‘The fear of money vanishing has stayed with me all my life’

Mackenzie Thorpe

Mackenzie Thorpe says he draws a ‘relatively modest’ salary and annual dividend from his company. Photograph: David Myers Photography

Name: Mackenzie Thorpe
Age: 63
Income: £55,000 to £65,000 a year
Occupation: Artist, Hove, Sussex

My approach to money has been shaped by when I was in my late 20s and I risked everything to try and achieve my dream of becoming a full-time artist and open a gallery in North Yorkshire. We did zero research and we nearly lost everything. Suddenly we were struggling to pay the rent, brown envelopes containing red demand letters arrived daily and there were times when we literally had no money for food. To this day the awful fear of money vanishing at an accelerated speed stays with me.

Eventually we managed to turn things around, with my wife, Susan, and I taking multiple jobs including cleaning, waiting tables, night shifts and newspaper delivery.

I first started selling original pieces and today my art is sold around the world, with my prints starting from about £450 and originals starting from £10,000.

When it comes to bills, I don’t have a clue: Susan sorts all that out. I don’t use technology; I’ve never turned a computer on. I know we paid off our mortgage years ago.

I’m not really a spender. I asked my daughter what she thought I spent my money on, and she replied “not electricity”. I still go around turning off the lights, I hate waste. I’m not into fancy things: I had mashed potato for dinner.

I’ve flown so much, it doesn’t excite me any more. I don’t have big expectations. I prefer simpler things. I’d rather have a tin of beans and watch an old John Wayne film. As long as we’re safe and comfortable, that’s what’s important.

I do like to spend my money on good art materials such as handmade pastels with a high density of natural pigment.

One indulgence I do enjoy is occasionally splashing out in a nice restaurant. I can feel a bit uncomfortable spending so much on a meal, but I totally respect and appreciate the skill, time and vision that goes into producing a plate of food that looks like a work of art and tastes like heaven.

After a lot of deliberating and soul searching, a few years ago my wife took out private health insurance for both of us. Within around two months, I had a perforated bowel; the wonderful NHS saved my life and, in the process, discovered I had bowel cancer. The insurance covered my chemotherapy and while the consultant assured me the treatment I would get privately would be exactly the same as on the NHS, he said it would relieve pressure on the system and if I had insurance, then I should use it, so that is what I did. I remain grateful that we took out the private health care, while also acknowledging that I am extremely lucky. I now provide private health insurance for members of staff who want it.

Over the years I have supported many charities. I feel I have a moral duty to do this and am thrilled when one of my pieces raises money for a deserving charity.

I grew up in Middlesbrough and will always fly the flag for the town, which has struggled economically since the industry of the area went. Last year we celebrated 30 years since I took the leap of faith to be a full-time artist; the gallery in North Yorkshire remains open and I exhibit my work internationally. I marked the event by developing a sculpture called Waiting for Me Dad and cast it in bronze; it was placed next to Middlesbrough’s Transporter bridge in honour of the men and women who made my town great.

I have made some irresponsible decisions and won’t be making any impulsive moves again. I take a relatively modest salary and annual dividend from my company and am focused on making sure we have a solid financial foundation under our feet. We have paid off our mortgage, and we have a property we rent out, and pensions and Isas and premium bonds which will hopefully give us security in old age. With a bit of luck there will be some left for our children and grandchildren. I don’t intend to retire fully: I will always paint, sculpt and create.