How I Ended Up Broke at 55

Anyone looking at my blueprint for a happy life composed at 27 would think I was the wisest young woman in England. Indeed, when I was an executive with Anglia Television Drama at that relatively youthful age, colleagues would come to me for advice on long-term investment. I knew that behind my back they were making cracks about "Jews are always the best with money" but it did not faze me. I seemed to have planned for a prosperous future. Just before she died, when I was 35, my mother said, "I'm not worried about you. One day you are going to be a very wealthy woman."

Well, I should have been. I am 55 and penniless. Without the generosity of friends I would be on the street.

What happened? In light of the daily stories on American news programs about tent cities and rampant foreclosures, I thought I would share my story. Here is the sorry scenario:

When I was in my 20s and an enormously ambitious television and theater practitioner, I knew I would need to organize a long-term financial scheme for myself should I not marry. I knew that life was hard for single women. So, at age 27 I began investing in the employee pension plan at Anglia Television. At age 30, after a protracted struggle to get a mortgage, I finally bought the flat I had been renting in St. John's Wood; I took out an endowment plan with Friends Provident to guarantee my interest-only mortgage and give me an additional lump sum at term end, or so I was promised by the salesman. In 1991 my father and I decided to buy the flat above me and knock the two into a mews house. Just as we were about to sign the papers he had a massive stroke and I decided not to proceed on my own.

He lingered and died three years later. I decided to take some equity out of my flat and in turn to invest in a second endowment plan with Abbey National Life to supplement the Friends Provident one. Again, the salesman at Abbey National promised me a generous lump sum at the end of the term of the plan.

I left Anglia in 1991 and went freelance, taking out a private pension plan with NPI. It was a difficult existence and I struggled for many years, compounded by illness, but in the back of my mind was the voice of my late mother: "One day you are going to be a very rich woman." For a while I earned a decent salary from the Dutch conglomerate JE Entertainment and gave a lot to charity and to less fortunate friends, but that ended when I stood my ground with JE over their unspeakable racism about my black secretary. ("If she sits on our chairs they will start to stink.") I left and had a few lean years. Then came the 2000s: lo and behold, Friends Provident and Abbey National Life wrote to me and to millions of other investors saying there was a "substantial shortfall" in both endowment policies. Property prices were not high and I had no hope of selling my flat. In addition, as I neared my 50th birthday, I was told my Anglia pension, which had been moved by my IFA from Norwich Union to Scottish Equitable, had also "tanked."