Over the past few months, Cheryl Baker has sold her car, let her cleaner and gardener go, turned down the heating, and no longer shops online or anywhere else for anything other than essentials.
‘I haven’t bought any clothes for a year. Nothing! And I used to go shopping all the time, mostly high street but, if I liked it, I would happily spend £500 on a dress.’
Instead, the former pop star and TV presenter has been selling her possessions on eBay.
‘Clothes and all sorts,’ she says. ‘My daughters are doing it for me. Though I haven’t got any proper jewellery, it’s all fake, along with my furniture and the paintings on the wall!’
Even if they were allowed, she and husband Steve — a bass guitarist who used to play with Sir Cliff Richard — can no longer justify the cost of popping to their local pub for dinner.
Over the past few months, Cheryl Baker has sold her car, let her cleaner and gardener go, turned down the heating, and no longer shops online or anywhere else for anything other than essentials
So instead, 66-year-old Cheryl has swapped high heels for wellies, embraced the joys of home-grown veggies from an ever-expanding plot at the bottom of her garden, and even started performing jolly £10-a-ticket ‘Covid gigs’ from the beige, striped sofa in her Kent sitting room.
To put it bluntly, Cheryl, once a star of chart-topping group and Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz and then a ubiquitous face on our TV screens in a range of programmes, is broke.
So broke that, lately, the £30 she charges for the odd happy birthday video message to fans has become her only income stream other than her £700-a-month state pension, simply not enough with a tax bill looming.
She has been so refreshingly open about her predicament that fellow celebrities and former bandmates have begun offering handouts.
‘Mike [Nolan — her former original Bucks Fizz bandmate] called me the other day and said, “I’m getting the train down. I’m going to come and see you and I’m bringing you money. I’m bringing you cash”.’
Cheryl, once a star of chart-topping group and Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz and then a ubiquitous face on our TV screens in a range of programmes, is broke. During one especially lean period, she sold coffee mugs live on the graveyard shift on QVC on Monday nights. Above, the group (left to right) – Cheryl, Mike Nolan, Bobby G and Jay Aston in 1983
Her Dancing On Ice partner, Dan Whiston, has offered to help out. Radio presenter Mark Curry has messaged her and fans in Australia have suggested a whip round for their beleaguered heroine.
‘Quite a lot of Fizz fans have been absolutely adorable,’ she says. ‘Some people are just so nice.’
Though not everyone. She’s also been on the receiving end of some very unpleasant messages on social media, accusing her of begging, sponging and all sorts.
Not that she has any intention of taking any charity from anyone.
By her own account, Cheryl has never been very good with money and, despite years riding high in the aftermath of that Eurovision triumph — Making Your Mind Up — three Number Ones and then a busy TV career, she is no stranger to financial dips.
‘I’m not a saver. Never have been. I just love living my life and having fun. My kids are learning from my mistakes and are always saying, ‘Mum! You haven’t saved anything!’
‘Not really, no,’ she says. ‘I did have a few pension pots, but there have been low times before, so most of those have gone and the intention was to be mortgage free by now because of our age, but we saw this house and we loved it . . .’
But, for once, just before Covid struck, things were looking buoyant.
By her own account, Cheryl has never been very good with money and, despite years riding high in the aftermath of that Eurovision triumph (above) – Making Your Mind Up – three Number Ones and then a busy TV career, she is no stranger to financial dips
Cheryl was performing 50 gigs a year — at festivals, parties, 1980s nights — with fellow Bucks Fizz members performing as Fizz: the one name they could all agree on after endless expensive and very bitter legal battles with former band members Bobby Gee (‘an idiot’) and later David Van Day (‘a horrible, horrible man’)
Now, however, that’s all up in smoke.
‘March has gone. Everything in April has been cancelled. Today another two cancelled in May,’ she says. ‘They were all postponed to this year and now they’re being pushed back to next year.
‘I’ve had no work at all — I’ve been scratching around. And it’s hard. I’m a doer. I like to be busy. To be working. To be earning money and I’ll try pretty much anything.’
Indeed, over the years, she has been impressively resourceful in doing just that.
She jumped out of a plane in the Celebrity version of the game show Drop! in 2003 (and broke her ankle). In 2018, she appeared in Dancing On Ice with Whiston and fractured a bone.
She’s had cosmetic makeovers on live TV, and appeared on Celebrity Cash In The Attic and a celebrity 24-hour quiz, but never the big one — I’m A Celebrity.
‘I’d chew my own arms off to do I’m A Celeb. And Strictly, of course,’ she says. ‘But they’ve never asked me.’
In 2018, Cheryl appeared in Dancing On Ice with Dan Whiston (together, above) and fractured a bone. He has since offered to help out with her financial predicament. Meanwhile, radio presenter Mark Curry has messaged her – and fans in Australia have suggested a whip round for their beleaguered heroine
During one especially lean period, she sold coffee mugs live on the graveyard shift on QVC on Monday nights.
‘It was utterly soul destroying —who wants to buy eight pink and lilac latte mugs at that time of night? But it was the only gig I could get to keep the wolf from the door.’
Even that wasn’t quite the nadir. That came soon after on Channel 4 — at teatime on a Thursday — when she endured colonic irrigation on live TV.
‘I hated it! I thought, ‘what have I done?’ I don’t even need it — I’m as regular as clockwork!’
Along the way, she’s also done a huge amount for charities.
‘Well if you can, you do, don’t you?’ she says. ‘And even if I’m speaking on behalf of a charity, it’s keeping my name in the frame. My brand.’
As we sit drinking tea — socially-distanced — in the drizzle in her overgrown back garden, it must all feel far removed from the heady days of Bucks Fizz: a blur of brilliantly cheesy dance routines, short skirts, bad highlights, limos, first-class flights and expensive restaurants —all of which, it later transpired, came out of their pay packets.
‘We were on a terrible deal, but I loved it all and I don’t regret it,’ she says. ‘But if I’d known, I’d definitely have gone economy.’
Above, Bucks Fizz in their heyday. Cheryl deeply regrets the group’s long, bitter in-fighting and financially draining legal disputes. First with original band member Jay Aston (front, right), who was nearly bankrupted when she left under very bad terms, breaking her contract in 1985; then with another founder member Bobby G (back, left), and later, David Van Day who joined the group from Dollar in the late 1990s — all embroiled in endless and expensive legal battles over who had the right to use the Bucks Fizz name
There was enough money to buy cars and designer clothes, a 32 ft boat — ‘it’s very expensive keeping a boat’ — a new house for her parents, and to make a disastrous property investment in Cape Verde.
‘The bottom fell out of the market and I lost the lot’.
So today, there is no financial padding. No buffer.
What she does deeply regret is the group’s long, bitter in-fighting and financially draining legal disputes.
First with original band member Jay Aston, who was nearly bankrupted when she left under very bad terms, breaking her contract in 1985; then with another founder member Bobby G, and later, David Van Day who joined the group from Dollar in the late 1990s — all embroiled in endless and expensive legal battles over who had the right to use the Bucks Fizz name.
She and Jay have made up, thanks to a reunion on a celebrity cosmetic makeover show — but there is no love lost with the other two.
‘I detest David. He’s a horrible man. I’ve got no time for him. He’s not to be trusted. Mike had to sell his house to pay the legal costs! And I’ll always be supportive of Mike.’
Cheryl has loved Mike since she was first introduced to him by Nicola Martin, the band’s creator, at her house back in 1981 when he was blond, tanned, beautiful and fresh from the shower.
‘We had a huge connection from the moment I saw him in his white towel,’ she says. ‘It was a vision. He was a very handsome guy. We were never romantic, but I just really love him and always will.’
So when, in December 1984, the band was involved in a coach crash on the way back from a gig in Newcastle, and Mike suffered horrific head injuries, Cheryl — who sustained three fractured vertebrae — became fiercely protective.
‘After the crash, he was affected mentally and it was very easy to make a fool of him. The drugs he was on made him really bad — very forgetful and he’d fall asleep and say things that were offensive but that he thought was a joke, so I’d look out for him,’ she says.
‘To this day, I watch his back. I don’t think he’ll ever fully recover. Not after brain surgery. But he’s fantastic. He’s brilliant and we still perform together.’
Or they did, after they’d finally ironed out the difficulties with Bobby G over who can perform under which name. For the record, Cheryl, Mike and Jay are ‘The Fizz’. While Bobby G, his wife and two other singers are ‘The Official Bucks Fizz’.
‘We lost a lot of gigs. A lot of money. It was pretty s***ty,’ she says. ‘We have no contact with [Bobby] now. What an idiot, we could have shared it out.’
You’d think it would be harder to have had money, luxuriate in it, and then lose it, but Cheryl is adamant that she’s never been materialistic.
She grew up one of five children in a council flat in Bethnal Green, East London, where money was always tight, clothes, furniture and toys second hand and Cheryl, then, Rita Crudgington, was teased at school ‘for being the poor kid’.
Cheryl and Jay have made up, thanks to a reunion on a celebrity cosmetic makeover show. And Cheryl has loved Mike since she was first introduced to him by Nicola Martin, the band’s creator, at her house back in 1981 when he was blond, tanned, beautiful and fresh from the shower. (Above, Jay, Mike and Cheryl – whose band is known as ‘The Fizz’… while Bobby G, his wife and two other singers are ‘The Official Bucks Fizz’)
‘One girl used to sing about me being a fleabag — ‘Rita’s fleabags’. I’ll never forget what she did and how spiteful she was,’ she says.
But for all that, she insists it was a blissfully happy time.
‘My mum sang all the time, my dad was a shoemaker — it was a joyous household. Money is not everything,’ she says. ‘But I have always worked my way, whatever I need to do.’
That’s why some recent comments on social media about her predicament since she went public have really stung. Because not everyone has been as nice as her old muckers Mike and Mark.
‘There was a really nasty one today saying, ‘You should be ashamed of yourself, begging people for money!’ she says.
‘But I haven’t begged from anyone. Never in my life. I’ve never been on the dole, I’ve never asked for assistance from anybody and, if I’m not earning, I’ll find work somehow. I always do!’
A couple of years ago, during another particularly lean spell after she, Mike et al, lost the right to use the name Bucks Fizz and couldn’t perform, she asked a friend for a job.
‘I did his typing and answered his phones and did telesales — as Rita, not Cheryl,’ she says. ‘I really enjoyed it. But I did it because I needed the money. I couldn’t not work. I had to do something.’
The same goes for the video birthday greetings. ‘It’s usually one or two a week and I get £22.50 for each one. But it all tots up and, in the past few days, I’ve had seven or eight. Lovely jubbly! I feel very lucky.’
Although lockdown has been a total nightmare on the money front, there have been upsides.
Her twin daughters, Kyla and Natalie, 26, moved back home with their partners and Cheryl insists she couldn’t be happier.
‘That’s what matters,’ she says. ‘It’s a really happy home. That’s worth more than all the riches.’
So today, there are long daily walks with husband Steve and their enormous German Shepherd, Cuba, which don’t cost a penny, and she’s loving that veg patch.
‘I’ve been wearing wellies so much, now I can’t wear heels. It’s agony. I can’t walk! How am I going to get back on stage?’
She and Steve have been married for 29 years and still tell each other ‘I love you’ every single day, even though they sound polar opposites: he, a rather gloomy pessimist (‘I call him the dark side of the moon’) and she so relentlessly, tiringly upbeat that he’s for ever telling her ‘to cheer down’.
‘I know he finds me irritatingly happy,’ she beams.
But however overflowing your cup is, however upbeat, bills still need to be paid — including that ‘chunky’ mortgage. Is she really going to be OK? Can she keep her head above water?
I hope so. She certainly deserves to. Because no one could ever accuse Cheryl of lolling lazily on her laurels.
‘I’m struggling but I’m managing,’ she says firmly. ‘I have cut my cloth accordingly and it’s not that bad. I’m not destitute. I’m just struggling like so many people — and I’m in a much better position than a lot of them. There just isn’t any work.’
So, she tells me firmly, she doesn’t want to be all ‘woe is me’ and doesn’t want anyone feeling sorry for her, or arranging whip rounds.
‘Because I’m very lucky — much luckier than a lot of people. When people call me a ‘has-been’, I think, ‘Yeah, but at least I have been and actually I still am. I’m still here. And I’ll be performing again soon.’ ‘