Home West London TV Gladiator Hunter: ‘I’m not sure property is still a good investment’

TV Gladiator Hunter: ‘I’m not sure property is still a good investment’

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The best decision strongman James Crossley ever made was investing in buy-to-let property in the 1990s. 

Crossley – Hunter in TV game show Gladiators – told Donna Ferguson that his main income comes from the savvy investments he made while beating contestants on the hit show. But he is no longer interested in purchasing property and thinks it is harder now to invest successfully as a buy-to-let landlord. 

Every week, he teaches ‘gong bath’ meditations – where clients relax to the sound of gongs – and yoga at Sadhana Wellbeing in Clapham, South-West London. For more information, visit sadhana-wellbeing.com.

Hunk: James Crossley on the hit show in 1995

What did your parents teach you about money?

To save and be careful with it. My parents’ motto was: ‘Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.’ They didn’t encourage spontaneous spending. My father was manager of a small bank branch and my mother was an artist. I’d say we were working class. I don’t recall them ever struggling to make ends meet or arguing about money, but they were thrifty and saved for everything.

A lot of my clothes were hand-me-downs from my brother and we’d go on holidays in a caravan. I was aware that it wasn’t good to be a big spender and that at any point money could stop coming in.

Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?

Yes, after I got the job on Gladiators. I was 19 years old and had been quite successful as a bodybuilder already. The producers saw me in a magazine, came to see me in a bodybuilding show and asked me to audition.

At the time, I was working at a printer’s. It was a good job, but my boss refused to let me take a month off work to go and film Gladiators. So I decided to quit.

It took six months before the series I had filmed was broadcast on TV. I didn’t earn a lot of money from that first contract and so for those six months I was in limbo where I didn’t have a full-time job. To get by, I worked as a strength coach for some local boxers, but I wasn’t really earning a lot.

Have you ever been paid silly money?

Yes, for personal appearances in the 1990s I would be paid between £750 and £1,500. Sometimes, I’d be opening a gym, other times I’d be lighting fireworks. The silliest money I ever earned was when I was paid £2,000 to go to EuroDisney in Paris and open Space Mountain with Cliff Richard and Paul Young. I’ve got all these crazy pictures of me with them on the ride. It was a lot of fun.

Chilled: James teaches yoga and ‘gong baths'

Chilled: James teaches yoga and ‘gong baths’

What was the best year of your financial life?

It was 1997. I earned a six-figure sum that year. People assume that if you were a Gladiator you earned a fortune from the TV show, but in fact I didn’t. It was more the personal appearances and pantomimes I did that proved lucrative.

What is the most expensive thing you bought for fun?

It was a silver BMW 320 convertible in the late 1990s for £25,000. I bought it because when I rocked up in a Fiesta for personal appearances, I could see the disappointment on people’s faces.

What is your biggest money mistake?

Investing in a complex hotel investment scheme with 20 others. I lost tens of thousands of pounds after the guy who ran the scheme went bust. After that, I decided I would stick to investments I know something about.

The best money decision you have made?

Investing in buy-to-let property in 1996. I was 22 and I didn’t have a lot of money, but it was so easy to borrow to invest with a buy-to-let mortgage. I bought a three-bed house in York for £45,000 with a £2,000 deposit.

I was in that lucky period when houses shot up in value, I could then remortgage and put down a deposit on another house. Now, I have a small portfolio of buy-to-let properties, mainly in London, and that provides my main income. But I haven’t bought a new property since 2013. I’m not sure that property is now such a good investment.

Do you save into a pension or invest in the stock market?

No. I put some money in a pension when I was a high earner in the 1990s. I also invested in stocks and shares for 20 years, but investing is not something I feel passionate enough about to learn more. In recent years I’ve just stuck with bricks and mortar – I see that as my pension.

James likes spending on musical instruments like handpan drums, gongs and didgeridoos

James likes spending on musical instruments like handpan drums, gongs and didgeridoos

Do you own any property?

Yes. As well as my buy-to-let portfolio, I own my own home, a four-bedroom Victorian house in South-West London. I bought it 20 years ago for £400,000 and I think it’s now worth around £1million.

In lockdown, I built a gym in the garden. That kept me sane.

What is the one little luxury you treat yourself to?

Musical instruments. I keep buying handpan drums, gongs and didgeridoos. Each gong costs £2,000 and I’ve got three of them. I do gong bath meditations and play the gongs, handpans, crystal bowls and crystal harps at locations in London. I got into gong baths in Bali after being blown away by the meditation I experienced.

If you were Chancellor what is the first thing you’d do?

I would give NHS healthcare workers a proper pay rise. The pandemic highlighted their worth, but I’ve been patched up by the NHS time and again. During Gladiators, I dislocated my shoulder six times. I’ve also had multiple injuries from competing as a strongman.

Do you donate money to charity?

Yes, I’m a big fan of Battersea Dogs Home and Edward Foundation – a rescue charity for bulldogs. I have two bulldogs of my own and I’m close to them.

What is your number one financial priority?

To keep my head above water and have enough money to spend on things I like doing – travelling and playing music.

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