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Joe Pasquale: ‘I can’t afford to retire after losing nearly everything on a dodgy investment’

'I've had two divorces and have five kids – and that's before you factor in the cost of living'
'I've had two divorces and have five kids – and that's before you factor in the cost of living' - Alamy

Comedian, actor and writer Joe Pasquale, 62, first appeared on television when he was runner-up on the ITV talent show New Faces in 1987. Since then he’s made frequent TV appearances, landing his own TV special in 1996, The Joe Pasquale Show. He won I’m A Celebrity... Get Me Out of Here! in 2004 and in 2005 hosted An Audience with Joe Pasquale.

He has also had stage roles in The Producers, Monty Python’s Spamalot and Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em, and has done film voiceovers for Horton Hears a Who! and Garfield 2.

He has been married twice and has five children. He lives alone in Norfolk.

Did you have a good financial start in life?

No, but as a kid you just accept what you have. I grew up in Stifford Clays, near Grays, in Essex. My dad worked in a paper mill and margarine factory.

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I was one of four kids and most of my clothes came from jumble sales. I’ve got bunions because my hand-me-down shoes never quite fitted.

We lived in a council house initially; then Dad paid £5,000 for a three-bedroom bungalow.

For holidays we went to Clacton-on-Sea in Essex and stayed on a caravan site. After three days Dad would say: “Right, the weather is going to be really bad, we’ll have to go home tomorrow.”

Years later, my sister told me it was because he’d run out of money.

When did you discover your comedic talents?

When I was seven my mum had a car accident. She wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, suffered concussion and became epileptic.

She had to give up her job at a garden nursery and became severely depressed. I saw it as my job to cheer her up.

Joe Pasquale attends the Good Morning Britain Health Star Awards
'I've got bunions because my hand-me-down shoes never quite fitted' - Mike Marsland/WireImage

Why did you perform badly at school?

I missed a lot of my education because I was the victim of a hit-and-run accident on the first day of my paper round, aged 13. It was Friday the 13th as well.

I was in hospital for three months because I broke my femur just below my hip. I had a plaster cast from my ankles to my chest and spent a year at home on the settee. I left school at 16 with very low grades.

What were your first jobs?

Initially, I worked as a clerical assistant in the Department of Transport and Dangerous Goods in Westminster, London. All I had to do was send out MOT certificates for oil tankers, do the photocopying and make the tea.

I also worked at the margarine factory where my dad was employed, on a building site, as a garage forecourt attendant and a spot welder at the Ford car plant in Dagenham.

The longest I stuck at a job was at Smithfield meat market in London, which paid £80 a week.

Have you ever struggled to pay the bills?

I was married at 17 and by the time I was 20 I had three kids. I was earning £15 a week before tax as a clerical assistant and our rent was £11 a week.

By the time I’d paid the petrol to commute from Essex to London, there wasn’t enough to go round. When the rent man called, we hid behind the settee.

Joe Pasquale 'New Faces' TV Programme. - Jul 1987
Joe Pasquale's first TV appearance was on ITV talent show New Faces in 1987 - ITV/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

How did you get into showbusiness?

I saw an advert appealing for acts for a showcase in Birmingham. I was dreadful but six months later an agency invited me to do a pantomime.

Afterwards, they offered me a job as a Greencoat at a Warner holiday camp near Lowestoft in Norfolk, hosting bingo and refereeing wrestling.

It was meant to last six weeks; I stayed for three years.

How did you break into television?

The bandleader at the camp successfully entered me for New Faces, then hosted by Marti Caine.

All I had was one joke. I got a tiny guitar out of a big guitar case and said I had a lovely Spanish folk song called Amoosh z’do a’gee! Then I’d sing How Much is that Doggie in the Window with a Spanish accent.

I also pretended to have a row with a member of the orchestra and the judges fell about laughing.

But I owe my place in the grand final to Ken Dodd, who was on the panel. He caught up with me in the makeup room and said: “Can I give you some advice, son?” Then he pulled out a bit of paper where he had my whole act written down and told me what to change. I did exactly what he said and won my heat.

JOE PASQUALE IN 'NEW FACES' - 1987 ITV archive
'All I had was one joke' - ITV/Shutterstock/Shutterstock

Did appearing on New Faces change your fortunes?

No, I struggled for five years because I’d get booked to do 45 minutes and only had five minutes of material.

I stuck at it because I didn’t have any option. What was I going to do? Go back to Smithfield meat market? Besides, even though I was regularly dying on my a**e, I still loved it.

What was your big career turning point?

My debut appearance on the Royal Variety Performance in 1993, alongside Brian Conley, Bradley Walsh, Shane Richie and Darren Day.

After that, I started headlining decent summer seasons, pantos and shows.

What was your highest-earning period?

After winning I’m A Celebrity in 2004, my boosted public profile earned me £500,000 to £600,000 in tour revenue. I then lost most of it in 2007 when someone asked me to invest £100,000 in a TV company.

I went in as a silent partner thinking this person knew what he was doing, but I’d just lost my mum and it clouded my judgement.

I ended up losing £150,000 on top because I’d taken out a loan to pay for the investment. I nearly lost everything, including my house, and had to take every job going.

Joe Pasquale, winner 'I'M A CELEBRITY, GET ME OUT OF HERE'
'After I'm A Celebrity raised my profile, I was earning £500,000 to £600,000 on tours - Shutterstock

What was the financial impact of Covid?

It decimated my income. I’m back at work now, but my earnings haven’t bounced back to pre-Covid levels.

Touring accounts for about 80pc of my income, but whereas theatres used to agree to an 80/20 cut, now they’re pushing for 75/25 or even 60/40 because their running costs have gone up considerably.

What’s your biggest current expense?

Petrol. I cover 30,000-40,000 miles a year getting to gigs. I also pay overnight hotel expenses.

I only earn about 35pc of my income because I pay 45pc at the higher rate of tax and my agent takes another 20pc.

Do you have any plans to retire?

I can’t afford to retire. I’ve had two divorces, and have five kids – and that’s before you factor in the cost of living.

Besides, I’m grateful that I’m still performing after 40 years in a changing world, and people are still willing to part with money to see me do what I love. I don’t take that for granted.

 Joe Pasquale: The New Normal – 40 Years of Cack... Continued! runs in UK theatres from April 19. joepasquale.com