The Guardian : Danny Curran: ‘I don’t get paid by the BBC, but make about £150,000’

The Heir Hunters star has prospered from property and investing despite not caring much about money.

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Heir Hunters’ Danny Curran: ‘I’ve never been particularly incentivised by, or cared about, money.’ Photograph: Christian Sinibaldi for the Guardian

I’m the founder of Finders International, which tracks down family members of people who die without a will, and feature a lot on BBC One’s Heir Hunters programme.

The heir hunting market isn’t massive; the UK market is probably worth less than £50m and ours is one of the biggest companies with a turnover of about £5m. I pay myself a salary of £120,000 and also dividends as and when I need them, usually about £30,000 a year.

I don’t get paid by the BBC for Heir Hunters. The show promotes the business to the public – because it’s on during the day it’s most popular with students and the elderly.

In 1983 when I was 19 I took advantage of Margaret Thatcher’s 110% mortgage scheme and bought a one-bedroom maisonette in Tooting for £17,000. I sold it a few years later for £90,000.

About 15 years ago I bought a property in Chelsea for £700,000, did it up and sold it for £1.5m.

Then I bought our current home in Highbury for £950,000. It’s a 1930s semi but very modern inside. It’s worth about £2.5m now. I spent about £30,000 building an outhouse in the garden which is a gym with a cross-trainer, rowing machine and weights. My wife and children use it too. I have four children aged from six to 24 – two boys and two girls.
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We’ve paid off the mortgage but I took out a £800,000 loan against the house to help my two eldest children on to the property ladder. I bought my daughter a one-bedroom flat in Highbury and my son a one-bedroom flat in Battersea. They’re quite modest ex-local authority properties and I’ve signed them over to the children.

My wife is from Denmark and her family still live over there. It’s tricky for non-residents to buy property in Denmark but there are a small number of new-build apartments you can buy each year “without living obligation”. So we bought a two-bed flat for £300,000 about 10 years ago. We’ve paid the mortgage off and it’s probably worth about £450,000 now.

My company owns two floors of our building near Old Street. Prices have gone crazy around there and the building is probably worth more than £4m now. I’ve just been lucky with my property investments – there’s no science behind it.

I’ve never been particularly incentivised by, or cared about, money. Even when I left school I just worked and did something I enjoy. Spending money is more of a practical thing.

My 11-year-old daughter Mille has a problem with her hearing and we were concerned she would struggle to hear in a state school with 30 kids in a class, while private schools wanted her to take the seven-plus exam. So, five years ago, together with some friends, we started a small private Danish school called Dania School. My company put in £80,000 and it’s a registered charity.
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I mainly invest in the US stock market, mostly in large corporates such as Apple, and I’ve put in about £500,000 which has doubled.

But one mistake I made was selling the office to a Sipp (self-invested) pension fund. I didn’t realise the Sipp then dictates the rent charged, and I ended up buying the office back for the company. You can’t save more than £1m in a pension without being taxed so I will need to withdraw 25% next year when I’m 55 to avoid this.

The only inheritance I ever received was £100 in premium bonds from my grandfather who fought in the second world war and died in the 1990s. I have also invested the maximum £40,000 in premium bonds since, which usually equates to a decent investment return with a bit of fun attached to it.

I like to spend my money on travel and often pay for holidays for my family, including my wife’s family in Denmark, to stay in a nice villa. I can afford to travel business class now. I like to go to nice restaurants and have good holidays. I don’t have fancy cars – I have one electric car and one hybrid car, both Kias.