‘The most expensive purchase I’ve ever made? Mata Hari’s panties


Barry Humphries, 88, is the actor and comedian best known for his characters Dame Edna Everage and Sir Les Patterson. He was born in Melbourne, Australia, and now lives in North London with his fourth wife, actress Lizzie Spender.

How did your childhood influence your attitude towards money?

I was not taught anything about budgeting. My father was a successful self-made man, a builder who, rather than teaching them the value of money, spoiled his children at every turn.

I was very spoiled: if I looked at something, it was mine.

My mother’s favorite expression was that a fool and his money are soon parted. She was full of sayings like that.

What was your first job?

A Christmas job in the Myer Emporium, the largest department store in Melbourne and possibly all of Australia. I worked in the Hopalong Cassidy department, which was selling fake guns and leggings to wear, cowboy style, over pants. One day, I got the price wrong. I started selling outfits for 3/6d when it should have been 33/6d. No one could figure out why there was a permanent line snaking around the block. It took almost a week before my madness was discovered.

Are you a saver or a spender?

A spendthrift. I’m married to a girl called Spender – Lizzie is the daughter of the late Sir Stephen Spender – but she’s a saver.

I’ve always believed that if you spend freely, you create a vacuum in which money will gravitate. It’s a mystery to me but I’ve never been broke.

Are you a gamer?

Never. I would never bet on horses. But I buy books and photos. I consider it an investment, however.

Property aside, what’s the most expensive purchase you’ve ever made?

Mata Hari’s panties. About twenty years ago, the criminal museum in Paris put some of its contents up for auction. One of them was a thong belonging to Mata Hari, a very famous Dutch exotic dancer who had had sex with a number of high profile political figures. She was accused of espionage, and no doubt she would have passed on some innocuous treats.


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