Radio review: Martin Lewis, the Dumbledore of Debt, on Desert Island Discs

Nuala McCann

Desert Island Discs Radio 4

Some people call him the Dumbledore of Debt.

Martin Lewis is an accidental entrepreneur. He never set out to get rich.

Lewis founded the Money Saving Expert website in 2003 with just £100 and sold it for £87m less than 10 years later.

But he's also a philanthropist – someone who uses his money for the common good, he's a campaigner, he believes in the little man against the corporate giant and he is open and honest about himself in a way that is beguiling.

In this Desert Island Discs, he downplayed his natural talent for maths and finance.

Some people can listen to a piece of music and play it back to you, he said, but his skill lies in looking at the terms and conditions of a credit card and understanding them... not quite as sexy, but handy.

Lewis set up his website after studying for a postgraduate course in journalism. But the website was costing him £1,000 a month, he was a freelance journalist and he had to make it pay.

It did pay in bag loads and he's not sitting on it. He recently set up a Coronavirus Poverty Fund.

He has waged battles fighting for the ordinary man against hefty bank charges. He is a campaigner who is keen to make a difference.

He settled a court case for £3m and used it to set up Citizens' Advice Scam Action to support people who have been scammed.

His campaign against unfair bank charges ended up with a Top 40 hit: the lyric read .....Come on you bankers, give us our cash.

But there was no idle boasting or pomposity in this programme.

Lewis spoke openly about childhood trauma. His mother died suddenly in a tragic accident just before his 12th birthday.

There was no bereavement counselling back then and he was so devastated that he did not go out until he was 18.

“Looking back I was a little boy struggling to deal with something nobody should have to deal with.

“I couldn't cope with leaving the house..”

He suffered panic and anxiety for a number of years.

In the current crisis, presenter Lauren Laverne asked him what his best advice might be.

“Hope” he replied. “Hope that it will get better - that we're in a V which has a very sharp decline and a very steep return.

“That there will be enough care and consideration from the state and fellows in society to make things better.”

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