I’m now a bona fide TV star!
If you’ve made plans to go out on Wednesday night, cancel them NOW … or at least set your recordable DVD - not that I have a clue how mine works - for the TV programme of the year.
I might be over-egging this one but it’s only because I’m so excited about my reality TV debut, Secret Millionnaire, on Channel 4. The premise is that I go under cover, working for the minimum wage, and then at the end of it all, give £30,000 to the people I find most deserving and most in need of a few thousand quid.
It feels like ages ago I was packed off to Cornwall to work for the minimum wage for 10 days. It was actually back in June, and the experience of living in a caravan and doing difficult and exhausting work for basic pay has changed me forever.
I'm no stranger to being poor - I built my businesses up from nothing - but it made me think hard about quality of life, friends and family.
I arrived in Cornwall penniless, like any travelling job seeker, and took up residence in a caravan - scrounging tea bags and milk, and bread and butter from my neighbours on the site until I could earn some money - being filmed all the while.
First I got a job delivering meals on wheels, which I really liked - chatting to all my customers and hearing their stories. My first day’s pay was £36. I needed £20 to pay for my caravan which left me a few quid to buy spuds and baked beans for tea. It’s a good job I’m not a drinker because my wages wouldn’t have gone very far in the pub.
My next job was in a nursing home, caring for elderly people. It was hard, physical work but as you know I’m a people person so I loved getting to know the residents. It made me think about how the elderly get neglected in society and how many don't seem to have many friends around them in their final years.
Finally I had a stint in a chip shop peeling the potatoes and putting them through the slicing machine. Down in Cornwall I was horrified to find they put the fish in the tray first and the chips on top.
By the end of my adventure, I really liked my caravan, despite its rubbish cold shower. The programme crew had booked me a five-star hotel to celebrate the end of filming but I didn’t care, I just wanted to stay on the campsite with my new pals.
The experience made me decide to enjoy life, relax more, and make sure I appreciate my friends and family and spend more time with them. It’s a principle I’ve been sticking to since the summer and I’m really glad I’ve made that commitment.
I’ve also started going to the gym with a personal trainer, my shirts are fastening nicely and I feel great - I want to stay fit and healthy for as long as I can in life. Seeing people who are frail or in poor health made me realise just how lucky I am.
Now me and a couple of the other millionaires are trying to set up some visits to schools to talk to children about how anyone can make it in life, no matter what your background or your skills. I’ll tell you more about that when it all gets under way!
When all the neighbours knew each other
I gave an interview the other day to a journalist working for a new magazine aimed at housing professionals who work at councils and housing associations.
They wanted inspirational stories from people who grew up on social estates and landed on me. I was only too happy to help.
I grew up on the Wyther estate in Bramley, Leeds, and I was surprised, when I started talking about it, how many good things I had to say about those days.
My family lived in Raynville Crescent and I knew absolutely everyone on the street, I can still reel off their names and their house numbers.
The reporter wanted to know, was there a lot of crime? Well, no, there wasn’t because no-one had anything to pinch. We didn’t all have houses full of huge plasma screen TVs and expensive computer equipment back in those days.
Our house was the scruffiest in the street, I was always embarrassed to bring my friends round and no-one believes me when I say we were so poor we went without electricity for two years.
Though I don’t want to sound ‘oh, it was terrible for me’, I remember we used to pay our next door neighbour £5 to run a power cable from their house to ours. It shows how different times were.
The whole area has been done up now but our old house is still standing and it doesn’t look much different.
I’ve never lived anywhere else where I got to know everyone like that - I can’t even remember who lived around us at half the addresses we’ve been at. It’s only in the last seven years or so that Michael and I have had money so we really appreciate what that brings - though I honestly don’t think I’d have too much of a problem moving back to an estate tomorrow!
I’m now a bona fide TV star!