Former rugby star Ollie Phillips speaks to ME & MY MONEY

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

The biggest financial mistake former rugby union player Ollie Phillips ever made was trusting scammers who ran a property investment company.

Millions of dollars in mortgage debt were fraudulently taken on in his name by the scammers who ended up in prison. The scam marred Phillips’ life for years and prevented him from accessing loans, he told Donna Ferguson.

After retiring from rugby, he founded Optimist Performance, a leadership and motivational company. The 39-year-old 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 doing it. My father was a used car dealer and landlord – he’s a self-made guy who was good after high school at 15. My mother was a housewife 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 tipping horse races to running a tanning salon.

Was money tight when you were still at home?

Life was easy until I was ten years old. But after my parents divorced, it got harder. My mother was brilliant at protecting me and my brother from the situation. I had a really great education – thanks to a sports scholarship I was privately tutored at a good school.

Ever had trouble making ends meet?

Yes. After graduating from university, I turned down lucrative job offers from management consultancies to play professionally for the Newcastle Falcons. The head coach gave me the opportunity after seeing me in three academy games where I scored a hat-trick every time. He offered me £600 a month. Money was tight. I had to buy all my boots and gear from that salary, as well as pay for all my food and rent. The food was expensive because when you train you eat three times as much as average. Luckily I was selected for England within six months and was able to renegotiate my contract.

Have you ever been paid stupid money?

Yes, I was once paid £25,000 to give a one-hour interview to a company about my experience as captain of the English rugby seven and the range of challenges I have taken on for charity. Since retiring from rugby, I’ve sailed around the world, climbed Kilimanjaro, pedicabed across India and cycled across America, Britain and Ireland. I’ve set four world records, including one at the North Pole and two on Everest, all for charity. Since 2015 I have raised nearly £3million for good causes.

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 street artist’s print in a raffle for which I paid £500 a ticket.

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

What’s your biggest money mistake?

I trusted some real estate investment scammers in 2007. My club used to have sponsorship deals and one was with a company called North East Property Buyers. I have met and trusted some of the people who have run the company. They occasionally gave me the keys to their Aston Martin DB9. I even went on vacation with them. When I decided to buy a property, I asked her for help. They said they would take care of me. Then I went on tour with England for three or four months.

When I came back I found they had bought 30 rental properties on my behalf – and borrowed £6.5m on my behalf.

I later discovered that they were buying properties in bulk from builders at a massive discount. They then sold them at more than the market price, with a mortgage of 90 or even 100 percent. They made a fortune pocketing the difference between the price they bought and sold the properties for.

They forged my signature and committed mortgage fraud on my behalf. When I found this out, I went to the police and they asked me to be the lead witness in an indictment. I was just one of the victims of the Northeast’s biggest ever housing scandal involving 2,500 homes. There was a civil and a criminal case and they were jailed in October 2015.

How did that affect your finances?

I was in my mid-20s making £40,000 a year and the mortgage payments on these 30 properties were £25,000 a month. Apparently I immediately put them in default. I couldn’t and wouldn’t pay it as I didn’t know anything about these properties.

Despite ongoing police investigations, I got up to 150 calls a day from the banks because I was in arrears on all these 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 spots on my credit report.

High-profile career: Ollie played for England and the Newcastle Falcons

High-profile career: Ollie played for England and the Newcastle Falcons

Oddly enough, I played the best rugby of my life in 2008 and 2009. Back then, for example, I was voted the best player in the world. I think rugby was an outlet for me where I could channel all my energy and anger. Every time I walked onto the rugby field nothing else mattered and so I felt this massive sense of release.

Only after the decision of the criminal case in 2015 did the banks start to listen to me and treat me as a victim. But it took another four years to get them all to break their credit against me and accept that I owe them nothing.

Best money decision you’ve made?

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

Most expensive thing you bought for fun?

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

Do you invest in a pension or in the stock market?

I invest in an annuity. I started when I started playing rugby professionally at the age of 20. I used my retirement to invest in commercial real estate mutual funds when I couldn’t invest in physical real estate myself.

Do you own a property?

Yes my wife and I Our home is a four bedroom riverside house in Henley-on-Thames which we bought 18 months ago for £665,000. We’ve since spruced it up and obtained planning permission for a large extension, but decided to move instead. With a four year old, a two year old and a seven month old baby, we don’t think the construction work would be worth the effort. So we recently launched it and it was valued at £900,000. I think the trend towards flexible working is one of the reasons it’s gained in value – people are happier living 40 minutes from London.

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

If you were Chancellor, what would you do first?

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

What is your top 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 per month. I’m probably two-thirds down the road to achieving that goal.

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