Peter Cunnah, lead singer of band D:Ream, has made more than £2 million with the 1994 hit Things Can Only Get Better.
The song was famously used as Labor’s theme for the 1997 general election campaign that saw Tony Blair come to power.
Cunnah, now 54, told DONNA FERGUSON that his retirement depends on income from a mix of royalties, real estate and Bitcoin. D:Ream’s latest album, Open Hearts, Open Minds, has just been released.
Boost: Peter Cunnah in 1994 when D:Ream’s hit first came out. It was later used as the theme of Labor in 1997
What did your parents teach you about money?
Virtually nothing. Money was tight growing up in what we now call Derry-Londonderry. I was a house-key child from a working class background. My mother worked in a factory and sewed cuffs on shirts. My father was an old-fashioned insurance salesman who walked the streets collecting pennies for premium payments.
We were never short of food or heating. But there was one Christmas when my siblings and I had to share a present – a box of Lego – between the three of us. I also remember we had to share a push bike. But at the time I thought nothing of it. Those were the days when children played outside in the street. We didn’t need phones or expensive laptops.
As a kid growing up during the Troubles in Northern Ireland, I thought it was normal to be searched and deal with bomb threats.
I remember saving up my pocket money so I could buy half-price Action Man toys from Woolworths after a bomb hit the area. The store discounted them because they often had bomb damage and smelled of smoke, but I could bear that. I thought Action Man had been through a war, and I quite liked that.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes. The worst time was after I got divorced in 2010. Although my wife and I decided to be nice to each other and keep our money instead of giving it to lawyers, my debts spiraled out of control.
Divorce is hard, especially when you’re a father, and it really touched me. I felt like I had lost everything. I was beyond depressed. I lay on the ground, well on the ground. I lost my mind and I lost my heart in my music, which meant I was no longer making any money. But I had to pay twice as many bills after I moved out of the family home, along with the maintenance of my two daughters.
I was struggling financially, but I couldn’t sign up like I did when I was 18 because I had too many assets. I was wealthy, money poor. I had all these expenses and no income. I started borrowing everywhere I could, getting final reminders and bad credit records.
How did you turn things around?
It was heavy. I still tried to be there for my two girls three days a week: cooking for them, running around taking them to classes, and being a father. But at the same time I was in the wilderness. I looked at debt on the wrong side of a barrel.
What saved me was some teaching, lecturing on song writing and production. I wrote a course about it. When I got back to earning money, I devised a plan to pay off my debts, spoke to my bank and energy suppliers, and took advantage of credit cards with about 0 percent interest. Then I put my head down and worked hard.
Have you ever been given ridiculous money?
Yes. For a big performance at a festival in the mid 1990s, I was paid tens of thousands of pounds for about 40 minutes of work. But if you’re the taste of the moment, that’s the kind of stupid money you can command.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 1995. We did two world tours and when we got home more gigs. Our second album, World, ended up in the top ten in the UK. It’s hard to say how much I made that year. After everyone else had their share, it was probably between £150,000 and £200,000.
How much did you earn with Things Can Only Get Better?
In total I estimate I made about £2 million. If I had wanted to retire in 1997, after Labor won, I could have done it very comfortably. I went from having nothing to having a lot. I’ve learned that money doesn’t make you happy, but it does allow you to have good times.
What is the most expensive thing you bought for fun?
It was a graphite BMW M3 series and cost £50,000. I bought it in 2009, just as I was getting divorced. I was stupid.
The best money decision you’ve made?
I bought my first house in Ladbroke Grove, West London, in 1996. I paid £175,000 for it and sold it three years later for £300,000. This allowed me to buy a house in Ealing for £450,000, which I sold for almost £1 million in 2007. Then I bought three properties: a family home in Ealing for £500,000 and two investment flats in West London for £250,000 each. As my income as a musician fluctuated over the years, the rental income kept me going.
Are you saving for retirement?
No, I don’t believe in them. I don’t believe they will pay out what they promise and the money is devalued over time anyway. My pension is my royalty income, my properties and my Bitcoins. I have a few coins, but I’d rather not say how many. I bought them three years ago. A currency that is not controlled by governments gives you power: power of the people. I like that.
Do you invest directly in the stock market?
Yes, I have a few shares in companies that I like. I admire Elon Musk, so I have some shares in Tesla. I am also an investor in Hipgnosis buying up the music catalogs of major songwriters. I heard about them because at one point they were looking for an attempt to buy my catalog.
Do you own real estate?
Yes. I still have my two investment properties in London – and I now live in a beautiful old house called Elsonore House in County Donegal, Ireland. It overlooks Lough Swilly, a fjord that flows into the North Atlantic Ocean. Ruth, my wife and I bought it for 300,000 euros (260,000 pounds). It was split into four apartments. We’ve kept it that way and are renting out two.
What is your top financial priority?
To go on vacation after all pandemic restrictions end. There are cities I went on tour where I only saw the hotel and location. I see that as a missed opportunity – I want to go back to those places and absorb them.
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