Fiona Fullerton has gone from a child star at age 11 to a Bond girl working with Roger Moore in A View to a Kill, but what really stood out was how down to earth she remained through it all. There is something very special about Fiona and what it most attractive about her is that she doesn’t even realise it.
Tell us about your amazing journey to success
The thing that’s interesting is that I have had different careers so it’s difficult to highlight my success or business approaches in an one particular area because they have been three quite distinct careers. As an actress, I started in movies at the age of 11 and then as I grew more successful through the 80’s I had an interest in property and they crossed over. However the property business didn’t become my proper business until 1994 and that was simultaneous with me leaving how business completely when my daughter was born in 1995 and then concentrating on the buy-to-let business. That overlapped with my career as a writer and journalist, which then spawned the books, overlapped my property business. And now I concentrate very much on the property. I do love interior design too, I am a very frustrated interior designer. All my properties are furnished so I get very involved in the decorating and furnishing of them.
Tell us about your dream job as a child?
I wanted to be a ballerina, when I was little girl I went to a ballet boarding school called Elmhurst Ballet School. My father was in the British Army and we travelled all over the world, I was born in Africa and and brought up in Singapore, the United States, Europe and all over the Far East. My parents wanted me to have a solid education so they sent me to this ballet school where you have intense training for three to four hours a day followed by your academic studies. I suppose my dream in those days was to be like Margot Fonteyn and dance, dance, dance. I was really in love with it . When I was 11 I got sidetracked, nobody knows how it happened but somebody had seen me in a school show and I was plucked out of nowhere to be in this Columbia Pictures movie that was staring Mark Lester from Oliver. He was a huge child star at the time and I was invited to join him in Run Wild, Run Free. One thing led to another and I ended up doing three big movies as a child. I supposed my favourite of all of them was the leading role Alice in Wonderland. I was a huge deal, an all star cast and I got to play Alice. I think in a way it was a pivotal role in my career as an actress as it made me realise that I wanted to act and not to dance.
How did you go from movies to property?
It started in 1976, I was 19 years old and my first husband and I wanted to buy a little flat so we bought one in West London for £10,500. It was really flat in a Victorian House in Ealing and I did it up. I have written about this little place because I think it was the first time that I was able to put down roots of my own and to decorate my home as I wanted it. I have been a nest maker ever since. That first flat was the beginning of what became the business. We then sold our flat, bought a house and then he left me but I continued my way up the property ladder until I was able to buy a big house in Chelsea. So I guess I had a knack for investing not squandering my earnings. My father was an accountant and so he had a savvy business sense which he passed onto me. I have always been a saver not a spender and I guess that was the difference between me and some of my thespian friends. Once you land a big contract and the money comes in you want to spend it, but I wasn’t like that. I used to invest. As a result I was able to slowly work my way up the property ladder. I then got into buy-to-let in 1994 when I was living in Chelsea in a property that was just glorious. I met my husband Neil who was living in a Georgian house in Surrey so I sold the Chelsea house and we got married. I invested that money in my buy-to-let portfolio and buying buy-to-lets, that’s how it all started. It was very hand in hand with my career as an actress. A lot of my friends who are still acting and are still in business say that I am so wise to have invested it rather than spending it. I have one girl friend, who whenever she got some money, would be travelling in a taxi or limousines while I would continue to travel on the bus. I am very, very lucky but I owe a great deal of it to my father’s wise words, he said, “Always save for a rainy day” and I did.
What has been a highlight in your property business?
I think probably one of my most successful investments was when I bought a flat in Knightsbridge in 1983, right opposite Harvey Nicholas, and I sold it in 1989 just before the massive recession of 1990. But that was sheer luck, it wasn’t timing on my behalf, but had I sold it a few months later I would not have made as much money. I made three times my investment. It taught me that location is everything. That’s also when I realised that I obviously had some kind of knack for turning things around.
Why did you end your acting career?
In 1994 Neil and I got married and Neil’s son was three years old at the time, his mother had died, and so I took on this little boy as my full time son. I adopted him so James is my child to all intents and purposes so I needed to be home for him. Then we had our daughter, Lucy, who is now nearly 20, and I think I came to the conclusion that I just wanted to be at home for them. The theatre is very anti-social as far as being a mother goes, you don’t get to read them stories at night to put them to bed when you are in the theatre for six nights of the week. I couldn’t see a way of compromising, some people can do it but do you know what, it is very difficult for women, you just can’t have it all. You can’t have a successful career, a successful home life and stable children who need their mum if you are half way around the world making a movie or on stage every night and it’s the nanny who’s putting them to bed. I didn’t want to compromise. So I was able to walk away from it relatively easy because I was finally fulfilled as a mother, all I had ever wanted was stability, a home life, a husband and children. Also, I was getting on, the clock was ticking and I desperately wanted a baby, so when Lucy came along that was the ultimate fulfilment for me. And bearing in mind I’d had this weird childhood where I was being uprooted, constantly moving around and then in movies, constant insecurity and I suppose putting down roots was hugely important to me and my children. So that’s why Neil and I moved to Gloucestershire and bought this drafty old Vicarage, did it up and for fifteen years my children had this idyllic childhood. I gave them the childhood that I lacked.
Tell us about your greatest influence in business.
My father definitely. He was fantastic as far as managing my money and investments. He gave me endless advice as an accountant and I think I probably realised quite early on that an actor’s life is so unpredictable as far as earnings are concerned. In fact I didn’t ever really earn huge amounts of money as an actress. Some years you would work maybe six months and the next year you would work not at all in 52 weeks. That’s very alarming, so you do have to be very careful with your money. When I was a journalist for the first time in my life I had a proper salary.
As far as other influences go I always admired people who managed to combine show business and business. Jane Asher is somebody that I used to look up to a lot in the 80’s. She started a business selling cakes and then branched out into kitchen accessories. I used to admire her thinking that she was clever to combine a business with her name. In a way I realised that in order to capitalise on my business in property I needed to use my name.
There was one estate agent, a lady, who was brilliant at giving me advice early in my career about what to buy and what not to buy. I listened to her and she did influence how I moved forward as I did make some really silly mistakes in the early days. Buying stuff that just wouldn’t rent. Once she took me under her wings I learned very, very quickly what to buy and as a result was able to write my property books.
So what was the biggest mistake you have made?
My biggest mistake was to buy a quirky little studio flat on two levels in Chelsea Embankment. It was a lovely flat for an owner occupier to live in but to rent out to a tenant it was horrific because it was a studio flat and studios don’t ever rent that well. I did it all up and furnished it but the nearest tube station was miles way and I learned that location is very important because you need to be near a major tubes station or busses. Chelsea Embankment has nothing. I had real difficulty renting the flat so much so that I had to sell it.“You can’t doubt your own ability […] you have to really, really believe in yourself.” – Fiona Fullerton Tweet This!
Do you find any barriers being a woman in a property business?
I have come up against a great deal of prejudice and I find it amusing that people think that as an investor or somebody who works in the property market that I should be any less good at my job than a man. When I was writing my column in the Daily Telegraph and in the Mail on Sunday there were one or two occasions socially when I man would say to me, “So who writes your stuff for you?” I would say, “Well I do, it’s my business.” They would be very quick to ridicule me and suggest that all my text is ghosted and even go as far as to pat me on the head and say, “What do you know?” I found it incredibly patronising socially and I imagine there must have been a lot of talking behind the scenes suggesting that I couldn’t do it on my own. I find it difficult sometimes when negotiating and dealing with builders, plumbers and contractors generally. They prefer to deal with men and particularly because I am quite good at negotiating, they don’t’ like having to do a deal or negotiating with a woman. I find that a bit frustrating because I am actually better at negotiating than my husband is, so whenever he is doing a deal I am the one that does the buying but he is good at selling.
What advice would you give to a woman in your position dealing with the gender bias?
If you are good to your contractors or the people you are dealing with, they will be good to you. Basically treat them how you would like to be treated. I have found that it doesn’t pay to get aggressive with estate agents who I have always had a good relationship with. If you are straight with them they will be straight with you. Estate agents are usually more than happy to give advice, they want you to do well because it’s in their best interest.
What do you do for fun?
Well in London I am having a ball. When you suddenly become child free it’s a difficult time for anyone and I have found a niche in London working with two big charities. I am organising two events for them and I really enjoy that. I am working with the National Osteoporosis Society doing an event for them at the end of the year. The other charity I am working with is called the Hope Foundation who work with children on the street in the slums of Calcutta. Last year I went to Calcutta and spent some time out there to see what they do and where the money goes to and I was so moved and impressed by them. They are transforming the lives of those children. Plus I am a spokesperson for a new start-up called Loyalty Street. When I come home to Cheltenham I love walking my dog. We do a lot of socialising with friends in the area, there are a lot of fabulous restaurants in Cheltenham. I love to potter in the garden and decorate.
If you could tell your younger self something what would you say?
I always used to suffer terribly with a lack of confidence and self-esteem, particularly as an actress. You have to be fairly thick skinned to be an actress and I have tissue paper skin and am far too sensitive. I suffered from a real lack of self belief and I think if I could have told myself that actually I was better at doing things than I thought I was it would have helped. Rejection was always a big problem for me and I would say not to take things personally. I never thought I was any good at anything, I didn’t think I could sing or act. You can’t doubt your own ability. It’s the same in business, you have to really, really believe in yourself.
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