Rachel Riley

Submitted by on Sep 24, 2015

Rachel Riley: ‘I earned less than £40,000 when I started on Countdown’

Rachel Riley talks about why she prefers to rent in London, her £14,000 a year clothing allowance on Countdown and why now is the time to invest in a pension

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Rachel Riley, a maths graduate of Oriel College, Oxford, rose to fame after replacing Carol Vorderman as co-presenter on Countdown. Ms Riley, 29, divorced in 2012, lives in west London and is in a relationship with her former Strictly Come Dancing partner, Pasha Kovalev.

I’m quite sensible with money, and I think I get that from my parents, who have always been savers. They would spend money on me but were frugal with themselves. Both of them are from a working class background. My father was the first in his family to go to university and he became a chartered accountant. My mother is a charity fundraiser and her biggest regret is not going to university, so they always encouraged me to do well in education.

What was your first job and how much did it pay?

Making sandwiches in a café every Saturday for £25. I was 15 years old.

Has there been a time in your life when you didn’t know how you were going to pay the bills?

No. I’ve been really lucky. My parents supported me through university and, after I graduated, I got a job as an analyst at a price comparison website called TotallyMoney.com. My salary was £25,000 – but I was only there for a couple of months before I got my job on Countdown.

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What was your starting wage on Countdown ?

I’d rather not say, but it was a lot less than people thought. The papers just made stuff up. It was more than I was earning at the website, but far less than the speculation [of £100,000]. I don’t think I was a higher-rate taxpayer [the threshold is £41,866] – no, not at all.

Did your lifestyle change?

I’d just come out university. My clothes were mostly from the sales, and I lived in sports gear. Then I got a £10,000-a-year clothes budget from Countdown. I still get one – now it’s £14,000 a year. It’s a huge perk. It’s for my clothes that I wear on the series – we do about 225 episodes a year. If anything gets retired, we give it to charity.

When I first started, I couldn’t even envisage spending that much money on clothes, but we had to film 15 episodes in one block, so I went shopping. It felt like that scene out of Pretty Woman where she has all those bags. It was very different, very alien – and a lot of fun.

You were eliminated in week six of Strictly Come Dancing. Did the BBC pay you well?

It depends if you count by hours. I put in a ridiculous amount of hours. I was filming Countdown and The Gadget Show at the same time so I’d do an 11- or 12-hour filming day and, then, if I could fit in three hours of training until the place shut, I’d do that. I didn’t have a day off for four months, and sometimes got just three hours sleep. I went through so much Red Bull, just to concentrate. The fee was good, but if you look at the hourly rate, the time and emotional commitment and the effort, it was probably less so. You wouldn’t do Strictly for the money.

What’s been your most lucrative work?

My job at Countdown. It’s a job that I love, and it allows me to do other shows as well. I’m really lucky to be in the TV industry and to have a regular yearly contract, that gives me security. Without Countdown. I’d probably still be a data analyst in London.

Do you have a pension?

No, but I’m planning to set one up this year. I definitely think it’s important to save for a pension – I know people who haven’t and they’re in a bit of a pickle. Plus, you get good tax relief. But it’s quite daunting when you’re self-employed and there isn’t a workplace scheme. It’s something I need to sit down and discuss with an expert.

How do you feel about investing in shares?

I’m comfortable doing it, but I’m risk-averse and so I wouldn’t put all my money in one particular company. I do think you can get a good return on your investments, as long as you’re sensible.

What’s been your best financial decision?

Not rushing into buying a property after I got divorced and sold my house last year. I’d never lived by myself, or in London. I could have tried to buy something straight away, but I didn’t know where I wanted to live and how I was going to finance it by myself.

Why do you prefer to rent?

Eventually, I’d like to own a property, just for security. But at the moment, I think it makes more sense for me to rent, with the market as it is and the prices of homes where I want to live. I’m renting a one-bed flat in west London, which is very, very expensive. Yet my yearly rent is well under the stamp duty I would have to pay to buy the same kind of property in the area, and I might not want to live here in two years’ time.

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What’s your worst money mistake?

Not seeking financial advice sooner. I’ve got to pull my finger out and do it. I’ve been procrastinating for too long.

Are you a spender or a  saver?

I’m a bit of both. My parents encourage me to save but I do buy the odd thing that I wouldn’t tell them about. But I don’t like paying over the odds, and I never go overdrawn. I also like to think I’m quite a savvy shopper. If I need something, I’ll use websites like Topcashback.co.uk and moneysavingexpert to see if there’s a voucher. We have Martin Lewis [MoneySavingExpert] on Countdown quite a lot and he’s always talking about ways of saving money and getting cashback. If it’s available, then why not?

If you were Chancellor, what economic policies would you change?

I’d tax empty houses a lot more. I don’t approve of foreign investors buying houses in London and leaving them empty. It drives the prices up for everyone else. And it’s a waste.

Rachel Riley with her Strictly partner and boyfriend Pasha Kovalev

What’s the one luxury you couldn’t live without?

Eating out. I eat out way more than I should – there are so many styles of restaurants and delis near my home, all serving good-quality food. It’s expensive, though!

How do you tip?

I’d say 10pc if it’s bad service and 12pc to 15pc if it’s good. I much prefer it when service isn’t included automatically, and you just work it out yourself. It’s only a little bit of maths at the end of the meal.

Is it normally you who has to figure out the tip?

Yes. It’s a standing joke with my friends that I’m just given the bill at the end to divide and work out the tip. On occasions when I haven’t, they’ve discovered afterwards that they’ve accidentally given a 25pc tip.

Do you give to charity?

I have quite a few direct debits to charities. My favourite is the Angus Lawson Memorial Trust. It’s for children and it helps lots of causes around the world, that are really carefully selected.

What are your financial priorities?

My new year’s resolution for 2015 is to sort my finances out. I’ve got a lot more money now than I used to have and in five or 10 years’ time, I’d definitely like to have a property and pension savings. I’m turning 30 next year and I think that’s the time when you start thinking: I’m a proper grown up now, I need to plan for my future.

Rachel Riley is helping launch Standard Life’s #ReadyWhenUAre campaign, which provides information ahead of the changes to the UK pensions system on Monday April 6. Visit standardlife.co.uk/ReadyWhenUAre

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