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Celebrity Interviews
Celebrity Interviews
Opinion » Celebrity Interviews

Interview with Vince Power

From eating pigs ears to promoting the world’s best festivals, the self-made millionaire promoter behind The Hop Farm Festival and Benicassim reveals how he climbed to the top of the music game.

When in your life have you been most broke? How bad did it get exactly?
I grew up in a very poor setting in Kilmacthomas, Waterford, Ireland. After the Second World War, the Emergency as we called it in Ireland, there were very serious food shortages across Europe. There was almost famine in France. A terrible harvest in Ireland, the bread was bad. So those were difficult times growing up. I had bread sandwiches with sugar between the slices. We ate pigs’ ears - which I loved. We never had new clothes or anything like that. There were nine of us living in a workers’ tiny cottage where the rain would come under the bottom of the backdoor. It was a hard upbringing. The most broke I've been as an adult was when I first came to London as a 16-year-old and I was just doing odd-jobs. Working a week here and there, picking up benefit at the weekends. You could get an emergency payment on a Friday for a few days but be in work before it ran out. My mate and I used to eat by robbing vegetables from the allotments around north-west london.

What were the worst jobs you ever did and what made them so bad? Were there any benefits?
I worked on the roads, just a young man surrounded by these very old hard bitten subbies [subcontractors], their faces and fists all gnarled up. We'd be picked up at dawn outside a huge pub in Kilburn and if you were young and strong you got picked to go and build the motorways. Many of the men went straight from the van to the pub and drank and ate there. I also worked stacking crates, on production lines. I was once sacked for falling asleep on a conveyor belt while I was meant to be putting wrappers on ice creams.

What were your digs like back then? Any interesting flatmates we should know about?
I used to live in a West Indian lady's guesthouse in Harlesden which was nice, another time me and my mate had a basement flat with damp on the walls. I didn't have any belongings so we never stayed anywhere for long. My flatmate was a great shoplifter, he'd come home with his jumper full of meat from the supermarket.

What was your favourite budget meal? Do you still enjoy it?
We used to go to the Lyons Corner House, which was a famous place in London in the day. If you timed it right you could eat, drink and edge your way out when the girl on the till wasn't looking. I haven't been there for a long time though.

Any interesting money saving/making tips you picked up back then?
I'm a gambler so I saw the bookies as the way I'd make my fortune. It doesn't always work out that way though. I eventually got onto the catalogue scam, where I registered as a catalogue salesman. You could say you'd sold a suit and then wear it for a few weeks and return it within 30 days without any money exchanging hands. Once I started my furniture business there were certain things that helped. I realised MFI had a lot of returns because people couldn't fit the furniture together - they were the forerunner to IKEA - so I would buy lorries full of the returns. Then employ someone to put the pieces together and have almost new stock to sell in my shop.

Did you ever do something that you regret like borrow money with intending to pay it back or drink lighter fluid Withnail style just to keep warm?
Some of those suits I got from the catalogue scam were pretty hard on the eye. I was glad I could send them back and hadn't paid for them.

How did you manage to keep your dreams alive?
I just always wanted more. I like working hard, I like making money, and I like finding new ways of doing it. Once I'd opened the Mean Fiddler I had a job in a business I loved: live music. I got to meet my heroes like Johnny Cash. That was inspiring. I like people. For every concert or venture that didn't work out I knew there'd be another one down the line that would. Ultimately I'm a gambler and gamblers always believe they are going to win. Throw me out into the street with nothing and I'd find a way of making money

What was the defining moment that turned your fortunes around?
During a house clearance I came across an oil painting which the lady sold to me for a tenner and turned out to be worth thousands. I sold it at auction and it allowed me to open more shops. Also booking New Order for the Reading Festival made a huge difference. They'd not played for a while, I think they'd split up, and it turned the festival around.

What one piece of advice can you give young people with ambitions of being successful?
Work hard, believe in yourself, go after your dreams, don't take no for an answer. Simple stuff but it's worked for me.

Monday, 4th April 2011

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