Alan Davies: ‘Dad didn’t give me enough – so I stole’

Alan Davies: ‘Dad didn’t give me enough – so I stole’

Can you remember your first paid employment?

I was very unhappy at secondary school and couldn’t wait to leave when I turned 16, but the school said I could only leave if I had a job. My stepmother had a close friend who ran a greengrocery and they gave me a job. I was paid £55 a week and really loved it. I liked the independence, I liked having the cash and I liked twirling the paper bags. The money felt like a fortune.

Then, after two weeks, the owner’s son came back from holiday and I was laid off. After that I used to go around asking if I could wash people’s cars for a few quid.

How much did you get for your first paid performing job?

I’d gone off to university for four years, came out and I contacted all the comedy clubs in Time Out magazine, of which there were about 25 in those days, and the only one that replied was Black Cat Cabaret in Stoke Newington.

I got £9 to do stand-up there. I had to move back in with my father and stepmother for several months, which didn’t go down very well. I’d applied to the BBC to be a trainee radio producer – I was one of about 10,000 who applied, I think. I was convinced that I could make it as a stand-up. After about six months, there was an LWT show called First Exposure, giving comedians their first exposure on TV, hosted by Arthur Smith. That was a big break for me.

But what really saved me – even though I was a lefty and a Labour voter and a CND person – was Thatcher’s Enterprise Allowance Scheme. That kept my head above water. The slogan was: “You’ve got the enterprise, we’ve got the allowance.” If you were on the dole you got £26 a week and you weren’t allowed to work. If you were on the Enterprise Allowance Scheme you got £40 a week and you could keep your £40 and you could work. So I was on that for a year and I felt like I had a year to make it.

I then went off to do some gigs in Canada, came back to more paid gigs, moved out of my father’s house into a rented room in Stoke Newington – and I’ve rarely looked back since.

Has your income risen steadily since then?

It’s been pretty busy, really. You get those big breaks where your income jumps forward. I guess Jonathan Creek was a big break for me and then I was offered money to do commercials, which I was really in two minds about doing.

Was the offer simply too big to turn down?

Well, I could give you a figure but it always sounds a bit unsavoury.

I could give you a comparison if you like. For doing the ads for Abbey National – and I did 18 ads over four years – I got paid 20 times the amount I was paid for doing the entire first series of Jonathan Creek.

So it was very difficult to say no. But the best thing about those ads was that they were directed by John Lloyd, who became a very good friend.

He then went on to make the pilots of QI. So without the Abbey National ads QI might never have happened.

Comedy is big business these days. Peter Kay made £20m from touring and DVD sales last year, Lee Evans made £12.1m and John Bishop made £5m. Are you in that sort of pay bracket?

I’m nowhere near those figures, nowhere near them. You lose half to the taxman, a quarter of the money goes to the theatres, 20pc goes to the promoter, and you get the rest. You can do well but you’ve got to get a show together and go out on the road for months with it. I’m not in the league of those big guns.

Does money make you happy?

There’s two ways of looking at money. There’s the joy of having it or the fear of not having it. Arsène Wenger, the Arsenal manager, once said there are two types of footballer: the ones who want to win and the ones who hate losing.

Everyone’s a combination of those but, generally speaking, if you hate losing the most you’re a defender, and if you really love winning you’re a striker. I think it’s true with money. Like some people, I have more of a fear of not having any, of being skint, and not being able to provide for my children and my family – rather than a great joy of: “Hoorah, I’ve got money.” I think mine is probably a better attitude.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learnt about money?

I’ve learnt to be less fearful about not having it. I always used to think that pools winners who blew the lot, saying “it’s only money”, were crazy, but as I’ve got older I’m less like that .

If my children want something I usually get it for them, for better or for worse. I remember getting an Action Man when I was eight, and my father said to me: “This was very expensive, you’ve got to play with it a lot.” I remember that.

Do you ever spend extravagantly?

I can be a sucker for a charity auction.

I was at one in aid of the Almeida Theatre and this trip to New York came up; you got to stay in a lovely hotel, go to the opera, have dinner. We’d never been to the opera before, we thought that would be fun, so ended up bidding about £10,000 and winning.

Do you prefer cash, cards or cheques?

Debit cards mainly. The only credit card I have is a Co-op Bank Labour Party card, which makes a donation to the party. I use that and I pay the full balance every month.

Are you comfortable with online banking?

I use it all the time but it doesn’t mean I don’t think that someone can’t hack into it. It feels like it’s only a matter of time.

Where have you invested most over the years?

Property. That’s where I put my cash. I’ve got the pension and I’ve got bricks and mortar.

You’re a big Arsenal fan. Have you invested in the club?

I’ve got a couple of shares in Arsenal. When they moved to the Emirates stadium I bought bonds so I could get season tickets for my friends. I have about six season tickets.

What do you like least about money?

Talking about it. It makes me feel uncomfortable discussing it. It feels a bit uncouth or vulgar. I would never tell anyone what I got paid for something or what I earn or properties I own. I find it a bit impertinent, frankly, to ask.

And what are your financial plans for the future?

I made a big choice a few years ago – I cancelled my gym membership and took out life insurance with the money. It felt like a real shift in the middle of my life to do that. That came about really when we had our first child. So yeah, I’m no longer a member of a gym but I do have quite a large life insurance policy.

UKTV’s new TV channel, Drama, can be found on Freeview channel 20 and Sky. ‘Jonathan Creek’ is on Fridays at 9pm.

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