey, which opened yesterday. Tickets at She spoke to Donna Ferguson.

What did your parents teach you about money?

To always do your best and take responsibility to support yourself. Both my parents had a great work ethic. My father, Edward Thorpe, was an actor, dance critic for the Evening Standard and novelist. My mother, Gillian Freeman, was a well-known novelist and film writer. They worked hard to take care of me and my sister. Sometimes money was tight and sometimes not. Working in the arts is a roller coaster ride – some years are better than others. For example, if one of my parents was working on a movie, we knew we would enjoy a vacation. But we were always aware of the need to earn money to do the things we wanted.

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

Yes of course. After all, I work in the entertainment industry. The most difficult time was in the mid-1990s, when my children were eight and five years old. I raised them on my own and that has its financial challenges. When there was no job as an actor, I wasn’t on the pity jar. I’ve made work. For example, I taught performing arts in schools and universities. I learned from my parents that if I can’t do one job, I have to do another. I will move heaven and earth to provide for my family.

Have you ever been given ridiculous money?

I once did a voice-over for a Thomas Cook commercial. It took an hour and I earned the equivalent of three months’ wages. That was in the nineties. You don’t get paid that much these days.

What was the best year of your financial life?

It was 2009, the first year I played Madame Morrible on Wicked, the West End show.

I only seem to play psychotic crazy women. That role meant that I had a fixed weekly wage. That is not normal in our profession. It was fantastic because it was the most beautiful show about trying to fit in. We can all relate to that, whether we are nine or ninety. I’d rather not say how much I paid, but it was a great job for a great company – with a great fixed salary.

What did you get paid on Absolutely Fabulous?

It would have been a nominal BBC fee when the show started. But I also did another show called The Brittas Empire and I can’t remember what the individual salaries were.

Whatever it was, I jumped at the chance to be in it. You can never know that a show will be a success. But Jennifer Saunders’ writing style and talent were such that I had no doubts that it would be anything but brilliant. We are good friends and have known each other since drama school.

I think it was an important show because it was about women being funny, reflecting on our society and making the most of it. But I could never have predicted when I was going for the part, the extraordinary heights the show would reach.

What is your biggest money mistake?

Using credit cards. I’ve had a card for over 25 years. Then I cut it up when I was in my late thirties. I was paying interest on my card balance and I just realized what credit cards do. They encourage you to buy things you can’t afford – and if you pay back the money, you’ll pay double. I feel a sense of freedom when I don’t have one.

The best money decision you’ve made?

Do not follow my broker’s advice. Five years ago, just before the Brexit vote, I was downsizing and turned down an offer below the asking price that my broker advised me to accept. Instead, I listened to my son, who said he wanted even more. Four weeks later I sold my former home in north London for an extra £30,000.

Are you saving for retirement or investing in shares?

No, not me. I don’t have enough money to do any of those things. I’m 64 and I regret not saving for retirement. In an ideal world where I wouldn’t be raising my kids alone, I would have had the money to do it.

Do you own real estate?

Yes. I own a small mid century three bedroom house in London.

I grew up in a 60’s build and couldn’t wait to get out. I wanted to buy something with history, nuance and beautiful cornices. Then you realize what that means.

Builders say to you: Your roof is gone, your windows are gone, there are no foundations… and you think, ‘OK. Take me back to a modern house.

That little bit of luxury you like to treat yourself to?

I love a fun night out with dear friends at a Corbin & King restaurant, Joe Allen’s or The Ivy in London.

My favorite cocktail is a Twinkle. Once you’ve had a Twinkle — vodka, elderflower liqueur, champagne brut, and garnish with lemon zest — you’ll never go back.

I have no idea how much I normally spend on a night out like this. I try not to look at the bill.

What would you do if you were chancellor?

I would support working parents, especially single parents, with free childcare.

Many parents struggle to pay for it. As a result, some are unable to work and depend on the government for support.

I would make it possible to get free childcare once your maternity leave entitlement expires and your child turns one.

Do you donate money to a good cause?

Yes. I am an ambassador for Walk the Walk, a breast cancer charity that organizes an annual walk through London.

My mother had breast cancer and survived.

What is your top financial priority?

My family. I want to make sure they have enough money to make their dreams come true.

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