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This is an audio transcript of the Money Clinic podcast episode: Best of: Money Clinic meets Joe Lycett

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Claer Barrett
Everyone’s worried about money right now. But Money Clinic is here to help. I’m Claer Barrett, the FT’s consumer editor. Even if you don’t want to come on as a guest, we’d like to hear your ideas for money related topics you’d like to learn more about on the show. Email us via money@ft.com, and let us know what’s on your mind.

In this week’s episode of Money Clinic, we’re going to give you another chance to meet someone who’s never been shy about causing a stir. (Shredder noise) That’s the sound of the shredder in which the popular British comedian Joe Lycett apparently got rid of £10,000 in a protest against David Beckham’s reported sponsorship deal with Fifa host of the World Cup in Qatar. Joe had called on David Beckham to drop his job as a World Cup ambassador because of Qatar’s record on LGBTQ rights. Homosexuality is illegal there. When Beckham didn’t respond, Joe went ahead with his promise to destroy his own money. Except, of course, he didn’t. Joe Lycett, after all, not just a comedian, but also a consumer champion with his own long-running show on British TV. He later revealed that he’d actually donated the money he pretended to shred to LGBTQ charities. Welcome to Money Clinic, the podcast from the Financial Times about personal finance and investing. I’m Claer Barrett, the FT’s consumer editor. What you’re about to hear is my conversation with Joe Lycett here in the FT studio last year. We thought we’d rerun this episode because it’s full of useful tips from one of the UK’s biggest and funniest consumer champions. So sit back, listen, enjoy. Oh and keep a pen or pencil handy because Joe has got some great advice on how to complain effectively.

Joe Lycett
I’m thrilled to be in this sort of sci-fi building that the FT is.

Claer Barrett
How does it feel to be inside the Financial Times?

Joe Lycett
I feel like I shouldn’t be here (Claer laughs), like I’m a fraudster, like people with proper jobs sort of wandering around wondering why I’m here.

Claer Barrett
Well, you have a huge amount of respect from many of my journalistic colleagues upstairs. We think you’re like a journalist.

Joe Lycett
I find that ridiculous, but I like it . . . 

Claer Barrett
Do you?

Joe Lycett
I’ll take it.

Claer Barrett
You’ve got great results. Now, Joe Lycett’s Got Your Back, the third series, is about to kick off on Channel 4. And I described it in my Financial Times column once as being like Watchdog but on drugs, which I’m amazed that they actually printed.

Joe Lycett
Yeah.

Claer Barrett
But they did. I mean, how would you describe your show?

Joe Lycett
I once described it as a like a cross between Watchdog and RuPaul’s Drag Race. And I think that’s even more accurate for this series because we actually have two of the queens from Drag Race popping up. There’s a story that I’m sure we’ll talk about to do with Yop, the yoghurt drink. And we have Tia Kofi, who is an astounding drag queen who does a Yop mega mix in that episode.

Claer Barrett
Wow.

Joe Lycett
She’d definitely don’t get on Watchdog. It’s, it’s a sort of camp, silly, daft entertainment show with a real grounding in solid journalism and consumer affairs, I suppose.

Claer Barrett
Yeah, but I think the genius thing is that it makes it fun to watch. We’ll talk later on what’s coming up in the new series. But first, I wanted to ask you the same question that I ask everyone who comes on the Money Clinic, which is, what’s your earliest money memory?

Joe Lycett
It involves theft, actually.

Claer Barrett
Go on!

Joe Lycett
Yeah.

Claer Barrett
This is the best story we’ve probably ever had.

Joe Lycett
Well, that’s interesting. I always thought I was quite a, when people said, ask me what you really like as a kid, I always say I was very well-behaved. I just talked in class, that was. But actually I just remembered there was a game I wanted to buy. I love video games and can’t remember what it was, but I’m guessing it was PlayStation 1. Let’s say it was £20, and I had £10, but I needed another 10. And I sat in my dad’s car, and his wallet was on the side. And I was just sort of looking at it with curiosity. And then there was a crisp £10 note. So I took it, and then I bought the game and got away with it.

Claer Barrett
He didn’t ever find out.

Joe Lycett
I think, well, he didn’t ever, I was never reprimanded so probably not.

Claer Barrett
Let’s hope he doesn’t listen to the Money Clinic podcast.

Joe Lycett
Yeah. I owe you, I owe you a 10 Dad, if you’re listening.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Claer Barrett
But Joe’s natural tendency towards justice didn’t come from a consumer impulse or even a sense of thriftiness but from his upbringing in Birmingham, city of Cadbury’s chocolates.

Joe Lycett
I’m sort of weirdly not that great a complaining so I don’t, you know, I don’t kick up a fuss when I’m in a restaurant if something’s not quite right because mainly I don’t want people to like, oh that Joe Lycett’s a real strop. I just feel, I’m more, I play the long game. I can definitely do over email. But also I like, I feel like Stalin. I’ll wait 30 years and then I’ll have you. And it’s, (laughter) I’ve never compared myself to Stalin before, but I’m going to run with it. Yeah. So the kind of injustices that I definitely first felt really cross about was kind of seeing people in the working world being treated badly by the people that they were working for, essentially. A little bit with my parents because my mum worked for Cadbury’s and worked there for a long, long time. And then they were bought out by Kraft, and, you know, these executives came in and said, oh no, no one’s going to be made redundant. Everyone’s gonna be fine. It’s going to be all the same. And then obviously, you know, a year or so later down the line, redundancies all over the place. They changed things all over the place. And it just, it’s the sort of the way that corporations treat people is a real indignity to it sometimes. And obviously, companies exist solely for profit. That’s what they do. And sometimes when they get massive, particularly, the kind of a thirst for profit outweighs any kind of humanity, I suppose. And that, I think, is wrong and makes me crass.

Claer Barrett
You’re kind of like an activist investor. I don’t know if you’ve heard of ESG investing. It’s a kind of shorthand for . . . 

Joe Lycett
Ethical . . .

Claer Barrett
Ethical investing, environmental investing . . . But this is something that younger investors in particular are really keen to put their money where their mouth is . . . 

Joe Lycett
Yeah.

Claer Barrett
. . . And actually make a change with their own finances that could better the planet.

Joe Lycett
Yeah, well, I’m trying to do ESG. I didn’t know it was called ESG.

Claer Barrett
It sounds like a drug really, doesn’t it?

Joe Lycett
Yes, yeah, I’m going mad on ESG (Claer laughs). When I first started getting some telly money in, I didn’t know what to do with it, and I sort of consulted a few friends. There was one investment strategy which I thought was quite interesting, which is some, is it Ray Dalio, some all weather approach where you sort of split it between, I think you do 30 per cent in long-term bonds, 30 per cent in short-term bonds, bit on the stock market, bit in commodities, bit in gold. And the idea is that if there’s a big crash, then the other, the gold will go up and kind of take the kind of the heat out of it. And I thought, Oh, that seems interesting. But then the more I looked into that, the more I thought, Well, if I’m just buying into the stock market at large, then my money’s going into arms and all these tobacco, all these things that I don’t necessarily believe in, oil. So I explored a bit more with a financial adviser. And yeah, hopefully, I mean, it’s so difficult to tell, isn’t it, because there all these ethical funds say that they’re ethical, but I’m not checking. I haven’t got time to go through what they’re all up to so you’re sort of trusting that they, that your measure of ethical is similar to theirs. But I think it’s really good. It’s really good that it’s coming to the fore, really, because it’s, that’s the power of money, isn’t it? That if, if we all put it in certain places. I mean, the GameStop thing that happened, I loved all of that. I mean, that is sort of peak what I would want to be involved in. I bought GameStop shares and my financial advisers like, what are you doing? I was like, hold I’m holding, (chuckles) I became one of those like...

Claer Barrett
Have you still got them?

Joe Lycett
I still got them. Yeah, I am sure they’re worth dust now, but it was fun to be part of sticking it up to the man for a little while.

Claer Barrett
And that, that was why you, you bought them because you thought . . . 

Joe Lycett
Yeah.

Claer Barrett
. . . the little guy.

Joe Lycett
Yeah, basically.

Claer Barrett
 . . . fighting back against the, the big nasty hedge funds. Well, that’s interesting. You know what? I didn’t think that you would be an investor. I am pleasantly surprised that you are. I hope that you talking about it will bring it more into the mainstream.

Joe Lycett
Yeah.

Claer Barrett
Like you say, get more people aware that they can make these choices and put pressure on their companies to give them a choice in there.

Joe Lycett
It’s, that’s the thing, I just don’t know what to do with my money, really. So I’m still trusting other people. I’m single. Don’t have any kids. Live in Birmingham in a house I bought for 280 grand. Well, I don’t really buy things. I bought a Lexus feel like a prick for that. That’s, I mean, what else do I do? You know, I know, sorry, I haven’t read the Financial Times that often, but I know there’s a feature which is, isn’t it on the Weekend, it’s like How To Spend It . . . is that right?

Claer Barrett
Yes. Yes.

Joe Lycett
And it’s just for people who’ve got loads of cash to just like buy a yacht or whatever. Maybe I’ll buy a yacht. Is that a good investment?

Claer Barrett
I don’t know if it’s so much a good investment to buy a yacht. Certainly a very good way of, you know, chucking a lot of money in it.

Joe Lycett
How much is a yacht?

Claer Barrett
Oh, millions . . . Yeah, tens of tens of millions.

Joe Lycett
I’m not there yet.

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Claer Barrett
Joe’s yacht-free lifestyle hasn’t stopped him from changing the blueprint for consumer advocacy programmes and taking on big companies such as the yoghurt brand Yop. He thinks that too much emphasis is put on the consumer making the right choices and that corporations should be the ones to change their ways.

Joe Lycett
One issue actually that is key to the yacht story that I think is really important is that as consumers, we absolutely, and individuals, should be mindful of our impact on the environment. But really, the change has to come from those companies. They have to stop producing things that are bad for the environment, and it’s about putting pressure on those companies to try to be more mindful of that and more mindful of the environment. I do so slightly resent the kind of the onus being on the consumer to make the right choice because often it’s expensive to make the right choice as well. And . . . 

Claer Barrett
Yeah.

Joe Lycett
. . . not everyone has that option, and it’s a sort of this, I think it was, I kind of sound like a tosser here, but Noam Chomsky talked about this . . .

Joe Lycett
Oh who does she think she is Noam Chomsky?

Joe Lycett
Noam Chomsky talks about this sort of trick that capitalism is sort of played by telling you like, Oh, you can make a right decision if you buy this product, but it’s on you to make the decision. And actually it should be the company just doing the right thing anyway in the first place rather than giving it over as an option to you and putting all the onus on you.

Claer Barrett
Perhaps his most iconic pressure campaign against a company involved Joe completely reinventing himself by legally changing his name to Hugo Boss as he told the BBC.

Victoria Derbyshire
Good morning, Hugo Boss.

Joe Lycett
Thank you for calling me Hugo Boss. I would have to get used to it.

Victoria Derbyshire
Why have you changed your name legally?

Joe Lycett
So Hugo Boss is also a company I believe, and they, there’s a small company called Boss Brewing in Swansea, who are a little, new business and they tried to make a trademark for a couple of their beers. And Hugo Boss sent them a cease and desist letter, which is like a legal letter that basically says stop doing what they think is alleged illegal activity. And I think it’s sort of a massive company taking on a little company. And it’s not fair, and nobody’s going to confuse a beer with Hugo Boss. I don’t think I’d splash myself with Heineken in the morning on my neck, but maybe, you know, maybe I will. So I thought they clearly don’t like their name being used. They clearly, they’ve sent dozens of these to small businesses, charities. They really like . . .

Victoria Derbyshire
But what is interesting, the alleged illegal activity is use of the word boss.

Joe Lycett
Yeah.

Victoria Derbyshire
Not, not . . . the brewery in Swansea is not the Hugo Boss Brewery.

Joe Lycett
No. It’s literally Boss.

Victoria Derbyshire
It’s Boss Brewery. Boss. ah.

Joe Lycett
Yeah. So I thought about it.

Victoria Derbyshire
So no one could you use the word boss according to Hugo Boss?

Joe Lycett
No, and now I’m Hugo Boss. I’d actually prefer it if people didn’t as well. I’ve got, it’s amazing what happens when you got a man . . .

Victoria Derbyshire
(Laughs) What are they gonna do to you?

Joe Lycett
Well, yes. So I changed my name by deed poll.

Victoria Derbyshire
Yeah.

Joe Lycett
I really didn’t expect the reaction that’s happened. I didn’t expect to be here. I was in the bath an hour ago.

Victoria Derbyshire
Well, you’re very welcome.

Joe Lycett
Thank you so much.

Victoria Derbyshire
There’s the deed poll certificate showing you actually had legally change your name.

Joe Lycett
And it’s a headache, I’ve got to tell you. There’s so many things you have to do . . .

Victoria Derbyshire
Yeah. But it’s not about you.

Joe Lycett
It’s not about me.

Victoria Derbyshire
What would you want Hugo Boss to do or not do?

Joe Lycett
I would like them to stop doing this, stop sending these cease and desist letters because no one’s confusing these two things. They’re not confusing these two brands. But also I’d really like them to give the, ‘cause Boss Brewing have spent £10,000 in legal fees. They’ve had to rebrand. They’ve had to change labels. It’s been very expensive for small business so I’d like them to give them the money back, really. And also promise to stop, and an apology would be nice, Hugo. You could apologise. That’d be great.

Claer Barrett
With his unique style of consumer campaigning, Joe has also started to raise awareness around a less than glamorous utility that’s become vital during lockdown — broadband.

Joe Lycett
Well, bafflingly, this episode, we have a whole episode on, on broadband, and we created a national day just national My Broadband is Crap Day, which was celebrated around the country by many people who have crap broadband. And then, as a result of it, I ended up sort of in a discussion with Ofcom and have been appointed by Ofcom as their broadband tsar, which is a role that they’ve completely created, invented. But yes, so I’m now the broadband tsar.

Claer Barrett
Gosh, breaking news!

Joe Lycett
A tsar is born, and I’m, yeah, I’m chuffed about that. So yeah, I’m, I don’t really know what the role is about.

Claer Barrett
I was gonna say, what do you have to, what do you have to do?

Joe Lycett
It’s an unpaid role, which I’m furious about, but basically it’s about sort of promoting broadband. Essentially what the Ofcom are doing is they’re promoting how people can switch. And we had literally the head of Ofcom on the show, which is everyone at Channel 4 was quite nervous about because they didn’t really want me to piss her off. And I was sort of asking her what swear words she was going to let me slip in now as the broadband tsar when I go into television programmes. The answer is none. Yes, she had amazing tips about, I didn’t realise, you know, even your Christmas tree lights, if they’re in between your router and your, what you’re connecting with, Christmas tree lights can totally disrupt the signal. And so yes, just simple things like that. But yeah, it’s about shopping around and looking for it.

Claer Barrett
On one of your first shows, you raised awareness of something that we’ve actually covered on the podcast. This is a really nasty fraud still happening today, unfortunately. Number spoofing. When you think that your bank is phoning up. The fraudster says check the number. Looks like the bank’s number. Now you had a lovely nurse who came on your show, Claire Leslie who had lost £11,000. Now, I mean, when they played that call, the recording of the call, when she realised that she’d been scammed, you know, it was impossible really not to, to, to well up.

Joe Lycett
It’s a horrible.

Claer Barrett
Really, really horrible crime. We’ve have had Jenny, a guest on the FT Money Clinic podcast recently, exactly the same thing. Banks refusing to pay out. Now, you decided to play a spoof on the head of NatWest Bank at that time, Ross McEwan. Tell us about that.

Joe Lycett
Well, yes, she, Claire Leslie was scammed out of this cash. It came out of a NatWest account, NatWest owned by RBS. And when she appealed to them, they, essentially their argument was, well, we can’t stop people pretending to be us. See yeah. So I thought, OK, well, I’ll pretend to be you then. So I set up, fortunately, Ross McEwan didn’t have any social media, so I set up some social media for him. I made it very believable, you know, put out, essentially just retweeted NatWest and RBS stuff, just very bland, dry stuff that you can expect from a CEO of a bank.

Claer Barrett
Some of my colleagues actually followed you.

Joe Lycett
Yes, I know. Yes, we, we got quite a few FT reporters and whatever, curious about, you know, the new Ross McEwan. What might, what might he be saying? And then gradually started to say things that maybe Ross McEwan wouldn’t say, things like I’ve got a smelly bum bum . . . (Claer laughs) which became an article in the Metro newspaper that RBS boss Ross McEwan claims to have a smelly bum bum. I should point out that I sent that tweet after a few beers and was called very quickly by someone at Channel 4 and told me to delete it, which I did, but the Metro snapped it up before I . . . 

Claer Barrett
They’re very fast. Yeah

Joe Lycett
It was only up for about an hour, but that was enough. The things I do when I had a beer, changed the world (Claer laughs). And yeah, he, to his credit, can’t comment on his bum bum. I mean, this is the thing the Channel 4 lawyers are saying like, oh, you can’t say stuff if you haven’t got proof of it. And I would love to be in a court of law disputing that, disputing the, (laughs) disputing the bum bum of Ross McEwan like it would ever get to that point. And yeah, to his credit, I don’t think he directly but someone from his office, got in touch with Claire Leslie and informed her that they were giving her a full refund of the 11 grand. Sort of set a bit of a precedent. We trust them with our money, and they’re often making loads of money. They seem to be fine. You know, when you think of a banker, I don’t I don’t worry about them. They have a responsibility to provide a service that is safe and that, you know, doesn’t, isn’t vulnerable to fraud.

Claer Barrett
Joe’s own chosen career is a notoriously difficult profession when it comes to making ends meet. How did you manage the kind of precarious finances of your chosen career the earlier days?

Joe Lycett
The disparity is quite stark, really. There’s a lot of people, you know, who are really scraping away, and then there’s the few people who have kind of got profile who are doing well. And then there is or was, before Covid, this sort of middle group of people who were earning good money really from playing clubs, and you probably never heard of them unless you’re a comedy kind of connoisseur. But, you know, there’s comedy clubs up and down the country that will be paying a, you know, 500 quid for a show to two or three of those a week, decent, you know, decent salary. But I, when I started out, I was kind of juggling two jobs. So I had a little job that I worked in a theatre selling ice creams and then tiny gigs that were give me 30 quid here and there. I used to do graphic design as well so I was designing posters for people and logos, things like that. And so I was sort of making money from different places and scraping by. Definitely had a few conversations my agent was like, “Is that gig money come in because I do very much need it?” But I am wildly privileged in the fact that, I mean, Mum and Dad aren’t rich, but they, you know, live comfortable, middle class lives and definitely could bail me out. And I always knew that I could go home and, you know, sleep there. And I didn’t have to, you know, I’d always have a roof over my head. I think it’s a problem with a lot of industries, but definitely with comedy that it’s not necessarily accessible because you have to put a lot of hours in where you’re not really getting paid, not necessarily accessible to people on lower incomes and from low-income backgrounds. So yeah, kind of having done it, you know, with those unpaid spots, which you do all the time, and sometimes and I’ve really, if you’re a new comic don’t do these gigs, some clubs will get you to pay to perform or you have to kind of make sure that you bring along enough friends, whatever. No good comedy club will ever ask that of you so never accept that.

Claer Barrett
And do you have any money rules that you follow in your own life?

Joe Lycett
Yeah, but Sarah Millican has a few, what people refer to as a Millican’s Law. And one of them is if you’ve had a bad gig, you are allowed until 11am the next day to do whatever you like about it. You can wail about it. Tweet about it. Call friends. Cry. But then at 11am next day, be on to the next thing, it’s gone. But another part of that rule is if you’ve had a bad gig, spend the money on something you want. Treat yourself. And I adhere to that, very much so.

Claer Barrett
What things have you bought?

Joe Lycett
Well, I, I did a corporate. I don’t ever do corporates now because I only ever did the two. And they both didn’t sit right with me. And the first was where I had to do a gig on a flight. And I agreed to on the basis that the people on the flight would know some comedy was happening and that there would be a good speaker system. Neither of those things were true. I got on this flight between London and Edinburgh and just essentially stood up as if I was taking them hostage (Claer laughs) with this speaker that was powered by AA batteries. I was contracted to do 10 minutes, and I did 2 minutes and 43 seconds, they told me. A horrendous experience. Awful, awful experience. The payment for that was few hundred quid and flights to anywhere in the world so I took me and my friend. We went to like an American road trip with these flights, which is quite fun. And I bought myself this quite expensive necklace that had my eye on.

Claer Barrett
Aww.

Joe Lycett
So I really treated myself with that.

Claer Barrett
So what are Joe’s tips for dealing with a grievance against a company? Kick up a fuss, but choose an interesting way to do it.

Joe Lycett
I would say that, yes, you know, I do have an a high number of followers on social media, but even if you don’t, brands are scared of social media. And strangely, I think you can often have better results than calling or email if you just tweet the company publicly and say, what’s going on here? This isn’t right. A lot of them have automated systems now that sort of catch those responses and whatever. So you do still get caught up in chatting with bots, but it can be more effective. But also, I think there are a lot of resources that people not necessarily aware of, like Citizens Advice bureau and small claims court, all of these places. But I would encourage people to think outside the box as well about how to approach it. You know, is, are there ways that you can cheese off these companies that might do things that you’ve not thought of that could, could be really effective, whatever it might be?

[MUSIC PLAYING]

Claer Barrett
That’s it for Money Clinic meets with me, Claer Barrett, this week. We hope you enjoyed the interview. If you did spread the word and leave us a review. We’re always looking to chat with people about their money issues for the show. If you’re interested in being part of a future episode and are looking for some expert money advice, then email us at money@ft.com. You could also take a peek at our website ft.com/money. Grab a copy of the FT Weekend newspaper or follow me on Instagram @ClaerB. Money Clinic was produced in London by Persis Love and Josh Gabert-Doyon. Our sound engineer is Breen Turner, and our editor is Manuela Saragosa. You’ve heard original tunes this week by Metaphor Music. And finally, our usual disclaimer, the Money Clinic podcast is a general discussion around financial topics and does not constitute an investment recommendation or individual financial advice. For that, you’ll need to find an independent financial adviser. That’s the small print for now. See you back here next week. Goodbye.

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