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Come dine with me – and tell me your money-making secrets

IN l985, the little, local publisher of Alfred Wainwright, the great Lakeland walker and writer, realised he was about to sell his millionth book. An amazing achievement, considering Wainwright had done no interviews, and readers did not know if he was alive or dead. To celebrate, the publisher decided to put a special mark on the millionth copy. Whoever by chance bought it would have dinner with Wainwright.

He agreed, without really thinking, then woke up the next day and thought: “What have I done? I don’t want to have a meal with a stranger.” He found out that the millionth copy had gone to a shop in Manchester, so he went off and bought it. Later, he tore it up.

I had a similar situation a month ago. You won’t remember — why should you, in your busy life? — but I said I would take whoever sent me the best tip for saving or making money to lunch at the Groucho club in London’s Soho. I must have been potty. The moment the column appeared, naming Martin Knight as my winner, I regretted it. (He was the one who said he had become a member of 14 social clubs in order to cash in if and when they closed and the premises were sold.)

I knew nothing about him, so what if he turned out to be boring, or a member of UKIP, or — horror of horrors — an Arsenal supporter? What would we talk about?

In corresponding with him I discovered he was a fan of football and the Beatles. So, I suggested, instead of the Groucho club, which is just full of celebs, why not come to my house and see my treasures? He jumped at the offer.

There was one condition — I wanted to interview him, hear about the finances of an ordinary reader. Was he up for it? I said: “Don’t worry, I am not the taxman in disguise.”

Martin, 56, was born on a council estate in Surrey to parents who were librarians. He left his secondary modern at 16 and became a messenger on the Financial Times. He moved to the FT’s newspaper library — the cuttings library, as it used to be called — rose to become a manager and, in 1986, was invited to Bahrain to start a media library for a bank.

He was on £16,000 a year at the FT and married with three kids. The Arabs were offering $60,000, tax-free, plus accommodation, staff and flights home. Not much contest, really.

He returned after a year, having saved £15,000, and gave himself 12 months in which to start his own media monitoring business. It began as a cuttings service for famous people, such as Paul McCartney, one of his early clients. Each reference to a client in the newspapers, national and provincial, was cut out and pasted on a sheet of A4. He charged £1 per cutting. If one of his clients was on a world tour, he or she might accumulate 10,000 cuttings. In l996 he sold the company for £1.5m, which was shared with two partners.

“I thought that’s it; with my £500,000 I am set for life. I need never work again,” Martin said. “I hadn’t realised capital gains would be 40%. I must have been told, but I wasn’t listening, so I was left with only £300,000 after tax.”

By now he had five children and realised the money would not last long. But he took a break, started writing books — one about his grandmother, one about football hooliganism — and then began another media research company with one of his old partners.

The internet had arrived and he realised that businesses were looking for information to populate their websites. The company, Precise Media, eventually had 300 staff and offices around the country. In 2005 it was sold for £17m. Martin owned about a third.

Since then, he has had no need to work, but he does have three fledgling companies. London Books publishes out-of-print 1930s working-class fiction — just for fun, makes no money. Early Morning Media informs professionals and companies, every day at 7am, what has been in the overnight media that might concern them. The third, Notable Abodes, is a database of notable and infamous people and where they lived — a virtual and democratic extension of the blue plaque system. He is about to launch an app, which will be made available to tourists.

So the lad has done good, though you might not realise it to meet him. He is short and stocky, looks and talks a bit like Danny Baker, and could be taken for a football hooligan, except he arrived in a Bentley.

In his early days, when he first made money, he did use wealth managers — and got fed up with them. “I soon discovered that all they really liked doing was churning, which means persuading you to constantly sell and buy new investments so that they generate commissions.

“I did say to some of them, ‘Tell you what, I’ll give you 10% of my gain, but if you don’t make me any money in a year, you get nothing.’ Funnily enough, none of them agreed.

“Today one-third of my money is in property, which includes my house in Surrey and a cottage in the country. One-third is in equities, which includes my pensions. One- third is in cash, which means things such as Zopa [the peer-to-peer lender], building societies and banks. I like to keep a substantial float in case one of the businesses requires cash or I spot an opportunity and need to act fast.”

His dear wife sounds a bit like me. She loves bargains and will trail from one supermarket to another if she hears of a special offer on prawns. “So we spend 70p extra on petrol to save 50p on prawns. It’s mad. To me, the point of having money is using it to save time.”

On the other hand, he always flies economy. “I’m not prepared to spend five grand extra to go first class when you don’t get there any quicker.”

Was he telling the truth about joining 14 social clubs? “All true. The average membership is only £25. It began when a friend of mine got a five-figure lump sum when his club closed. But I’m not bothered about the money. I love working men’s clubs, feel at home there. I am the quizmaster at one. They don’t care who you are as long as the questions are correct.”

This article was provided by The Wigley Family Blog