Comedian Cally Beaton speaks to ME & MY MONEY
Nothing to laugh about: Cally Beaton left behind a six-figure salary to become a comedian just before the pandemic
Cally Beaton gave up a high-flying TV executive career to become a comedian just before the pandemic hit – and she has no regrets. Cally was earning a comfortable six-figure salary when she quit her job, only to find all the gigs she had planned for 2020 cancelled.
She tells Donna Ferguson she’s never questioned her decision and feels lucky enough to have enough savings to get her through lockdown.
The 53-year-old single mom makes her debut in the Christmas special on comedy show Live At The Apollo. It airs tonight at 9.45pm on BBC2.
What did your parents teach you about money?
Don’t be materialistic. I grew up without a lot of money, surrounded by people who had more than average. My parents were both teachers at the boarding school I attended, Port Regis in Dorset, where all the other students were privileged and wealthy. Zara Phillips went there later, for example.
My parents rented a staff house on the site for £1 a year. They didn’t talk much about money, but I overheard a few anxious conversations. It was always a big deal when I needed new school shoes or a new uniform. We spent our vacations, which I loved, in a mobile home or in my aunt’s ramshackle cottage without heating.
I’ve learned not to spend what you don’t have and to own property. When my parents were in their 50s, they suddenly had to think about what they would do if they could no longer live in this staff house. I realized pretty early on that you need a place to live to be safe.
Ever had trouble making ends meet?
Yes, for about 18 months when I was in my early 20s. I had given up my first job – in television – to move to Amsterdam with a Dutchman I had met and who later became the father of my two children. I was offered a job that I lost on day one because the company went bust – and my friend’s job failed too.
That was the poorest thing I’ve ever been. I managed to get some work to cover my bills but nothing beyond that. I would buy cheap food and cook in bulk. I couldn’t even afford to call my family in the UK. It was all very isolating.
Have you ever been paid stupid money?
I think anyone who works in a boardroom gets stupid money compared to everyone else. But as a comedian it would be for Live At The Apollo, which airs tonight.
It’s the biggest gig most comedians can get in terms of money. That’s 20 minutes on stage for a five-figure sum. But you spend years working on your set, refining it, playing with it, and once it’s on Live At The Apollo you can never do it on TV again.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2019, the year I decided to quit my job as senior vice president of international programming for what is now called Paramount, one of the largest US studios.
I was at the forefront of my game, responsible for a large global team of people bringing American content to the world. I used to get bonuses based on financial performance, and we had some shows that did incredibly well this year. I was making a comfortable six-figure salary and doing pretty well financially.
But my heart wasn’t there anymore. I worked long hours while doing comedy on the side, four nights a week, spending a week in New York every fourth week.
It was too much juggling. So I traded status and the luxury of a secure job to pursue my dream in comedy…just before the pandemic.
Did you fight during the pandemic?
no I was ill with Covid for the first two months but I was very lucky financially. I had savings and didn’t have a large mortgage to pay off.
Of course my diary emptied. I lost a few gigs that would have been my big TV breaks, but I never second-guessed my decision. I got into Zoom comedy appearances and started my own podcast interviewing celebrities, entrepreneurs, writers and academics.
I didn’t make much money, but I kept the wolf out the door. My podcast is still on and upcoming guests include Dragons’ Den’s Deborah Meaden and host Kirsty Wark.
What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought for fun?
I have been a single mom since my two children who are now in their 20’s were little. My son is autistic and has always been obsessed with primates. When he was 17 I spent thousands of pounds – well into four figures – taking him and his sister on a family holiday to Borneo to see orangutans in the wild. My son is now a primate keeper at a zoo in Devon.
Big break: Cally on stage earlier this year
Best money decision you’ve made?
In 1996 I bought my first house, a two bedroom train station cottage in Kentish Town, North London for £200,000. I bought this after unexpectedly getting pregnant in my 20s.
At that time I was working for the American cable station MTV. Without this happy coincidence, I would never have made the sensible decision to own it. Eighteen months later I needed more space and an inside toilet, so I put the house up for sale. A lady in her 60’s knocked on my door – she owned a five bedroom Victorian town house nearby and wanted to downsize.
Her house was a no-brainer — like a squat — but it had tremendous potential. So I traded my house for hers and paid her £100,000 in difference. I used the money I saved on stamp duty to refurbish it and I’ve been living in and renovating it ever since. It’s now probably worth more than £1.5million.
Are you saving for a pension?
Yes, I started in my early 30’s after seeking financial advice. I recently switched my entire bond portfolio into ethical stocks.
Outside of my retirement, I don’t invest in the stock market. I’m too scared to do this.
My children are half-Dutch, so after Brexit I bought a two-bedroom flat in a converted warehouse in Amsterdam for €400,000 (£343,000), mainly as an investment. I own it with a friend and it’s probably worth almost £600,000 now.
What luxury do you allow yourself?
I like a coffee to go. I buy one most days.
If you were chancellor, what would be the first thing you would do?
I would encourage companies to switch to a four-day workweek by offering them grants – as long as they pay their employees the same salary they would be paid for five days. I think this would make employees more productive and the workforce more diverse. I also think it would encourage entrepreneurship and side hustles by giving people the time and space to find new ways of making money.
Do you donate money to charity?
Yes. I don’t think it would be right to be financially happy and not do anything for charity. I choose different charities and donate based on what’s important to me.
Right now I donate monthly to Barnardo’s, Oxfam, Greenpeace, a wildlife foundation or zoo, a charity for the homeless, a charity that supports neurodiversity like the National Autistic Society, and a cancer charity.
This year I decided to join a prostate cancer charity because a friend of mine was just diagnosed with stage four prostate cancer.
I probably donate £2,000 a year to charity and I’m glad I can afford it.
What is your top financial priority?
Leaving money for my two kids, but in a foolproof way. I’m in the process of liquidating an inheritance from my parents and it’s complicated. I don’t want my kids to ever have to go through that.
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