Money & Me: 'I slept on a mattress on the floor when we lost our five-bed Dubai villa'

Model Caroline Labouchere's family suffered financial hardship when her husband lost his job in 2014

Caroline Labouchere says when the family first arrived in Dubai in 2010, "every dream box was ticked ... a five-bedroom villa with a pool and housekeeper'. Courtesy Caroline Labouchere
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Caroline Labouchere is a mature model who started her career in her fifties and is now the face of brands such as No1 Rosemary Water in the UK. The Briton, 55, who first moved to Dubai in 2010 when her husband David secured a job as a military adviser, says the family had a turbulent time when he lost his job in 2014. For a while, the family lived with friends and in a one-bedroom apartment, surviving off her income from part-time modelling jobs, before her husband secured another role. Ms Labouchere lives in Arabian Ranches in Dubai with David and their two children, Amelia (Mimi), 23, and Maximilian, 25.

How did your upbringing shape your attitude towards money?

I was born in London in 1964. My mother divorced and remarried into the landed gentry and we moved to Bedfordshire when I was six. We lived in a very large house but were forever on an economy drive. We were the classic asset-rich cash-poor family with history and pride, but little ready spending money.

As long as I can remember, my mother was careful with money. We bought broken biscuits from the manufacturer, pea pods from the Birdseye factory and collected wasted corn in the local fields for our chickens after the combine harvester had done its work.

In 2014, my husband lost his job, and the house and our lovely housekeeper vanished into thin air. No home, no job.

When did you start working?

I had many jobs as soon as I left school at 16. One of the first was in a children’s clothes shop. I cannot remember how much I earned but it was pennies; certainly, it completely ignored any concept of ‘minimum wage’.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I go through phases. My husband would say I’m a spender, but I often save to spend.

Who is your biggest financial inspiration?

It’s a what, not a who. Not having spare cash all of my life has been my biggest inspiration. I learnt to make my clothes because I couldn’t buy them. I learnt to make curtains and upholster as I lusted for beautiful furnishings. I was brought up to be a wife and mother, not to have a career.

What brought you to the UAE?

My husband became a military adviser here in 2010 and Mimi and I came with him.

What financial highs and lows have you experienced here?

When we arrived in 2010, every dream box was ticked. A five-bedroom villa in Arabian Ranches with a pool and housekeeper. David had a great job which gave him time to train as a triathlete, I worked part-time at the local school. Two cars, two dogs and two children. In 2014, my husband lost his job, and the house and our lovely housekeeper vanished into thin air. No home, no job. Surviving only on my part-time salary was tough, especially living in Dubai.

How did you cope?

We were homeless, staying wherever we could. Dog-sitting, housesitting, sleeping on a mattress on the floor. I couldn’t get my head around the situation at all. [At one point] we lived in an empty one-bedroom apartment. Our two dogs slept in two sides of a suitcase. Mimi was still at school and slept on a rattan sun lounger.

Often we had no air-conditioning. We spent our savings within six months, surviving and paying off a mortgage in Canada and all other lines of credit. We then owed nothing, owned land on the other side of the globe, but had very little to live on. I lost a lot of friends during this time. The dogs were the only reason I got up, although I went through the motions of work between outbursts of self-pity. In December that year, David became a joint partner in a local gym, where he remains today. This allowed us to get back on our feet.

How did you become a model in your fifties?

Everything gained momentum in November 2017. Mimi was working in London for No1 Rosemary Water and they needed a grey model. I was not a model but I was grey. She showed them my picture and they flew me over for a casting; I was chosen for an advertising campaign that put me in British Vogue eight times in one year. Strangely, my first modelling job wasn't daunting; I was a natural and it felt 'right'.

Did you always want to be a model?

I wanted to be a model at 16. But the reality of work, contributing to the family budget and the normal demands of being a young person began to impact my life. It was not until more than 30 years later when my daughter began modelling in London that it edged into my consciousness as a shadowy, unfulfilled need. In 2018 I decided to leave my receptionist job in Dubai and aim for the sky.

What did that feel like?

I felt strong and in control for the first time in my life. Abandoning my regular salary was a leap of faith. I hoped to make the same amount of money, but quietly wanted to make more. I am doing well and things just get better all the time.

What is your approach to the finances at home?

My husband’s money is our money, my money is mine. We are quite old-fashioned, I think. This has changed in that I now have to share my money. I am hoping we will go back to the old way soon.

What is your most cherished purchase?

A pair of Manolo Blahniks I bought with my first modelling fee. I went to Harvey Nichols and spent nearly Dh4,000 on a grey satin pair of 105 Hangisi heels. They make me feel fabulous.

Where do you save?

I mostly save cash in banks or building societies, and in bonds, and rely on compound interest. I also bought shares in No1 Rosemary Water — after all, it did start my new life.

Ms Labouchere says her biggest financial regret is 'living too large' when she first arrived in Dubai. Courtesy Caroline Labouchere

What is your next financial goal?

Earning on parity with my husband. My income is not as consistent as David’s but I’ll get there. When I do, his income will probably increase further.

What has been your best investment?

Our children.

What car do you drive?

A Mini Countryman, having passed my Hummer to my daughter.

How many homes do you own?

None. Thanks to the military, we lived in many houses all over the world. We eventually bought land in Canada to build our dream home, but have put it up for sale so we can head back to Oxfordshire in England over the next couple of years.

Do you plan for the future?

I used to, now I’m living for now. My husband has the future covered. His military service has given us a generous pension that should allow us to grow old without too many worries.

Do you have any financial regrets?

Living too large when we arrived in Dubai, I suppose. It was a time when we might have saved. That said, we lived well and happily. Sometimes we concentrate too hard on the destination to the detriment of the journey.