Former Emmerdale actress Gemma Outten tells ME AND MY MONEY how she survived lockdown: ‘I had to go on benefits when Covid shut down my game’
Mixed situation: Gemma Outten has been forced to turn to Universal Credit to pay rent and make ends meet during pandemic
Actress Gemma Outten has been forced to turn to Universal Credit to pay her rent and make ends meet during the pandemic.
Outen, 38, who rose to fame as Rachel Brackle in Emmerdale from 2011 to 2015, lost her job when cinemas closed in March 2020. She told Donna Ferguson that she had sleepless nights and worried about how she was going to pay the bills. She recently appeared in ITV1’s Million Pound Pawn.
She is also chief executive of the charity SEED, an eating disorder support service. To learn more, visit www.seed.charity.
What did your parents teach you about money?
That it does not buy happiness – you create your own happiness. My mom was a teacher’s aide and my dad was an accountant who had a great job and a company car. We went on good vacations, and as my dad climbed the career ladder, we became more comfortable.
That all changed when he was fired when I was 15. He was the main breadwinner, and when a person goes through that, it crushes their pride. But instead of worrying about our finances, we just cut our expenses and did our best.
In 2011, the day before I started filming Emmerdale, he was diagnosed with stage three aggressive prostate cancer. Then he retired and took up health. Fortunately, he is still here today.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
yes. The worst time was at the beginning of the correction in 2020. I was on tour doing a play called The Tenfold Table by Alan Ayckbourn. It was canceled and like many people in the industry I was not compensated. All the theaters were closed, TV studios stopped production, and I had no money. People think that if you’ve been on TV, you must have money. But I was renting and I started having sleepless nights over my bills. In May I realized I couldn’t get it to work.
So I took a deep breath and did what many people have done. I went on Universal Credit. I was on it for about a year and I also got a self-employment grant from the government. It helped me pay my rent and then I started doing public speaking online.
Have you ever been paid stupid money?
yes. I was once paid £7,000 for an hour and a half of my time to give a keynote address at a gala dinner. He spent part of it on vacation, the rest he put aside.
What was the best year of your financial life?
It was 2012, after I had done a year on Emmerdale. Even though I wasn’t making a lot of money, it felt huge. I went from living in a bed in Finsbury Park to being able to rent my own flat, buy a TV and go out for good food.
What is your biggest money mistake?
I lent thousands to someone I trusted, but he didn’t pay them back. I was taken for a ride.
Best money decision you’ve made?
Believe in yourself at the age of 24. Then I got a place at a theater school and left home. Before that I was very sick. For 13 years, starting at the age of ten, I suffered from an eating disorder. I was in and out of hospitals all the time. When I finally recovered, I could only afford a year’s course in drama. I managed to raise about £6,000 in grants, but it wasn’t enough, so my grandfather stepped in and gave me some of my father’s inheritance. He said he believed I would be successful and pay the money back. And I did.
Are you saving for retirement?
yes. I am the chief executive of SEED, an eating disorder charity founded by my parents, and through that I make pension contributions. But they don’t pay me enough, and I’m thinking of stopping my pension because I can’t afford it. If you can’t live now, there is no future.
Big break: Gemma Oughten with actor Chris Beason in Emmerdale in 2015
Do you invest directly in the stock market?
No. I would have no idea about that and no money to do it. I wouldn’t touch him with a barge.
Do you have property?
No, I’m renting a one bedroom flat in Fulham, West London. Of course, it would be wonderful to have your own place. But that’s not how my life turned out. I have a wonderful owner who let me have my dog Ruby, my schnauzer/poodle cross, and I’m happy to stay that way for as long as I need to.
If you were Chancellor, what would be the first thing you would do?
I would increase funding for charities. The NHS and children’s mental health services are overwhelmed. The voluntary sector offers a lifeline, but many people fall through the cracks.
Do you donate to charity?
Yes, whenever I get paid to speak about my life and can afford it, I donate it to my charity SEED. I am also an ambassador for Prostate Cancer UK because of my father’s story.
What is your number one financial priority?
To pay the rent and have a roof over Ruby’s head and her head so she would be comfortable and I would be safe. There’s no point in having expensive things if you’re not happy with where you live.