Phil Coulter: ‘I’ve never made it into the super-rich club, but I’m comfortable’

Me & My Money: The Derry born musician and songwriter on his money habits

Are you a saver or a spender?
During my more than 50 years in the music business, I've been a bit of both – saving for that rainy day and splurging a bit when I'd get a record in the charts. After all these years, it's hard to break that habit, but thank God I'd saved enough to survive the lockdown and almost 700 days without doing a single gig.

Do you shop around for better value?
I was born in Derry during the second World War and grew up in a bleak, grey era of ration books and hard times. That certainly taught me the importance of getting value for hard-earned money.

What has been your most extravagant purchase and how much did it cost?
After I got my first big hit with Puppet on a String, I thought it was time for a splurge. There was a very smart and very expensive boutique in Hampstead, but I'd never bought anything more expensive than a tie from it, so that's where I headed. There was a full-length white leather trench coat in the window. Much to the surprise of the owner, I marched in and bought it. At £350 back in 1967, it was certainly an extravagance, but worth every penny.

What purchase have you made that you consider the best value for money?
My white Roland Digital Grand piano. It travels with me on tour in its own flight case. It looks the business on stage, sounds amazing, and I don't need to find a piano tuner in every town we play.

How did you prefer to shop during the Covid-19 restrictions – online or local?
In the early days of lockdown, being one of those "vulnerable" over-70s, I was cocooning in one Groundhog Day after another. Checking my pillbox in the mornings was the only way I could tell which day of the week it was. In those days, it was all online. As things have eased, I definitely prefer to shop in my town of Bray and support local traders.

Do you haggle over prices?
I am totally useless at haggling. Car salesmen just love to see me coming into their showroom. I'm so bad that I take the number on the sticker on the windscreen as the best possible price and then thank the salesman for looking after me so well.

How has the Covid-19 crisis changed your spending habits?
Amazon Prime has been my downfall! I'm a sucker for the ease of ordering on a Monday and getting a delivery on a Wednesday – anything from books to barbecue utensils, shower gels to solar powered garden lights. I have a never-used ice cream maker here, which I'm thinking of putting up on DoneDeal.

Do you invest in shares?
I got my fingers burned very badly some years back when a high-profile pension fund, supported by a lot of smart money men and financial advisers, turned out to be a sophisticated scam. That has made me extra careful about investing in anything that I don't completely understand.

Cash or card?
Even in this era of contactless credit cards, I still like to know I've got a few €50 notes in my pocket.

What was the last thing you bought and was it good value for money?
On the advice of my GP, I bought a gizmo for checking my blood pressure at home. I'll only be able to gauge if it was good value for money when I see what effect it's having on my long-term health prospects!

Have you ever successfully saved up for a relatively big purchase?
In 1968, I bought my first house, in Highgate, London, for £14,000, which was a lot of money for me back then. I'd been renting for years in furnished flats in the likes of Cricklewood, and saving furiously, praying that God would give me the smarts to write a hit song and earn some decent royalties. My fairy godmother arrived in the shape of Sandie Shaw, singing Puppet on a String, in the 1967 Eurovision Song Contest.

Have you ever lost money?
Apart from taking a hit on that pension fund scam, I've regularly lost money on music ventures. Recording an album in a top studio with first-call session musicians and a string orchestra costs serious money. When you fund it out of your own pocket, you reap the rewards if it's a number one. Sadly, if it doesn't do the business you have to take the hit.

Are you a gambler and, if so, have you ever had a big win?
You could say that I gamble every time I fund a recording or go out on the road on a long tour, but as for gambling as in a casino – definitely not!

Is money important to you?
While it is not the be all or the end all, money is certainly important. I know a lot of very wealthy folks who are unhappy, but I also know a lot of poor people who are miserable. I've never made it into the super-rich club, but I've earned enough, through my own efforts, to have a comfortable life and, most important, to provide for a large family. I still work every day and can't wait to get back gigging.

How much money do you have on you now?
Two €50 and three €10 notes, plus a handful of coins, the latter of which are useful for the parking meter or the supermarket trolley.

in conversation with Tony Clayton-Lea

Veteran songwriter Phil Coulter's Returning to Tranquillity tours Ireland throughout November and December. For details of live performances, visit