Money's nice but it really isn't everything

With the credit crunch and fuel prices dominating the headlines, so many people have been asking for my thoughts recently about whether money really does make you happy.

Transport Minister Tom Harris has sparked off a huge debate with his message that the British public should stop being so miserable and stop moaning about the rising cost of living and fall in house prices.

I’ve been questioning my own lifestyle in the light of these comments and thinking back to the days when I lived in poverty to ask myself whether I’m happier now than I was when struggling to make ends meet.

When I first set up home with Michael we had loads of arguments about money, which was spending more than the other and he would moan about what I spent it on. We accounted for every penny and didn’t waste it as being from very poor backgrounds we appreciated how hard we had to work to earn a decent living.

Even since we’ve been successful in business, and become financially very comfortable those values have never left us. Although we live in a Castle, we are still very cost conscious and try not to fritter it away. Sometimes I think we have brainwashed our staff with this philosophy �" our Housekeeper Sharon only buys cheap brand cleaning products and uses cloths with holes in them as she doesn’t want to waste our money. I think she’s going to the unnecessary extremes though!

The happiness that money brings me is that I can treat my family and friends whenever I want, go on holiday when and more or less where I want and buy designer clothes and a nice car. It’s given me more freedom and taken the pressure off than I used to feel when I didn’t have the money for rent, never mind luxuries.

But it wouldn’t stop me from working, as I still don’t have the security so I could retire now and afford to support myself for the rest of my life. Of course if someone were to make me an offer and buy my businesses, I could put a lump sum in the bank and live off the interest, but I’d probably get bored of not working.

For me personally, given my Mum’s ill health, I would do anything to keep her well but no amount of money can cure the incurable and I’m sure there are millions of people who feel the same. There has been so much press recently about cancer sufferers wanting to pay for their treatment because how ever much you have in the bank, without your health you struggle to find happiness.

Even if I lost every penny I have, I know that my family and close friends will always love me and I’ll love them. We loved each other before the money came along and that love is not dependent on material things (they are probably reading this now and worrying I’ve lost the plot, my Sister will be phoning me to go shopping any minute in case it’s her last chance!)

But seriously, I think that acts of kindness can bring as much happiness as money, and give you lasting feelings of satisfaction and pleasure which money can only temporarily fix. Being on Secret Millionaire taught me that, and the people I helped have become true friends since �" not because they feel obliged to but because they are the type of people I look up to and deserve kindness.

A couple of people have left a lasting impression on me in recent weeks which deserve a mention. At Leeds Station, I was seeing a friend off but didn’t have a platform ticket; the guard waved me past and told me not to worry. My friend wanted a magazine so we walked back through the barrier to the newsagent then returned via the guard who let me through without a ticket a second time. There are so many jobs worth people I meet, I was touched by what he’d done so decided to buy the guard a large bar of chocolate to thank him. He was absolutely amazed when I gave it to him but very grateful. Just buying him that chocolate and seeing the pleasure it brought him put me in a great mood for the rest of the day.

My sister was in a queue at the hospital when a lady wearing hijab swapped places in the queue with her partner who had been sat down, so she could go and move her car. A man in the queue behind shouted at her partner angrily as he jumped to the conclusion he was pushing in and told him to go to the back of the queue. My Sister stood up for the couple and clarified the situation. When the lady returned, she bought my sister a packet of mints to thank her. Just that small token was enough to make my Sister fill up with tears at the gesture and she felt good that she’d spoken out against the man who had judged the situation wrongly.

For me happiness is the journey not the destination, and yes money does help but it shouldn’t be your only goal in life.

A High Profile Divorce

I was disappointed to learn of the first celebrity gay divorce since the law changed in 2005. Little Britain star Matt Lucas and his partner Kevin McGee have announced their amicable separation.

Unfortunately it’s reticent of so many high profile relationships which hit the rocks and the headlines all too often.

Matt and Kevin were married in 2006 at a star-studded pantomimed themed ceremony with Matt dressed as Aladdin and Kevin as Prince Charming, but clearly his £15 million fortune hasn’t been enough to keep that celebrity couple happy.

My friend the comedian, Alan Carr told me that he struggles to maintain relationships because of his work and his social life really suffers. The attention that celebs receive must also be hard for some partners to cope with. I know that my partner Michael who prefers to be out of the limelight, quite often has a dig at me because I enjoy our minor celebrity status.

There are many people who do make it work, Elton John and his partner David Furnish enjoy a long term successful relationship, however I think too many people throw in the towel when the romance dies down. I was once told that if you put a penny in a jar for every time you make love in the first 6 months of a relationship and take a penny out every time you make love from 6 months onwards the jar will never be empty. Perhaps those who advocate open relationships where they keep experiencing the romance but have the security and stability of a long term companion are the ones with full jars?