Money: This is your life savings

My biggest mistake; A teaching aid that flopped cost Michael Aspel pounds 600,000
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The Independent Online
"I came seriously unstuck about 25 years ago, when I got invited to put some money into a business and was left 18-months later with all the company's debts.

I was invited to do some promotional commentary for a teaching aid system. At that time, I hadn't quite realised how stupid I was where money is concerned. I thought it might be sensible not just to take a fee, but to put some money into it. It looked to me like a promising, futuristic sort of business.

It was a maths programme, a new teaching aid system, where kids had responder units and screens and all that sort of thing. It's been superseded many times since, of course, but it seemed quite a good idea for its time. It was going to be bought by education authorities.

I had it independently assessed by somebody - so I wasn't that daft - and they said: `Yes, this looks like a clean, go-ahead business.' I borrowed some money from the bank, put my fee and all that back into it, but it just didn't take off.

There was no skulduggery involved as far as I know. But the timing was wrong, and various things were supposed to happen that didn't. Sales to the education authorities never quite came through. It was the old cash- flow problem. Nobody actually bought it when we needed to be selling the thing, and it all just fell by the wayside. Then we were going to be bought up.

I think the only time I was poorly treated in it was when the other guy who was left in it with me said we were going to be bought up, but it would require me signing a separate personal guarantee, which is what I did. I think I vaguely understood what signing the guarantee meant, but the information I was given was that we only had a few days before we were going to be taken over, and it would all be plain sailing from then on.

Of course, the sale never happened, the company collapsed and there was no one but me for our suppliers to go to when the crunch came.

I had a cottage in Hereford at that point, which I'd spent the last 18 months having done up, and that coincided - neatly, I suppose - with this drama. The house was finished, I sold it the next day, cleared the debts and never even spent a night in it. It cost me, I suppose, about pounds 620,000, and that was a lot of money 25 years ago. That was a hefty involvement and a very bruising experience.

One of the reasons I bought into this company was that I thought that would be a good idea to see that performing and presenting was not the only thing I relied on. Now I'm happy to say it is. I think it's much nicer to keep it clean, take your fees, pay your tax and don't worry.

As far as my general attitude to finance is concerned, I'm soundly advised, but I tend to forget about it the moment I've done it. I keep getting surprised by little bits of paper that tell me what's been done. Than I have to ask, and I'm told: `Yes, you did that PEP a year ago.'

It isn't because I have so much money that I don't know what to do with it. I wouldn't be surprised if somebody said to me: `Actually, you have none at all,' or that I have a great deal more than I'd ever thought. I don't keep track of it properly, I just make sure that everybody's provided for. If I can afford to take a holiday, I'm very relieved, and that's it.

It sounds like one's being a loveable duffer, who thinks it's attractive to be somebody who doesn't care about money, but that's not the case. I just have a lack of empathy where the stuff is concerned. Most people around me seem to understand money very well, and I admire them for it, but I cannot make my mind work in that way.

For me, it's all down to finding the right accountant, really, and finding people I feel I can have faith in. It took me a long time to do that, because I do need guidance and help and reassurance all the way. But it seems to be all right at the moment."

Michael Aspel was talking to Paul Slade.

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