When controversial film director and food critic Michael Winner died in January, most obituaries featured tales of the classic ‘bon viveur’s’ excess. He was keen to cultivate this image. With his directing career over by the late 1980s, Winner the restaurant critic boosted his status by feeding the press stories of his extravagance.
One favourite was how he chartered a jet to take Joan Collins and Michael Caine to Venice to celebrate his 70th birthday. Another was the £90,000 hotel bill racked up on a trip to Barbados. Winner drip-fed the public figures, boasting of £25m “stashed in the Cayman Islands”, his £60m, 47-room mansion and £3m tax settlement with the taxman.
Imagine the surprise when lawyers revealed he wasn’t as rich as he’d made out. In his final years he racked up £12m in debts to fund his lifestyle. His net assets were roughly £4.75m. Not bad, but as Roderick Gilchrist notes in the Daily Mail, “this would have made Winner, by his own extravagant standards, close to a pauper”. For those expecting “the generous bequests he always promised them, the cash had almost run out”.
Even those who did inherit were in for a shock. Winner’s widow Geraldine expected to receive £5m, plus his Kensington mansion. But the house is worth far less than Winner thought, says Dominic Kennedy in The Times. “He had been hoping to sell Woodland House for £60m, but there has been no sale yet.” Only 33 years is left on the lease and as it is owned through a company, 22% corporation tax would be due. “The banks froze everything within minutes of Michael dying,” Geraldine told the Daily Mail. “There wasn’t even any money to run the house. I had to turn the heating off in most of the rooms and switched off the lights in the grounds to save money.”
Another problem was his “habit of rewarding former girlfriends and staff with rent-free flats and cash allowances”. Ex-girlfriend actress Catherine Neilson was reportedly left her flat and £1m cash. Another ex received her flat and £600,000. Former Miss UK, Dinah May, his assistant for 35 years, received her flat and £300,000. Yet all three were shocked to receive large tax bills. The flats also had massive mortgages taken out against them.
The problem is working out who gets what from the labyrinth of “interlocking companies which owned Winner’s assets and on which he increasingly borrowed large sums of money to keep afloat”, says Gilchrist. Winner’s bravado to impress rich friends and boost his sense of worth was “like the plywood sets of his films – a carefully constructed artifice”.
Perhaps, but if Winner’s favourite females end up with £1m each, they haven’t done badly, and Winner wouldn’t be too upset. In 2008 he said, “I wish I’d borrowed more, earlier and lived a life of even greater luxury. If you spend money and as a result have a nicer day, you’re ahead of the game. You won that day.” By those standards, he probably felt he won life too.
Tabloid money: an officer and a gentleman should pay his own way
• After years of relentless rises, Britain’s families are struggling to pay their energy bills, says the Daily Mail. The last thing they need are green taxes, which add £112 to the average bill. Unfortunately, “this crisis is about to get much, much worse – with the value of these ‘perverse’ levies rocketing by 150% between now and 2020”. One of the biggest supporters of these subsidies is the Liberal Democrats. That’s ironic, because green taxes will most affect low-income households and pensioners, who they claim to want to protect. “Do these concerns not apply when it comes to politically correct policies on climate change?” Along with the commitment to increase international aid, green taxes are wrong-headed posturing the nation can’t afford.
• Some 86% of Unite union members think the £26,000 benefit cap is a good thing, says Katie Hopkins in The Sun. But one member who hasn’t got the message is leader Len McCluskey. It’s strange, because when I speak to hardworking families working long hours in tough jobs, they say the same thing: “paying out £26,000 a year to someone for doing nothing is too much”. Many of them make do with far less. After all, “you would need to be paid more than £35,000 a year to achieve take-home pay anywhere near the benefits cap”. The solution is simple – we need to lower the cap. “When the easy money dries up, those sitting at home on welfare will find that work is suddenly much less hard to find.”
• Class warfare is alive and well in the top ranks of Britain’s Army, says Kevin Maguire in the Daily Mirror. Millions are being spent so officers can live like gentlemen, while humble infantry soldiers are given their “marching orders”. The “£65.8m splashed on private school fees” for children of leading officers is an insult. “So too are staff cars, domestic staff and horses so brass hats can go for a trot”. After all, “an officer and a gentleman who snubs state schools should pay for his own children”.