Ex-rugby star Ollie Phillips talks to ME & MY MONEY

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Challenge: Ollie Phillips has raised £3million for good causes since 2015

Challenge: Ollie Phillips has raised £3million for good causes since 2015

The biggest money mistake the former rugby union player Ollie Phillips ever made was to trust fraudsters who were running a property investment company. 

Millions of pounds of mortgage debt were fraudulently taken out in his name by the scammers, who were eventually sent to prison. The fraud cast a cloud over Phillips’ life for years and prevented him from accessing any credit, he told Donna Ferguson. 

After retiring from rugby, he founded Optimist Performance, a leadership and motivational business. Now 39, he lives in Henley-on-Thames with his wife Lucy and their three young children. 

What did your parents teach you about money? 

The importance of making it. My dad was a second-hand car dealer and a landlord – he’s a self-made bloke who did well after leaving school at 15. My mum was a stay-at-home mum until my parents divorced when I was ten. Then she became a bit of a Del Boy, running all sorts of businesses to make ends meet – from horse race tipping to a sunbed salon. 

Was money tight while you were still at home? 

Until I was ten years old, life was comfortable. But after my parents divorced, it became more challenging. My mother was brilliant at shielding me and my brother from the situation. I had a really great education – thanks to a sports scholarship I was privately educated at a good school. 

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet? 

Yes. When I graduated from university, I turned down lucrative job offers from management consultancies to play professionally for Newcastle Falcons. The head coach gave me the opportunity after seeing me play in three academy games where I happened to score a hat trick each time. He offered me £600 a month. Money was tight. I had to buy all my boots and kit on that salary, as well as pay for all my food and rent. Food was expensive because when you’re training, you eat three times more than average. Luckily, within six months I’d been selected for England and was able to renegotiate my contract. 

Have you ever been paid silly money? 

Yes, I was once paid £25,000 to give an hour-long talk to a company about my experiences as England rugby sevens captain and the series of challenges I have faced for charitable causes. Since retiring from rugby, I have sailed around the world, climbed Kilimanjaro, ridden a rickshaw across India, and cycled across America, the UK and Ireland. I’ve set four world records, including one at the North Pole and two up on Everest, all for charity. I have raised nearly £3million for good causes since 2015. 

What was the best year of your financial life? 

It was 2019 when I sold a Banksy print. Four years earlier, I had won the print by the street artist in a raffle, for which I’d paid £500 for a ticket.

In 2019, I was getting married and the market for Banksy’s artwork was hot. So I sold it for £85,000. 

What is your biggest money mistake? 

Trusting some property investment fraudsters in 2007. My club used to get sponsorship deals, and one was with a company called North East Property Buyers. I got to know and trust some of the people who ran the company. They used to give me the keys to their Aston Martin DB9 occasionally. I even went on holiday with them. So when I decided to buy a property, I asked them for help. They said they would look after me. Then I went off on tour with England for three or four months. 

When I came back, I discovered they had bought 30 buy-to-let properties on my behalf – borrowing £6.5million in my name to do so. 

I later discovered they were buying properties in bulk from housebuilders at a massive discount. They then sold them at more than the market price, with a 90 or even 100 per cent mortgage attached to them. They made a fortune by pocketing the difference between the price they bought and sold the properties for. 

They had forged my signature and committed mortgage fraud in my name. When I found out, I went to the police and they asked me to be the lead witness in a prosecution. I was just one of the victims of what ended up being the largest ever housing scandal in the North East, involving 2,500 homes. There was a civil and a criminal case, and they got put in prison in October 2015.

What impact did it have on your finances? 

I was in my mid-20s, earning £40,000 a year, and the mortgage payments on those 30 properties came to £25,000 a month. Obviously, I immediately defaulted on them. I couldn’t and I didn’t want to pay it as I didn’t know anything about those properties. 

Even though there was an ongoing police investigation, I was getting up to 150 calls a day from the banks because I was in arrears on all those mortgages. It was massively stressful. Financially, it was a nightmare. I couldn’t buy a house or lease a car. I couldn’t even get a credit card because there were so many black marks on my credit record. 

Top career: Ollie played for England and Newcastle Falcons

Top career: Ollie played for England and Newcastle Falcons 

Bizarrely, I played the best rugby of my life in 2008 and 2009. That is when I got voted the best player in the world, for example. I think rugby was an outlet for me, where I could channel all my energy and anger. Every time I went on the rugby field, nothing else mattered, and so I felt this massive sense of release. 

It was only after the criminal case got decided in 2015 that the banks started to listen and treat me as a victim. But it took a further four years to get all of them to remove their credit marks against me and accept I owed them nothing.

The best money decision you have made? 

Investing in a friend’s medicinal cannabis business in 2013. I bought £12,000 of shares and then two years later, after the business was purchased by a major company, sold them for £115,000. 

The most expensive thing you bought for fun? 

A classic car for £15,000, two years ago. It’s a red, soft-top 1971 Jensen Healey. I love driving it. 

Do you invest in a pension or the stock market? 

I invest in a pension. I started when I began playing rugby professionally, aged 20. I have used my pension to invest in commercial property funds, when I couldn’t invest in physical property myself. 

Do you own any property? 

Yes, my wife and I do. Our home is a four-bedroom house on the river in Henley-on-Thames which we bought 18 months ago for £665,000. We have since spruced it up and got planning permission to do a big extension, but have decided to move instead. With a four and a two-year-old, and a seven-month-old baby, we don’t think the building work would be worth the hassle. So we recently put it on the market and it was valued at £900,000. I think the trend for flexible working is one reason its value has gone up – people are happier to live 40 minutes out of London. 

We also own 16 buy-to-let properties, which we have acquired since 2019 at a cost of around £1.8million. Now they are worth over £2million. They are all houses in Newcastle, near where I used to live when I was earning £600 a month. 

If you were Chancellor what is the first thing you’d do? 

If I was Rishi Sunak, the first thing I would do would be to take a loan of money off my wife! [Akshata Murty has a £690million stake in Infosys, the IT services firm founded by her father]. Then I would cut VAT on energy bills to zero. The cost of living is spiralling and I think that would help. 

What is your number one financial priority? 

To achieve financial freedom. I would like to be in a position where I have an income from my property investments that generates between £12,000 and £15,000 a month. I’m probably two-thirds of the way towards achieving that goal. 

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