Jenny Eclair: Why I'm mean - and extravagant

Comedian Jenny Eclair shocked Mark Anstead with her brand of brutal honesty

Like many comics, Jenny Eclair narrates her own life like a stand-up routine. I find myself repeatedly wondering whether she's joking or just being searingly honest as she spews out her particular brand of dark humour.

"I suffer from shopping bulimia," she says. "It's a real syndrome - it's where you buy things and then take them straight back as a kind of regurgitation.

"I'm a mix of horrible meanness, tightfistedness, and bizarre extravagance. I've inherited the Protestant work ethic from my father, who was an army major, but my mother never worked a day in her idle life. The fact that she has a full-length caliper on her leg is no excuse."

The bottle-blonde Eclair, once dubbed Britain's most outrageous woman and the only female to win the coveted Perrier Award for comedy, is best known for her scurrilous stand-up routines.

But as a freelance performer and writer she knows her supply of money could dry up overnight. So she makes sure she has a variety of other strings to her bow - from voiceovers and writing newspaper articles and novels to touring in the occasional play and sitting in for Sandi Toksvig on LBC Radio.

Intensely competitive, she feels neurotic if her earnings don't match up to the previous year and she says she's haunted by the experience of a friend who is also freelance, who earned £80,000 one year and £8,000 the next.

"To make matters worse I feel guilty if I've been hugely paid for a job that didn't go well," she laughs. "I recently gave an after-dinner speech for some homeopaths and I started the speech by saying I had thought a homeopath was a gay serial killer. It went downhill from then on - nobody laughed for the entire 25 minutes.

"I remember sending half the fee back and pretending I was going to donate the other half to charity, which obviously I didn't."

In contrast to many celebrities, Jenny went from a financially secure childhood to an insecure adulthood. Her parents lived in a six-bedroom house in Manchester, but were parsimonious enough to bring her up in hand-me-down clothes that were either too tight or gave her rashes.

Although they taught her valuable financial lessons - such as the wisdom of avoiding credit cards and hire purchase - she blames their stinginess for her ambivalence about spending now.

"Even when I was unemployed, when I was 22, I employed a cleaner. That's how much I hate cleaning. I just used to nick a fiver out of my boyfriend Geoff's wallet to pay her - what's his is mine, and what's mine is mine."

Geoff, a former art director at the TV Times, is her partner of the past 17 years but she spurns the idea of a joint bank account because, she says, "it's like sharing pants - you just don't." Geoff recently took early retirement and went into developing property - his most recent project is expanding their four-bedroom house in Camberwell.

"He's even more extravagant than me in his eccentric way," she says. "He didn't want to buy a white van for his renovating so he used his Bentley to carry cement for our house - broke the suspension, of course."

Now aged 45, with a 15-year-old daughter, Phoebe, Jenny is concerned about building more financial security for the future. However, she admits: "I'm disappointed by all my Peps and Tessas. My accountant makes me lob money in once a year, but if somebody tries to explain it to me I get bored stupid.

"I don't have a pension, and that sometimes makes me feel like I'm going to be sick," she confesses. "We bought a Nicola Hicks charcoal drawing some years ago which cost about £2,000 - I reckon it's worth £3,000 now. I'd rather have that on my wall than a Pep.

"And as far as sorting out my tax liability, someone suggested to me that I set myself up as a limited company once. I think I probably dislocated my jaw yawning."

How she spends it

Lottery: if she won £5m, she'd give £5,000 to charity and spend £5,000 immediately on clothes and shoes. She'd pay off the mortgage (around £30,000), buy a Mercedes for herself and a new Bentley for Geoff, put £1m in trust for Phoebe, and give the rest to Geoff to invest in his business. She'd also consider plastic surgery.

Best buy: a £300 pair of mock croc boots. "They make me just squirm with enjoyment every time I see them on my legs."

Worst buy: door handles so cheap she couldn't open the doors with them - a lesson in false economy.

Tipping: she doesn't tip as a matter of course but has been known to tip taxi drivers up to £20 after a night out when she's come back tipsy. She refused to tip at all at Gordon Ramsay's restaurant because she says a sandwich there cost her around £25.

First job: 80p an hour in Boots stacking the sanitary towels shelf 30 years ago.

· Jenny Eclair's second novel, Having a Lovely Time, is out now priced £10.99

Mark Anstead

The GuardianTramp

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