Melanie Blake, author and celebrity agent, never washes her hair herself. Instead, she spends £150 every week on a hairdresser to come to her house and do it for her.
Blake, who grew up in poverty, earned millions of pounds as a celebrity agent before penning the bestselling novel Ruthless Women.
Her latest book, Guilty Women, is out Thursday. Blake, 42 and single, spoke to Donna Ferguson.
Stars in her eyes: Melanie Blake became a celebrity agent at 23
What did your parents teach you about money?
That I didn’t want to live like them, in poverty. My father was a printer who gave all his money to a fanatical Christian sect. My mother was a housekeeper. I grew up wearing charity shop clothes, getting food from food banks, living off stipends and free school meals. I was desperately trying to escape. I ended up homeless at 16 because I couldn’t live in the family home anymore – it was too stressful with all the religious stuff from my parents.
I moved to a squat in Manchester and got several jobs, saving all the time so I could fulfill my dream of going to London and breaking into showbusiness. I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I planned to make a lot 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 back home. I had £1,500 – money I had saved up working since I was 12 – which felt like £1million to me. This kept me going as I applied for a job at every TV company I could find.
I spent a year and a half doing promotional work, handing out drinks at events, and connecting with celebrities. But I was on the wrong side of the rope. Just when my savings were running out, I got a job as a camera assistant on Top Of The Pops. There I made friends with various pop stars and actresses. I also started working as an extra on television soap operas.
How did you make your fortune?
I met Claire Richards from the pop group Steps and Claire King from the TV series Emmerdale. They both liked my opinions on 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 studio camera cables to being a celebrity agent at 23. In my first week in business I had secured £100,000 worth of contracts for my clients.
Back then, many celebrity agents sat around waiting for phone calls. They did not 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 a profit of £1.5m. When I closed my agency to focus on being an author, we had generated £30m in revenue and I had personally earned £6m.
Have you ever been paid stupid money?
Yes. I wrote Bonkbuster Ruthless Women in seven weeks and have earned half a million pounds from this book so far.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2011. I made £800,000 as an agent. I took care of the panelists for the TV show Loose Women and the lead actresses of all the soap operas. I worked long hours and had no life at all. I gave everything to my work.
Then my mother was diagnosed with cancer and died quickly. It changed my perspective, I didn’t want to work like that anymore.
What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought for fun?
Five jewels from the estate of Jackie Collins worth £100,000. One is a 50-carat Morganite diamond pendant she wore while writing the 1990 novel Lady Boss. I read all of Jackie Collins’ books when I was a teenager and she inspired me. I liked that his heroines didn’t marry money, they were all independent women. I dated rich men when I was younger and they offered to take care of me for life – but I kept thinking no. I want my wealth to be mine.
What is your biggest financial mistake?
Spending too much to renovate a five-bedroom house in Crouch End, North London. I was engaged at the time and thought this was my forever home. When I sold it last year for £2.25m I didn’t make a profit. Just broke even after going through a seven year renovation.
What’s the best financial decision you’ve made?
Buying a five-bedroom, five-storey terraced house in Kentish Town, North London, for £1.1million in 2009. I spent just £150,000 renovating it and sold it in 2015 for £2.7 million.
Are you saving for a pension or investing in the stock market?
No. I’ve only ever heard terrible stories about stock market investments and retirements. I don’t understand the stock market and I don’t believe in pensions. Everyone I know who has done well financially has done it with bricks and mortar. Also, I am financially secure now for the rest of my life. I could stop working today if I wanted to. But I will never retire. They will nail me in my coffin and I will continue to work.
Do you own a property?
Yes, my house in Chelsea, West London, which I bought last year for £1.1m. No one was able to see the property during the lockdown, but I knew the house so I paid cash for it and got a bargain. It’s a wonderful little self-contained studio, probably now worth around £1.8m, as I’ve renovated it. I will try to add an extension to it and add another million pounds worth. I also plan to buy a property in Amsterdam this year for around one million euros (£829,000).
What luxury do you give yourself?
I like a blow-dry. I never wash my hair myself. Once a week, my hairdresser comes to my house to wash and dry me. I pay him £150 each time. I have hair extensions and it takes a lot of maintenance to look glamorous. For me, it’s worth it.
If you were Chancellor, what is the first thing you would do?
I would increase benefits for families in difficulty. Those in need should be supported more than they are. At the same time, I would eliminate professional rates. I think these taxes are killing this country. My heart breaks for all the high street businesses that have suffered during the pandemic. Getting rid of commercial tariffs would change people’s lives.
Do you donate money to charity?
Yes. Beneath my tough exterior, I’m a real softie, especially when it comes to kids. Maybe it’s because I don’t have any children of my own. I answer many personal calls made on the GoFundMe crowdfunding website 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 kid.
What is your number one financial priority?
Have enough money to never have to worry about it. That, to me, is freedom. Luckily, I made it – so whatever I earn now is a bonus.