interviews · Money · Sunday Times

Fame and Fortune: I was born to live life in the fast lane

CLAIRE WILLIAMS lives up to the lifestyle you would probably expect from the deputy team principal of the Williams Formula One team — spending her money on fast cars and exotic holidays.

She is the daughter of team founder Sir Frank Williams and his wife, Lady Virginia, who died last year from cancer.

Williams, 38, who says her best investment has been her career, joined Silverstone as a junior press officer in 2000, having graduated from Newcastle university with a politics degree.

She then joined the family business as the head of communications in 2010, before becoming the head of investor relations when Williams F1 floated on the Frankfurt Stock Exchange the following year. She was appointed deputy team principal in March 2013. Her brother Jonathan, 39, also works for the company looking after the historic F1 cars, while younger brother, Jamie, 31, runs a music label called Diagonal Records.

Williams is beginning to save for the future and bought a house in Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire in June.

How much money do you have in your wallet?
None. Seriously. I normally try to keep some cash on me, but I spent it on taxis in London.

What credit cards do you use?
I don’t have any because I don’t trust myself. I only spend money I have.

Are you a saver or a spender?
It feels like I spend a lot at the moment, probably because I’ve just bought a new house, so that’s haemorrhaging money. I would love to be a more conscientious spender but I believe that if you work hard and earn money then you should reward yourself.

What did you earn last year?
I’m in the higher-rate tax bracket [45% tax on salaries above £150,000].

Have you ever been hard up?

No. I’m very fortunate to have come from a privileged background. The only time I would have been was when I was born and my parents didn’t have any money as they were putting everything they had into starting the Williams business.

What properties do you own?
Only the one, a five-bedroom house in Henley. I’m hoping to get two dogs soon. I don’t have any more properties because managing one is hard enough. I travel a lot and another property would be an extra headache.

It’s the fourth property I’ve bought; I owned one in Oxford and two in Newbury previously.

What was your first job?
I used to work during the school holidays to earn pocket money, doing everything from being a chamber maid to a hotel receptionist.

I helped out in the Williams race office a lot as well. My first proper job out of university was at Silverstone; I was a junior press officer for nearly three years. I was paid about £7 an hour, but I loved it.

What’s been your most lucrative work?
Probably the job I’m in now. I manage marketing, communications and sponsorship sales. I run the racing team with my dad, Frank, and with Michael O’Driscoll, our chief executive.

Part of that is facilitating what the race team and engineers need, and dealing with the politics of F1, as in the management, Mr [Bernie] Ecclestone, and the FIA [Federation Internationale de l’Automobile].

What’s it like being a woman in F1?
I am desensitised to the whole gender question because I’ve grown up in a male-dominated world. I don’t care that I’m a girl in a room full of blokes, they don’t treat me any differently.

Are you better off than your parents?
Ha no, not at all. My mother didn’t work, but she did publish a book called A Different Kind of Life in 1991 about her relationship with my dad and the impact of his car accident 28 years ago [which left him severely disabled].

Do you invest in shares?
No. I don’t trust them.

What’s best for retirement — property or pension?
Property, 100%. Mum was obsessed with moving when I was younger and we lived in some lovely houses in the villages around Newbury, such as Boxford and East Woodhay. I don’t know a huge amount about pensions — I don’t tend to look beyond next week. But I know that if you own your own house you have control over it, and a roof over your head. With a pension you don’t know what it’s going to do.

What’s been your best investment?
My career at Williams; I’ve invested a huge amount of time to turn the company around. We’re in a transitional period at the moment, but the noticeable improvement in our track performance this season is showing that our strategy is working.

And the worst?
I bought a second-hand Volkswagen Golf in 2005 in an attempt to downsize from a BMW.

Everyone told me that Golfs were efficient and reliable but it was the worst car I ever had; it went into the garage every bloody minute. I’ll probably get into trouble with Volkswagen now. I sold it after nine months and bought another BMW.

Do you manage your own financial affairs?
Yes. They’re really not complicated.

What’s the most extravagant thing you have ever bought?
I bought an Aston Martin DBS [they cost about £160,000 new] at the end of last season as a nice reward after a long hard slog. It’s amazing, I love it.

What’s your money weakness?
Cars, holidays and handbags — my favourites are Prada — and I’ll go anywhere hot. Dubai for me is perfect because it’s an easy six-hour direct flight; it has great hotels, great service, and it’s scorching.

I travel quite a bit, but I went to boarding school [St Mary’s School Ascot in Berkshire] so I’m used to constantly packing a bag and leaving home. I love England so it’s also nice to have a base here.

What aspect of the tax system would you change?
I don’t have an issue with the tax system, not with income tax anyway. I’m not affected by lots of other taxes and I’m all for redistribution of wealth. It’s unrealistic to cancel it altogether.

What’s your financial priority?
To save more and make sure I have enough of a nest egg to pay for a good education for my children. I don’t have any children yet, but just in case.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt about money?
That it is precious, not easy to come by, and very easy to lose. If you have it, you’re very lucky.

Link to article in the Sunday Times

PDF – Claire Williams Fame


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