John Illsley: “Money is great, but I prefer love over gold”

John Illsley: “Money is great, but I prefer love over gold”

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The bassist has a weakness for guitars — he owns about 20 of them. John Illsley (February 2020)

This is the newest interview with the ex-bassist from the Dire Strait’s band, John Illsley. He talked with Donna Ferguson for The Sunday Times UK. Read the half-part of the interview down below.

The Dire Straits founder member says to get the accountant to deal with the taxman – it leaves you free. While he was studying sociology at Goldsmith’s College in London, bass guitarist John Illsley roomed with David Knopfler. In 1977, the pair formed Dire Straits, adding Knopfler’s brother Mark on vocals and a friend, Pick Withers behind the drums. The band went on to be one of the world’s best-selling rock acts, selling more than 100 million albums and winning four Grammys. Unfortunately, they broke up in 1995.

The 70-year-old grew up in Leicestershire but now lives in Hampshire with his second wife, Stephanie. He has four children: James (37), Jess (30), Harry (22), and Deedee (21).

How much money is in your wallet?

“Rarely more than £100. I don’t use cash very often, I prefer contactless,” he said.

What credit cards do you use?

“I’ve got a Visa and a MasterCard from the private bank, Coutts. I’m not quite sure why – I think my accountant advised me to go with it. I pay them off every month. I don’t like a debt of any sort.”

Are you a saver or a spender?

“A bit of both. I grew up in a household where, due to the war years, my parents were pretty frugal. I think they passed on that approach to money – I don’t take big risks. I am interested in being a creative person, not a financial person. I like all that stuff taken care of. I’m in a fortunate position because I didn’t really start earning any proper money until Dire Straits became successful, and after that we employed accountants. Thankfully, they were very straight, very honest: as soon as any money came in they would say, that’s for the taxman, that’s for your pension fund and you can spend that. I think that’s good advice and I have always followed it,” he said.

How much did you earn last year?

“It would have been a six-figure sum, but I really have no idea about the exact amount. I know I should know, but it varies so much depending on whether I’m making records or touring. My accountant certainly lets me know if I’m over budget, put it that way!”

Have you ever been really hard up?

“Yes, when I was 23, at college and living in a council flat in Deptford that the council said wasn’t fit for families but was OK for students. The rent was £9.50 a week and that’s where the band started. I met Mark and David and everybody moved into the flat. In those days, you just threw a mattress on the concrete floor. It was pretty basic accommodation: there were no beds, just an old, broken couch we’d rescued from a skip, and one chair. We lived on lentil soup and chicken stew.”

“I’d estimate I was earning £40 a week. Our gigs in those days sometimes only paid enough for the petrol to get there and a pint afterward, so it was a hand to mouth existence, to say the least. But I don’t think anyone minded because it was such an exciting time. I had been in lots of bands before and so had everyone else, so I think we all realized there was a bit of magic when we formed Dire Straits.”

Do you own a property?

“Yes, three: our family home in Hampshire, our local pub, the East End Arms, and a converted goat-herders’ cottage in Provence. Our home was built in 1914. It has six bedrooms and eight acres. I bought it in 1988 for £1m and I should think it’s worth a few million now – I have no real idea, but it must have increased in value. I have no intention of selling it, though. I plan to live here for the rest of my life.”

What’s been your most lucrative work?

“Dire Straits were quite successful! Of course, anyone who has been in the music business a long time will know that most established bands’ incomes have gone down as there’s a lot less physical product being sold. That’s why an awful lot of bands are touring now.”

*The full interview you can find it here.

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