“It’s been hard to accept that I wasn’t a good person,” says comedian Stuart Mitchell of his time as a banker, the inspiration behind the Radio 4 series Cost of Living, in which he recounts his life story. But it’s easy to see how it happened. It was that most human of instincts: he wanted money.


Mitchell, 41, grew up in Linlithgow and Lanarkshire, watching his single father (his mother took her own life when he was seven) struggle to support his family repairing sewing machines, and decided that if he could take his dad’s work ethic and apply it in the world of finance, instead of sewing machine repair... well. Lots of money.

Mitchell got himself a job at a bank, selling people loans, making those loans as big as possible, knowing if they defaulted on them the bank could take everything. It made him lots of money. He got himself a £1,800 Louis Vuitton bag, and a BMW sports car, and a gold-plated iPhone (“The signal was terrible”).

Then came the 2008 financial crash. He watched his dad break down in tears after losing half his pension, and that same week went into work to find sweeping redundancies. He was spared, but when he discovered his pregnant colleague wasn’t, he wrote his resignation letter on the spot. “That was my first turning point – seeing what happened to my dad, and realising I was making that same thing happen to people every day.”

Stuart Mitchell's Cost of Living.
Stuart Mitchell's Cost of Living airs at 7:15pm on Sunday 25th February on BBC Radio 4. BBC

Done with avarice, he took a job in the charity sector, and an 80 per cent pay cut. He started doing comedy on the side, initially turning up to unpaid gigs in his sports car. It was soon replaced by a Peugeot 106. But he “couldn’t have cared less” about his change in fortunes – to the extent that when, years later, a considerably-less-wealthy Mitchell was ambushed on his honeymoon by an astronomical bill that he simply couldn’t afford at one of Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants, he considered the £640 he was charged for the meal to be comeuppance for his years of greed in the finance industry, and was inspired to begin the introspective journey that eventually produced Stuart Mitchell’s Cost of Living.

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His new career built gradually – he got writing gigs, won a few awards, and eventually he was offered a part in Shetland. He got a call shortly afterwards from his dad – who’d been so excited about the Shetland role (“It was the only thing he ever told me he really wanted me to do”) – asking him to come and visit. The news was as bad as it could’ve been – stomach cancer. Mitchell, at the time working at an end-of-life charity, had to explain to his father that only palliative care was on offer. “I had to say to him, ‘Dad that means there’s nothing they can do.’”

He cancelled an upcoming tour of New Zealand and Australia, and almost all other work he had lined up, and was promptly dropped by his agent. But he still had Shetland. As he was about to board the plane there, he got another call, this time from his stepmum. His father had taken a turn for the worse. They wanted the family to come in, urgently. “And I made the biggest… the right decision. It was 24 hours before I was due to be on set, but there was no question in my mind… I’ve got no regrets about what I did. Because I was there for him, all the way to the end.”

So came Mitchell’s second turning point. “It felt like I had to take on his role, of being the best person I could be,” Mitchell says of his father. This was a man who’d cleared his garage out before he died to save everyone else the heartbreak of doing it for him. Who’d saved a woman a fortune in sewing machine repairs, by fixing her machine for free.

“And I believe it’ll come round. I never thought I’d get a Radio 4 series… I don’t want to blow my own trumpet and say it’s life-changing or anything, but I think some people listening to it, if you’re in a job that isn’t you, that doesn’t fit with your morals, then maybe you could go out and lose 80 per cent of your salary, and be happy about it. If you can earn a salary that gets you by, and do something that you’re morally happy with, what else do you need?”

Stuart Mitchell's Cost of Living airs at 7:15pm on Sunday 25th February on BBC Radio 4. Visit our TV Guide and Streaming Guide to see what's on tonight.


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