Fergie's pounds lighter after our lunch

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The Independent Online
People who don't know that I write for the Independent sometimes ask me what I do for a living.

I don't mind that.

Unfortunately, some people who do know that I write for the Independent also ask me what I do for a living.

What they actually say is, "Surely it doesn't take you all day to write one small column?"

And they are quite right. I have another job which is entirely separate from my newspaper work.

I spend a lot of my time as independent financial adviser to the Duchess of York.

When she first came to me, I have to admit the case looked hopeless. She wanted to know how to make savings, how to make ends meet and how to balance budgets - in brief, she wanted to know how to turn over a new leaf and be a new slimmer, budget-conscious Fergie.

"Forget it," I told her. "Scrimping and saving never helped anyone. What you need is a plan. A big plan. A master plan!"

"What kind of master plan?" she asked, staring up in rather pathetic awe at the masterful pair of accountant's spectacles I had bought specially for the occasion.

"You are not spending enough," I told her. "You must either spend a lot less - which is dreary in the extreme - or a lot, lot more, which is fun."

"But if I spend more, I shall go bankrupt!" she said.

I smiled in a tiresomely knowledgeable sort of way.

"All the best people are on the verge of bankruptcy," I said. "The United Nations is hopelessly in debt. The Tory party is millions in debt. Imelda Marcos is desperately in debt. The United States of America is desperately in debt. Are any of them going out of business? I think not. Are they doing rather well? I think so."

"Well, what should I do?"

"Let's have lunch and talk about it."


"Somewhere in the Caribbean?" I suggested.

Her eyes brightened. I was obviously her sort of financial adviser. But I have often found that it is hardly worth taking a client out to lunch if you have only the lunch bill to show the tax people for it. Lunch in St Kitts, pounds 60; transport from office to lunch and back, pounds 600, that's my kind of expenses claim.

"So what I suggest is this," I said to her, as we toyed with our shark steaks in the poshest restaurant in Roseau, unassuming capital of the island of Dominica, which lies enticingly between the French islands of Martinique and Guadeloupe. "I suggest that you embark on a mammoth spending spree."

"It sounds wonderful," she said. "But won't I end up a hostage to the media? To my mother-in-law? To the Duke of York? To shoe shops everywhere? To you?"

"On the contrary," I said. "They will all be hostages to you. A person who owes more than pounds 1m cannot be touched."

"They will try to bring me down," she said.

"They tried to bring Saddam Hussein down," I said. "The whole world has inflicted sanctions on Saddam Hussein to drive him penniless out of office. He is unmoved. He is stronger than ever."

"Are you trying to tell me that it is safer to owe money than to possess it?" she said, looking for the comforting truth in my enigmatic grey eyes.

"Not very long ago," I said, "I was financial adviser to the Church of England. It nearly went bankrupt through property speculation and is now just as strong as ever. President Clinton tells me that at the rate his legal fees are mounting up, he may be bankrupt come autumn. Nick Leeson ..."

"Nick Leeson!" said Fergie. "He isn't much of an example. Barings Bank went bankrupt and it didn't help them much."

"Pardon me," I said, "but Barings Bank is just as strong as ever. It has just changed owners, that's all. Incidentally, what bank do you use?"

"Coutts," she said. "Are you suggesting that I could do for Coutts what Nick Leeson did for ... ?"

"Well, these are early days," I said. "Good heavens, is that the time? I must be back in the office tomorrow. We had better drift down to the airport. But I have some business to do in Dominica first ..."

"You have clients here?" she said.

"I have been asked informally by the British government to sound out the possibility of a Saudi Arabian gentleman moving here. No big deal ..."

Readers must have caught my drift by now. Anybody needing top level financial advice knows where to turn to ...