The most expensive thing that artist Alison Jackson has ever bought for fun is a two-bedroom house on an idyllic Greek island. Jackson, who made a fortune investing wisely in property in London’s Chelsea in the late-1990s, told Donna Ferguson that last year was the best year of her financial life.
She now commands six-figure fees for her artwork which often features lookalikes of the Royal Family, world leaders and celebrities. Exhibit A, an exhibition of her work celebrating the Queen’s Jubilee, is currently on show in South Kensington, London.
This summer, she will be performing in a one-woman show at the Edinburgh Fringe. For more information, visit alisonjackson.com.
What did your parents teach you about money?
To rely on other people for it. My parents valued men and male succession. Growing up, I was supposed to just marry a rich husband who would look after me – financially – all my life. I went to boarding school at the age of seven and my parents actively trained me for that. As well as needlework and cooking, I was taught how to be polite and how to get in and out of Ferraris with my legs closed.
What’s interesting is that if I had married the man they had betrothed me to, he would have got millions of pounds as a dowry. But when I decided not to marry him, I didn’t get the money myself. I was taught not to have freedom and not to be independent. But I haven’t done what they have taught me. I’ve gone completely the opposite way. I like making my own money – and I value and enjoy my freedom.
Was money tight when you were growing up?
It wasn’t. I grew up in a huge house on the family estate my father had inherited. Then, he completed a major property deal and we upgraded and moved to a massive ten-bedroom house on an estate in Gloucestershire, with lots of fields.
My father collected cars – Bentleys and Rolls-Royces. He had a fleet of them. We had nannies, housekeepers, cooks and chauffeurs. So I had a taste of fantastic privilege which I am really pleased I had. But it all changed when my parents died. My brother inherited everything and I never went back to the house.
What did your parents do for a living?
My father never had a job, but he had a large estate – thousands of acres of land, a few farms and houses – and he worked at keeping the estate together and looking after all that.
He wasn’t a member of the aristocracy, but he had inherited wealth and a beautiful parkland in Hampshire, and then he did a spectacular property deal on that land. He was commercially savvy.
My mother didn’t work. She looked after my father and bred beautiful thoroughbreds mixed with Connemara horses, and had her own bloodline.
When I was 30, she broke her neck riding a horse. She became tetraplegic. But one thing she could still do was to use one hand. So even after her accident, she still lunged the horses, which was pretty amazing. She was quite a strong woman and had amazing force of character.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes, when I left home and became a receptionist at the age of 18. I worked for a film company in London and lived in my cousin’s house.
I had to pay rent, contribute to the bills and make my own way in the world. I couldn’t have whatever I wanted, I was reliant on what I could make.
There were other times in my life when I didn’t have any money, such as when I was an art student in my 30s. But looking back now, I think I struggled the most when I was 18.
Have you ever been paid silly money?
No, never. That’s the thing about money – it’s never enough. You always want more.
The highest fee I’ve ever received for one of my artworks was £100,000 – it was for a platinum sculpture of the Queen I made for her Platinum Jubilee. It took me nearly a year to complete it.
What was the best year of your financial life?
Last year. As well as making my sculpture of the Queen, I had a lot of photography exhibitions around the world and I was paid a five-figure sum by a brand to make a series of photographs of Putin, Trump and Merkel lookalikes.
I also made an edible marshmallow version of Kim Kardashian. You could take a bite of her backside. That sold for a lot of money.
The most expensive thing you have bought for fun?
It was a two-bedroom house on a Greek island. I’d rather not say how much I paid for it or where it is. But it’s right on the water and it’s incredibly beautiful. You come out the front door and dive into the sea.
As an artist, I need space in order to create things and I try to provide the right environment that suits my thought process.
The best money decision you have made?
Buying a one-bedroom house in London’s Chelsea in the late 1990s for not very much money. It was like a barn with a 40ft high ceiling, two gardens and a roof terrace. The bedroom was on a mezzanine floor and I built a little office on the other side of the mezzanine. It was just gorgeous. Julian Fellowes once said it was the most beautiful house in London.
I sold it a few years later for a lot of money. It had more than quadrupled in value. I regret selling it, but I wanted to have my Greek island house. I now live in a one-bedroom flat in Chelsea, which I bought about ten years ago.
Do you save into a pension or shares?
No, definitely not. It’s not my style. I’m an artist, not a broker. And I’m not so good with money. If I was sensible, I probably would.
What is the one luxury you treat yourself to?
Fresh flowers. I spend between £50 and £60 every week on a huge bouquet for my home. I typically buy eucalyptus, lilies and roses.
If you were Chancellor, what would you do?
Money for arts and culture is really lacking. So I’d provide more funding for public art that recognises our heritage and brings it to life – and support local artists who can be art ambassadors and nurture creativity, particularly in schools.
I love the rotating sculpture at Trafalgar Square and I think it would be a good idea to have one or two in every London borough.
Do you donate money to charity?
Yes I do, but mainly pictures. I’m an ambassador for the Spinal Injuries Association, motivated by my mother’s injuries. I also do workshops with local youth clubs teaching photography and run photography competitions for disadvantaged and vulnerable people.
What is your number one financial priority?
To make enough money to keep a roof over my head and have enough to eat. I don’t need a luxurious life, I just need a life that’s comfortable and permits me to survive.