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Ann Wilson: ‘Heart made $1.2m in one night’

Ann, centre, and her sister Nancy in the band Heart in 1985
Ann, centre, and her sister Nancy in the band Heart in 1985 - STEVE RAPPORT/GETTY/HULTON ARCHIVE

Ann Wilson, 73, is a singer and songwriter who found fame in 1976 as a founder and lead singer of the band Heart and with hits since with eight singles such as Alone (No. 3 in 1987) and seven albums such as Brigade (No. 3 in 1990) in the UK Top 40. She has earned sales of more than 35 million records, an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement award. Today, she lives in Florida with her husband Dean.

How did your childhood influence your attitude to money?

My family were always scrimping and saving and going to the credit union for loans. I wasn’t born [with] a silver spoon and so when the money did start coming in it was more surreal, I guess, but it didn’t help me understand how to keep it.

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My father was a Marine Corps officer so we moved around a lot and we constantly travelled all through my childhood, settling in Bellevue, Washington, east of Seattle. My mother was a stay-at-home mother – we could afford to do that then…I guess.

They were really tight with each other and had these three girls. I watched what they were going through and I suppose I’ve never taken it for granted. As far as we girls knew, we were living in a luxurious home with everything we asked for or needed.

Ann Wilson wasn't 'born with a silver spoon'
Ann Wilson wasn't 'born with a silver spoon' - NOAM GALAI/GETTY

What was your first job?

A summer job in an ice-cream parlour when I was 15 and a junior in high school: I only worked there for a month and got paid $50 for that month.

My first full-time job was being in a band. I was never cut out for a 9 to 5 job: I tried that a couple of times and it just didn’t work out for me – it’s just too regimented.

At first, I was in other bands but we never made any money. Then with Heart it was just the thrill of being able to play, but as time went along and the band got better, the money started to trickle in. So we were poor for a long time before we ever got a record deal.

Are you a saver or a spender?

A spender, yeah. Like in the bad old days of the 80s I spent altogether too much money partying. I spent thousands of dollars on drugs and drink for about a decade.

And at the same time, we were on the road and everything, so the money was coming in but at the same time it was going out. I guess that made it easier.

A lot of the time we had an accounting firm that would tell you the straight facts about what’s what. We wouldn’t always listen to them but my body told me when to stop that behaviour. I was just able to get up out of that.

Have you ever had trouble paying your bills?

No. That was the thing that our parents imparted: always pay your bills and taxes. They told us, “Don’t try and out-fox the IRS [US tax office]. They don’t take kindly to that at all.”

Your career’s most awkward moment?

My career’s been a series of awkward moments but most of the time it’s been great. Every so often if you choose to get in front of people and live your life in public, some faux pas is going to happen.

Does money make you happy?

It makes me feel more relaxed. I think I got that from my parents too. They were always trying to find enough money to run the family on. Like my mother would go to the store and buy five big jars of mayonnaise because it was slightly cheaper to do it that way.

Ann Wilson performing for Farm Aid in Indiana in 2023
Ann Wilson performing for Farm Aid in Indiana in 2023 - GARY MILLER/GETTY

Your best and worst financial decisions?

Best: when in 2016 my husband and I bought the house we’re in now. It was built like a bomb shelter in the 80s. It’s in Florida and totally hurricane-proof, and it’s appreciated almost $1m in a year.

Worst: the house I lived in before I met him. It was a 100-year-old house and the accountant said, “Don’t buy this white elephant. It’s just going to cost you money. There will always be some kind of repairs needed.”

Sure enough, this was 1979 and I lived there for 35 years and it was always being worked on. I spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on it, like a new roof, pool, pool house, but I loved it  Although, when I sold it I was able to make a profit because real estate prices in Seattle had appreciated so much.

What’s the most you’ve made from a gig or tour?

The most we ever made from one gig was $1.2m, and for a whole tour we usually see about $8m.

Ann and Nancy Wilson with gold record for sale of Heart's album Little Queen in 1977
Ann and Nancy Wilson with gold record for sale of Heart's album Little Queen in 1977 - MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVES

Have you done lucrative TV commercials?

In 1983, we did a coffee commercial for the National Coffee Association of the USA. It was back when coffee was not that popular and they wanted to hit the younger market who were eschewing them because it was a stimulant, right?

They paid us hundreds of thousands of dollars and we had to simulate a concert situation and drink coffee. We had to be seen drinking coffee in the studio, drinking coffee on the way to the stage, have mugs of coffee on the stage: it was coffee mugs following you everywhere, like The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.

What are the best and worst things you’ve ever bought?

Best, a two-year-old Porsche I bought three years ago and still have. It looks fantastic; it’s powerful; it handles great, just the right size inside. I didn’t want to be stuck making payments so I paid $70,000 outright for it. Worst, probably a fur coat back in the day before people had trouble with fur coats.

Have you ever been ripped off?

When I lived in the “white elephant” house I was once away on vacation and my assistant was living in the house. And he went out and didn’t lock one of the doors.

He came back the next day and found all the art from the walls out on the lawn with the sprinklers on, and my daughter’s playpen out there in the yard with all her toys and things from inside the house.

A fan had climbed the fence, gotten in the house and drunk the bar dry. My assistant just backed out of the driveway and called the cops who came and arrested him.

The guy, who was drunk out of his mind drinking a glass of beer by the pool, told them he was my husband and that I’d given him permission to get rid of anything inside the house that he didn’t like.

Ann Wilson, right, with her sister Nancy in 1976
Ann Wilson, right, with her sister Nancy in 1976 - MICHAEL OCHS ARCHIVE

The hardest lesson you’ve learnt about money?

Never spend more than you make.

Have you seen money’s funny side?

Yeah it’s pretty amazing because when you’re at a certain level of success and you’re known things come to you a lot faster. Like you get treated to first class seats on the airplane; you get the best table in the restaurant; and people are more willing to give you stuff free.

When you’re not doing that well it’s not like that. Most of the time I prefer to be treated like a normal person, but everyone has their limits!

Has your career had any help from unlikely sources?

Yeah. I was asked to participate in the new Disturbed [US heavy metal band] album [Divisive]. With their song Don’t Tell Me, yet to come out as a single, I sing a duet with David Draiman who asked me to be in their video. That’s a huge thing because they have a massive audience and it’s great to be in front of all those people.

The best and worst things about the rock ’n’ roll life?

Best: the travel and the time on stage. Worst: again, the travel because it’s so tiring, and forsaking your idea of anonymity and coming to accepting the fact.

Do you remember your first million?

It was 1978/9 and I’d just broken up with my first love. So it came out of that (after a tour and four albums): this injurious heartbreak then a million dollars.


Her new album Another Door (by Ann Wilson & Tripsitter) is a Dualtone release and available now