Anne Sebba is a former Reuters foreign correspondent and author of 11 books on figures including Edward VIII and Wallis Simpson, Laura Ashley, Enid Bagnold, and Mother Teresa.
Her latest book is Ethel Rosenberg: A Cold War Tragedy. Ethel and her husband Julius were convicted of spying for the Russians and executed by the US in 1953.
Many of Sebba’s books are about strong women who have carved out a life against the odds.
What was your first job?
As a student I had a holiday job working in the BBC World Services for the Arabic section. Of course, I did not speak any Arabic languages.
My first proper job was as a graduate trainee for Reuters, the first woman they took on this scheme because, as they told me, I spoke French, German and Russian. Nonetheless, they sent me to Rome as part of my training and while there I learned Italian as well as much about life.
What’s the best money advice you’ve received?
You can’t take it with you. Give away as much as you can as long as you leave yourself enough for the emergencies you might face in old age and cannot possibly know now.
What’s the best investment decision you’ve made?
Buying a painting by Jack Vettriano at least 30 years ago. I met him through writing about him as a journalist and loved his work before he was famous.
After I published an interview about him, he invited me to go and visit his studio in Edinburgh and while there he offered me to buy anything I liked for just a few hundred pounds.
I wish I had taken more but that seemed greedy. I adore the one I took away that day, now worth thousands, although it is not really an investment as I will never sell it!
What’s the worst investment decision you’ve made?
To allow a firm of investors to look after my small pension after I left Reuters and to discuss what to do with it with my husband.
I eventually removed it because it made me so cross that every letter was addressed to my husband with me in copy.
What is your favourite thing to splurge on?
Holidays and travel. I cannot do that quite yet but I have lots planned – including a trip to Australia in September 2022
If you had $10,000 where would you invest it?
In prison education. Sending increasing numbers of young people to prison is such a futile exercise if there is no proper plan to help them when they come out. It needs much more than $10,000 though.
What would you do if you only had $50 left in the bank?
Sell my sourdough bread which (like thousands of others) I have learned how to make in lockdown.
The bread has got better and better as lockdown lasted and has given the day a very soothing framework.
Or I could sell my collection of Louboutin shoes as I will never again wear such wonderfully ridiculously high heels. Lockdown has taught me I have too much stuff so although I have given lots to charity shops I could sell some if desperate.
Do you intend to leave an inheritance?
That depends how long I live in case I use it all up! But I will try not to. I hope my books will bring in royalties as an inheritance for my grandchildren.
What’s been your best money-making career move?
My career has not been about money. Not many people working in the Arts can earn massive fortunes. But I suppose learning PowerPoint 25 or so years ago has enabled me to give lectures, including lectures on cruises and therefore to travel while earning my keep. But I have a long way to go in keeping up with technology.