Here, Libby Caudwell, daughter of billionaire Phones4u founder, John Caudwell, tells Grazia why earning her own living made her happier than she ever imagined...
‘Lying on the back of a boat, taking in the Australian coastline after a hard day’s work with my soon-to-be boyfriend Simon, I took a deep, satisfied breath. Here, despite working long days, I was relaxed. I was anonymous. Or so I thought. “Doesn’t your dad have an 80ft yacht?” Simon blurted out. Even on the other side of the world, I couldn’t escape it – being a billionaire’s child isn’t something you can keep quiet.
‘I’m Libby – my dad is John Caudwell, founder of Phones 4u. He sold his company, the Caudwell Group, in 2006 for £1.46bn. His wealth was flagged up last week in The Sunday Times Super Rich List. And the issue of privileged children was brought to the fore after Brooklyn Beckham was last week revealed to have taken a £2.68-an-hour job at a coffee shop. I can understand why – coming from such wealth leaves you feeling you’re underachieving. How can you ever hope to emulate your parent’s success?
‘We weren’t always rich. In fact, when I was younger, we would go away to the South of France and sleep in the car to save money. We didn’t have anything flash and, from the late ’80s, Dad worked 18-hour days, seven days a week to keep us afloat.
‘But then his mobile phone business took off. And suddenly life changed. When I was nine, Dad bought a Grade I listed, £10m convent as our new home – an upgrade from a semi-detached in Stoke-on-Trent.
‘At 12, summer holidays became trips on Dad’s 64ft yacht. (Incidentally, he now has two.) Life became a flurry of luxurious parties and hanging out with celebrities like Hugh Grant. For my 21st, we had a huge marquee in the garden, with hundreds of guests and Leona Lewis singing.
‘I know: I’ve been spoiled rotten. But it’s not the idyll you might imagine. When I was 17, I started to suffer with anxiety. I was neurotic about my studies, unable to sleep for fear of failing. Dad became more high profile as his wealth grew and his charity, Caudwell Children (which funds treatment and equipment for disabled children and their families) gained pace, and, as a coping mechanism, I developed a false confidence: I told myself that I was interesting and worthy because he was. I lived vicariously through Dad’s success.
‘Unsurprisingly, this didn’t last. I began to feel depressed. And, increasingly, guilty. What did I, the daughter of a billionaire, have to feel sorry for? I went to Cheltenham Ladies’ College and had an allowance of £3,000 a month. Yet when friends of my dad asked, “What are you doing with yourself?” I could have cried. I had no idea. The world really could have been my oyster – but its vastness simply paralysed me.
Libby and her boyfriend, Simon, on board her dad's yacht
‘For someone of my age, it didn’t feel “normal” to have no money worries. I didn’t have to think about whether I could afford a night out, and when I suggested getting taxis home, mates would (quite rightly) roll their eyes at me as they flagged down the night bus. They didn’t care who my dad was – they were friends with me because of who I am. But I would have felt uncomfortable complaining about life to them – I supposedly had it all.
‘I needed a fresh start, where no one knew who I was. So, in November 2012, I asked Dad to cut off my allowance and booked a one-way ticket to Australia. My dad was supportive (he always is), and agreed to cut me off. “I’m sorry,” he said, “if the allowance made it harder for you to push yourself and find your way. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that.” I disagreed – I knew he always had my best interests at heart. But staying where I was felt like I was drowning.
‘When I arrived in Australia, the feeling of independence was terrifying, yet exciting. I worked hard to find a job, got accommodation and paid for it myself. Relying on my own wages felt like such an achievement. I made a conscious decision to keep my dad’s wealth a secret as I wanted to live on my own merit. Each day I hosted beach activities and boat tours with the skipper, Simon. Out there, I was serving champagne, not sipping it over polite conversation. And it felt amazing.
Libby at work in Australia
‘When my new friends asked about my life back home, I glossed over the details. But after Simon blurted out about Dad’s yacht, it was clear they’d known all along. “The CEO has been bragging about your billionaire dad since you arrived,” he said. I assume he’d googled my name. Thankfully, it didn’t change a thing. Simon, who had a “normal” upbringing in Tasmania, and I started dating and he didn’t have any interest in the money. As boats are his life, he just wanted me to describe Dad’s yachts.
Last October, we left Australia. “Will you still love me in England?” Simon asked. “Or will you turn into London Libby?” Today, I’m working as a PA, rent a house in Brixton and have a £25-a-day budget.
'I still rely on my own earnings to get by instead of an allowance. My family are really proud of me. I still love Dad’s parties – but aside from that, life isn’t glamorous. And that suits me just fine.’
To find out more about Caudwell Children, or to make a donation, please visit their website.