Jonathan Biggins on pandemics and The Gospel According to Paul

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Jonathan Biggins is an actor, writer, satirist, and comedian, and is responsible for the Wharf Revue.

Biggins had begun touring his Paul Keating one-man show The Gospel According to Paul, in which he is said to 'out-Keater Keating', around regional NSW in early 2020 when COVID-19 hit.

During lockdown he wrote for last year's Wharf Revue, and performed in the two-man show, No Cabaret for Old Men, which was streamed online.  

jonathan biggins wharf revue
Photo: Jonathan Biggins in the Sydney Theatre Company's Wharf Revue 2020. Photo: Brett Boardman.

Obviously, 2020 was hard for anyone in the entertainment business. What was your experience? Have you seen any silver linings?

It was dreadful. We were at Glen Street Theatre [on Sydney's Northern Beaches] performing at the start of a six-month tour of The Gospel According to Paul. The weekend that restrictions were being announced we had 125 'no shows' for the Saturday matinee, and then it was completely shut down on the Monday. The tour was cancelled and nothing much happened until we started rehearsing for the Revue except for a couple of live-streams from Parramatta and Sydney. I also managed to write a few things.

Thank goodness for JobKeeper. I felt very sorry for all the actors who couldn't get JobKeeper or JobSeeker and had families. I don't know how they managed it.

The silver lining was that because working in theatre means very antisocial hours - eight shows a week, working nights and days not normal - it was nice to have some nights off and be fairly quiet. As the lockdown eased it was quite pleasant and, money aside, it was quite nice. Some people say it was a creative time. I wrote an adaptation of the Canterville Ghost, by Oscar Wilde, and had a reading. It still needs a lot of work.

What was your first job?

I was in a pantomime when I was 16. We were supposed to get paid but the producer ran off with the money. And then my first paid job was working in a pub in a kitchen in Cambridge, England. I couldn't work in the front of the pub because I was under 18 so I was a kitchen porter.

What's the best money advice you've ever received?

The usual - pay off your mortgage - although I did go and see my accountant and we thought about financial planning, although we then figured out we didn't have enough money to plan. Also, always pay your credit card in full. I've never had a credit card debt.

What's the best investment decision you've made?

They say never put your money into the show, but I invested with my co-producer in the one-man show, The Gospel of Paul. We bankrolled it and at last count had returned 500% on our initial investment. By far and away that's been my best investment. It wasn't a very big initial investment but it was the most efficient.

What's the worst investment decision you've made?

Probably putting money into another show. I have some money currently in Back to the Future in the UK which opened in Manchester to great reviews and then COVID happened. We were then hoping to remount it in the West End, but now the West End is in lockdown again. I also bought shares in HIH which went down. Most of the advice I get for shares, tanks. Being freelance my whole life I'm fairly cautious about money but I have enough put aside for rainy weeks, not just rainy days. I also find it's much better to be a more generous person than not.

What is your favourite thing to splurge on?

Paintings - they're my big-ticket items because I don't buy much else, and travel, although I'm not spending on that right now.

If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?

Woolworths shares - people have got to eat.

What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?

Apart from panic, leave it there and wait for the 0.1% interest to accrue.

Do you intend to leave an inheritance?

I said to my children the other day, you'll get something, but I don't expect to get anything from my parents, I want them to spend whatever to make themselves comfortable. I can't believe that I'm having that conversation with my children now because we never spoke about it with my parents - I didn't even know where their wills were.

What do you find funny about money?

I always agree with Spike Milligan, money doesn't make you happy but it does allow you to be miserable in more exotic locations.

Would you like to see any changes with the way people look at money post-COVID?

I don't like the move away from cash. I think that people cede a lot of financial power to banks and credit companies, and I think small merchants pay for that. I don't think COVID transmission is greater on notes, but it's handy for everyone to go cashless and part of that is the tracking of what you spend, when you spend it and where you spend it and banks becoming the middleman between the mint and the consumer. Post-COVID, I don't think we should be moving away from people having autonomy of their own tender independent of a third party.

Finish this sentence: money makes...
... the world go round both, forwards and backwards.

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Julia Newbould is the managing editor of Money magazine and is one of the hosts of the Friends With Money podcast. She was previously editor of Financial Planning and Super Review magazines; managing editor at InvestorInfo and at Morningstar Australia. Julia co-authored The Joy of Money, a book on women and personal finance. She holds a Bachelor of Economics from the University of Sydney where she serves on the alumni council.