Musician Sacha Puttnam’s biggest money mistake was leaving rock band Bush before they made it big and sold 50million records.
The son of award-winning film producer Lord Puttnam was a teenager at boarding school when his father made Chariots Of Fire. After leaving Bush, he wrote and scored music for numerous prestigious films.
Sacha spoke to Donna Ferguson from his home in West London. His new album with the Classical Film Orchestra, Spirit Of The Cinema, is out now.
Hope: Sacha Puttnam says royalties are his pension
What did your parents teach you about money?
That it is a lubricant. You use it to educate yourself and get more work. My father had a photography business before he became a film producer, so I grew up surrounded by models and photographers.
Mum looked after us children. She was only 17 and my dad was 20 when they had my sister – I think my parents had a shotgun marriage. Money was tight. We never went without a meal but were taught not to use the phone or the heating when we didn’t need to. They were frugal.
When did their financial situation change?
It was around the time my father produced the film Midnight Express. My parents suddenly had different friends who advised I should be sent to boarding school at 13, which I hated. I also felt abandoned because I was in England and my parents were 5,000 miles away in Los Angeles. It changed me. It was a defining moment of my life.
By the time dad was producing Chariots Of Fire, we were living in Queen’s Gate Place Mews in South Kensington where the average property today is worth around £3million.
My father is now in the House of Lords. He had a fantastic time making films so I think my mum probably misses the glamour of the film industry a little bit. But he’s a good lord and the position could not have gone to a better person – his wisdom is quite staggering. He attends debates as well – his record is superb. I think there’s a lot of peers who don’t turn up and I know that bugs him.
Sacha Puttnam playing with band Bush in 2001
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes – in the mid-1990s when I was in my early 30s. For years, I’d been working as a musician in a band with my best friend Gavin Rossdale.
We had managed to get a record deal when we were 19 and spent our early 20s touring the world. But there was a moment when it seemed we weren’t getting anywhere.
So in 1988, I left the band and went to study music in America. That band went on to become Bush and sell 50million albums. Meanwhile, I found myself freelancing and struggling to make ends meet. I would get paid per bar of music I wrote and sometimes I’d earn just £100 per job.
Once, I had literally a fiver to last me all weekend. I went to Sainsbury’s and picked out a tin of its own brand baked beans, a loaf of bread and a dozen eggs. And that saw me through until Monday.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
Absolutely not. I never earned silly money with Bush because I jumped ship too early. I did go on tour with the band and played keyboards for about four years, but I was always a hired hand.
The silliest money I ever earned was for composing and producing some music for a French film. Two years later, I got an unexpected cheque for £5,000 on top of the fee I had been paid.
The film had been on general release and the Performing Rights Society had collected royalties on my behalf. I used them to pay down my overdraft.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2003. For the first half of the year I toured with Bush and because they paid my hotel bills and I often ate with the band, I didn’t have to pay for much myself. It meant I could save my ‘per diems’. Then, when I came back, I got commissioned to write and produce the music for a couple of big commercials. Finally, that was the year I got a record deal with EMI for an album called Remasterpiece.
Sacha and his wife have a two-bedroom house in West London
The most expensive thing you bought for fun?
My piano. It’s a Steck upright felt piano and cost about £3,000. It has this lovely soft sound which, when it’s recorded, is very contemporary.
What is your biggest money mistake?
Leaving Bush in 1988. Obviously that was a terrible decision. By 1994, Bush was the number one band in America, Australia and South America. If I had stayed, I would have made millions. Instead, I started touring with them in 1999 for £900 a month.
The best money decision you have made?
Without a shadow of a doubt, marrying my wife. As soon as I married her, my income increased considerably. She’s my agent and she’s not scared of having difficult conversations about money.
Do you save into a pension?
No. My royalties will be my pension. What I try to do is make sure my work is good and the paperwork is tied up tight so I get paid the royalties I’m owed. I agree with something my mother used to say to me: you’ve got to live your life like you’re running from a hungry lion. I would rather enjoy the present than worry about getting old. Given everything that’s going on now, I’m thankful I’m still alive.
Do you invest directly in the stock market?
No. I wouldn’t know where to start. I don’t understand it. It’s not for me.
Do you own any property?
Yes, my wife and I have a lovely two-bedroom house in West London which I reckon is worth about £700,000. My wife bought it five years ago and I’d estimate it’s gone up around £200,000 in value since then. There’s a little studio in the garden which is where I record my music.
If you were Chancellor, what would you do?
I would increase funding in the arts to ensure everyone has access to music and the creative arts. I would also funnel money into arts education, giving children – who are our future – the opportunity to participate, whatever their circumstances.
What is your number one financial priority?
To be happy and earn enough for me and my wife to live on. Money isn’t a priority – if I had a lot of it I’d just give it away.
Some links in this article may be affiliate links. If you click on them we may earn a small commission. That helps us fund This Is Money, and keep it free to use. We do not write articles to promote products. We do not allow any commercial relationship to affect our editorial independence.