The film extra
Former telecoms manager Steve Foxon, 64, has had bit parts in several movies. He has a grown-up daughter and lives in Dartford, Kent
All my working life I was in telecoms, first with BT and then with an American company. Just before I took early retirement in 2012, my rugby club forwarded me an email from a casting agency, asking for some big men to appear in the background of a commercial. I was on holiday at the time, but on my return I contacted Uni-versal Extras (0345 009 0344), who suggested I paid the then one-off £15 fee to join [£30 for one year in 2019 or £30 for two years] and build up my profile, which is basically a CV with photos.
‘I’m 6ft tall, weigh 17 stone, and I’m fit and bald, so I tend to be typecast. My first job was as a gravedigger in the 2010 film Burke & Hare. I’ve played a truck driver in [the 2011 British football drama] Will, a Russian diplomat in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, a police officer in Muppets Most Wanted and most recently a prisoner and a prison warder in Paddington 2, when Paddington is set up and sent to prison. That was my best experience so far, although unfortunately in the final cut there’s only a flash of me as a prisoner.
‘I’ve now done five films and have thoroughly enjoyed all of them, but you have to do a lot of hanging about. Basically, you get paid to drink a lot of tea and coffee. They tend to keep us separate from the stars, who have their own caravans, while we’re kept in a marquee or even an aircraft hangar! Colin Firth did say hello when I walked into the tea tent at 6am on the first day of filming Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy but usually we don’t mix until we’re on set.
‘It’s down to luck if you get a job, and it’s pretty hit and miss. Sometimes you apply for a role, sometimes they call you. I’d definitely recommend being an extra – or a ‘supporting actor’ as we’re also called – and I have done so to former colleagues.
‘I started taking my pensions – I have three – after I retired, although I won’t get my state pension till I’m 65. Being a film extra doesn’t bring in much – from £150 to £500 per day depending on your status and how high-profile the film is. Last year I earned £1,400 before tax – ten days filming at £140 a day – it’ll pay for me to go with the boys to a rugby tournament in Magaluf this month, and it covers expenses when my car breaks down.
‘Being an extra is not glamorous – you have to be on site at 6am – but what I like about it is that you meet people, have a cooked breakfast with them, and you get talking. The only thing that’ll make me give it up is ill health.’
The B&B host
Catharine Robinson, 70, worked in adult social care before retiring in 2016. She decided to top up her pension by running an Airbnb at her pretty cottage in Ditchling, East Sussex. She lives alone and has three adult children
For 20 years I was a contracts officer in adult social care and retired in the summer of 2016. I needed to top up my two pensions because they aren’t enough for anything extra.
‘In March 2016 I put up a couple of people attending a yoga course. One of them suggested I do Airbnb and helped me register. We included photos of my two double bedrooms, and by the next day I had so many enquiries I felt overwhelmed. But I’d done something wrong with the listing, so people thought they were getting my whole house for £70 a night. I now have two listings, one for each room, which is hard to manage.
‘I probably get about 75 visitors a year, mainly walkers and cyclists between April and September, with a few guests attending local weddings.
‘It’s a huge amount of work for one person. Most guests are one-nighters. You have to be there when they arrive – which can be late – and the whole house has to be tidy, bedrooms and bathrooms perfect.
‘Cyclists and walkers are often wet and muddy, so I have all their dirty gear to dry. One group were so filthy I hosed them down in the garden!
‘And it can be eventful. A 19-year-old walker got lost in the fog on the Downs and I had to search for him. A woman became ill after not taking her medication and I had to take her to Heathrow and put her on a plane home.
‘Although I’m a “superhost” now (which basically means I’ve had great feedback), I don’t make much money out of it, taking into account all the shopping, washing, changing beds, etc. It gives me about £6,000 a year before tax to spend on treats I otherwise couldn’t afford, such as going to the opera, and taking a holiday or two. But I’m paid in US dollars, so the amount varies; my bank charges me conversion fees on top, and I have to pay my accountant. And my house insurance has gone up, from £330 to £900 a year. But as long as I’m well, I’ll keep doing it. I’ve made some wonderful friends – and there’s never a dull moment.’
Need to know
If your income is more than your personal allowance of £12,500 in the current tax year, you will be liable for income tax. But if you continue to work once you reach state pension age, you will no longer need to pay national insurance contributions. Choose to work part-time in retirement and some of your benefit entitlements may be affected, such as pension credit if your weekly income rises to more than £167.25 (£255.25 for couples).
The virtual PA
Former teacher Annie Green, 60, is now a virtual PA. She is married to Ian, 53, who works in PR; they have two grown-up children, and live in Menston, near Ilkley, Yorkshire
After training for a year, I started teaching in 2004 when my children finished primary school. I was sick to death of people slamming the state system when my two had done well in it.
‘But it was hard work, and by 2016 there were so many pressures. You need a young person’s stamina and an older person’s experience these days. Something inside me went ‘click’ and I couldn’t get enthused. I’d had enough.
‘Before teaching, I’d been a secretary and PA, and thought it’d be easy to walk back into a job in Leeds. I applied for dozens, but I never heard from most of them. It was galling not to be wanted.
‘Then, in October 2016, I heard about a job working from home as a virtual PA to a businessman in Leeds. I got it, and decided to cash in my teacher’s pension and use the job to top up my income.
I have no regrets about taking my pension early – it was there to be used.
‘My boss needed organising, because he was trying to run his management consultant business and write his PhD thesis at the same time. My first task was to sort out his office. Now I’ve set up all his systems, he dictates his interviews and I type them up.
‘The hours vary, but I’m available four days a week between 10am and 4pm. I like the work because I can do it at home and set my own timetable. I’ve never been career-driven but I’m happy
to be doing something useful, and I certainly don’t miss classroom politics.
‘What I get paid depends on how much work he’s got – though it tends to be about £300 every four weeks. So with this job and my pension I have about £650 coming in each month. It’s not a lot, but it’s enough.
‘Ian still works full-time, we’re not extravagant, and we have all the stuff we could ever need. As long as I can afford a holiday and attend my jewellery class, I’m happy.
‘I can’t get my state pension until I’m 66, but I now take a flexible approach to working. It’s not how I thought it’d be – but I’m not unhappy.’
7 ways to top up a pension
1 Rent out a room
You can earn £7,500 tax-free by taking a lodger through a website such as EasyRoommate or by hosting short-term guests through Airbnb. Find more information on the HS223 Rent-A-Room Scheme at gov.uk.
2 Try house-sitting
You get a daily allowance for food and travel expenses, and around £10-£15 a day. Visit Homesitters or call 01296 630730.
3 Go dog walking
Get paid and get fit at the same time. You can earn £10-£15 per dog, per hour.
4 Become a virtual assistant/PA
Target businesses that need your skills, as bidding is fierce on freelance job sites such as PeoplePerHour.
5 Start selling
Become an Avon rep for the cosmetics giant.
6 Be a mystery shopper
Earn £10 to £50 per job (and if you make a purchase you often get to keep it). Try
MarketForce 01908 328000, and Retail Active 01235 856575.
7 Teach from home
If you’re a retired teacher or lecturer, tutor online – or face-to-face if you prefer. Earn £20 to £90 per hour depending on experience. Visit Tutor House.
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