Donald MacInnes: A bit of shoe polish put a shine on my suspected earnings

In The Red

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The Independent Online

A while ago I asked if you thought yourself overpaid. Obviously, unless you're in showbiz (and I can't imagine Basil Brush reads this column), your answer is going to be that you, like everyone else, is paid less than you deserve.

However, it's all relative. Ask the person on the train next to you what they earn. If they say a number even 10 grand a year more than you, it will seem like a fortune.

When I was 21, I applied for a job with the BBC. The starting salary was £11,000. I recall sitting in the pub with friends and saying: "I'm not even sure I could spend that kind of money! I'd have to give it away!"

I didn't get the job, so never had to walk the streets of Glasgow distributing fivers. But that wasn't the first time I had contemplated what seemed to be real wealth.

A year or so earlier, I had worked on the teenage magazine Patches, which was a bit like its stablemate, the iconic Jackie magazine, but it sold less, so had to make do with second or third-division pop star interviews – the leftovers, like David Van Day of Dollar, who visited our offices in the midst of a doomed comeback.

During the interview, I thought I would mix things up a bit, so said cheerily: "Okay, you must have done a million interviews in your time. Why don't you ask me something?" Not looking up, he deadpanned: "Just get on with it, eh?" Brutal.

At that time, I was taking home £110 a week, so when I got the chance to fly to London to interview the cast of Grange Hill, I did a flip.My contact in the capital was a photographer, with whom I hung out after we had been to Elstree Studios. We went back to his loft apartment and drank champagne on the roof terrace (it was the Eighties). He had just got back from shooting a Pepsi advert in Israel and was going to be paid "thousands, mate" for it.

I was aghast at the opulence of his life and didn't hide it well.

Mind you, he assumed – given that I worked "in the media" – that I was earning, as he put it, "good wedge".

Although I felt like I had "£110 a week" tattooed on my forehead, as far as he was concerned, we were in the same gang, probably because my Mum had insisted I polish my shoes to go down to London.

It's a lesson worth remembering: as long as you have shiny shoes, no one need ever know what you actually earn.

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