After spending his first nights in London sleeping in his Ford Fiesta, latter-day Del Boy Laurence Lameche built a property portfolio through some creative deals. But he hasn’t forgotten how his rags-to-riches story began…
‘I came from a single-parent family in Suffolk. My mum had three jobs, but we had nothing. I really struggled at school, but I was inspired by TV shows like “Lovejoy” and “Only Fools and Horses”, with their working-class men who wanted to work hard to make it: “This time next year, we’ll be millionaires!”
As a kid, I sold cookies and sweets at school and bought collectibles with the money: stamps, medals, Beatles memorabilia… I was always looking to not retire on a state pension. I didn’t know how, but I believed that one day I’d make it.
I moved to London in 1997 with no job, no savings and no qualifications – I could barely read or write. All I had was my Ford Fiesta, which I slept in. I bought a really cheap suit and tie that I hung up in the car, and every day I would buy a newspaper for the job ads, go to the phone box and talk really quickly to try to get an interview before my money ran out. But employers would always say, “Come back when you’ve found somewhere to live.” Landlords would say, “Come back when you’ve found a job.”
Eventually one landlord took pity on me when I said I just needed a chance. I later found out from his daughter, who actually ran the business, that he was a former prisoner of war who had come to London without a penny in his pocket. Maybe he related to me somehow. She said I was very lucky to have met her father rather than her, because she would have said no!
For the next three years, I had various jobs: retail assistant, football steward, lettings agent. I also worked as a bus tour guide and then set up my own business giving advice about nightclubs to tourists. But my dream was always to buy property in London. I had loved playing Monopoly as a kid, but no one would play with me because I always won. I managed to buy my first property – a one-bed flat in Islington – in 2004. I didn’t have any money left over to buy a bed or curtains. Then I decided to burn my boats: I closed the nightclub business, remortgaged my flat and bought another property near King’s Cross.
It was 2008 and I’d run out of money. So I started doing creative deals, babysitting mortgage and loan payments for tired landlords until I could buy their properties. With one, I sealed the deal by saying I’d buy him a ticket to see Arsenal play at the Emirates Stadium. Even then, I thought: No one’s going to believe this is possible!
When I was at school I said I wanted to be a millionaire and an author, and they laughed. Now I have a portfolio of London properties and an award-nominated book.
I’ve started trying to give back, too. I went to a Phil Collins concert last year, and when he played “Another Day in Paradise”, the lyrics about homelessness reminded me of sleeping in my car 20 years ago. So I decided to let out my King’s Cross flat for free over Christmas to a single mother who’d been homeless for two-and-a-half years. Now she’s found a much better place because she had the time to sit down and look at her options. I hope that will inspire other landlords who have empty properties. Sometimes people just need a chance.’
Interview by Emily Mackay.
Laurence Lameche’s book ‘How I Bought Three London Properties for a Football Ticket’ is out now.
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