Olga Thomas, songwriter for the Queen, speaks to ME & MY MONEY
Composer Olga Thomas, a British citizen born in Russia, is appalled by what is happening in Ukraine. She likens it to living in a sci-fi horror movie.
Thomas has had number one hits with the music she composed for the Queen, including Royal Platinum Love Song – written for the Queen and Prince Philip’s 70th wedding anniversary in 2017.
To celebrate the platinum jubilee, Olga has composed a new classic piece for charity titled The Four British Nations. He appears on the album EIIR: The Platinum Record, released on April 21.
Dismay: Composer Olga Thomas, a British citizen born in Russia, is appalled by what is happening in Ukraine
Do you have family in Russia or Ukraine?
My elderly father is in Moscow and a distant cousin is in Ukraine. And I have many friends in both countries. In Russia, some have been arrested for saying no to war.
Seeing what is happening in Ukraine is heartbreaking. It’s something I never imagined, even in a nightmare. It feels like living in a sci-fi horror movie.
My family suffered so much during the Stalin years. They were sent to the Gulag, a Russian labor camp. For me, Stalin represented evil as much as possible. And in my opinion, what is happening now is an extension of that.
Why would a clear-headed person act like this? It’s so aggressive and unreasonable. I can find no explanation why Putin does this.
I don’t know if I will ever be able to see my father again, who is over 80 years old. I am a British citizen and consider myself English. If I entered Russia, I might be considered an enemy for not supporting the war.
What did your parents teach you about money?
You have to deserve it. I was born in Moscow in 1961. My mother was a musician and my father a mathematician and engineer. They both worked hard and I was lucky because we lived in a nice apartment and had no difficulties at all.
My education at a prestigious music school for gifted children was free. But like other middle-class families in Russia at that time, we had no savings. You had to be careful with money to live comfortably. It taught me to treat money with respect and not waste it.
Have you ever struggled to make ends meet?
Yes. When I was 28, the year before I arrived in England, my mother fell seriously ill with cancer.
She needed specialist medical care and although we officially had free medicine in Russia, nothing was really free. I had to arrange proper care for her, first in hospital and then, in the last months of her life, at home.
We didn’t have palliative care in Russia back then. When people were so sick, they were sent home to die because it lowered hospital death statistics.
She needed huge support from different hospitals and it was extremely expensive. At the time, I was teaching at the school for gifted children.
They kindly gave me paid compassionate leave, which allowed me to tutor from home while I looked after my mother.
I gave a lot of lessons, but it was still not enough. I had to start selling the family jewels. I don’t regret for a second having done it, it was nothing. Giving my mother a few extra comfortable minutes of life means everything to me.
What was your most lucrative composition?
The music I wrote for a production of The Cherry Orchard in the West End in 1993. I was paid several thousand pounds, which was a lot of money at the time. The production lasted six months and I also received royalties.
Honour: Olga Thomas, who composed music for the Queen, presented her with a CD
How much do you get paid for the music you write for the Queen?
Not much, just the composer’s royalties when he’s on the radio. I receive nothing at all from the sales: 100% of the proceeds from the sales of my music for the Queen are donated to charity.
I can’t imagine profiting from these sales because when I compose something for the Queen, it’s a musical gift for her and the Royal House.
I’m the resident composer for the charity Cruse Bereavement Care, a volunteer role that I do for free because I find it rewarding. Her Majesty is her royal patroness, so I gave my music as a gift to the Queen.
The first gift was called Themes of Life and Glory, and it was dedicated to the memory of the Queen Mother. I never thought I’d be invited to the Palace, let alone present the gift myself, but that’s what happened.
It was an amazing experience to talk to Her Majesty and give her my CD and say a few words about love for our mothers. I will never forget this moment.
What’s the most expensive thing you’ve bought for fun?
Lifetime membership of the Groucho Club, a private club in London. I bought it in the early 1990s, it cost £2000 and I had to take out a loan to pay for it. But I don’t regret it. I like to go there with my friends. It’s a special place.
What is your biggest financial mistake?
Subscription to borrower’s insurance (PPI) on 15 store cards and bank cards. I trusted the people who sold it to me.
I got so good at claiming PPI refunds that companies eventually started paying me more than they owed me as an apology
In 2015, I started claiming it. I got so good at claiming that companies ended up paying me more than they owed me as an apology.
In total I recovered around £50,000. Then, under a pseudonym, I posted a free letter template for other people to use and they started earning their business too.
He even impressed the Financial Ombudsman Service: he made a video of what I had done to show the staff. They couldn’t imagine that a normal, untrained person could do such a good job.
What’s the best financial decision you’ve made?
To pay a 73-piece orchestra, choir and top-notch arranger to record my composition, Royal Platinum Love Song, for Her Majesty’s Platinum Wedding Anniversary.
She was celebrating 70 years of marriage to the late Prince Philip. It cost me thousands of pounds and when I first heard it I couldn’t believe my own piece was done in such an amazing way.
It became my first number one song on the classical music charts and several number ones followed. Even though I haven’t made any money from sales and haven’t yet fully recouped my investment from royalties, it has catapulted me onto the world stage.
Park life: Olga Thomas and her husband own a four-bedroom apartment near Hyde Park in London
Do you own a property?
Yes. My husband and I have a wonderful four bedroom apartment in central London, not far from Hyde Park.
My husband, who is a chartered accountant, bought it on an interest only mortgage in 1981 before we met.
Now I pay off the mortgage and the house belongs to both of us. I don’t know how much my husband paid for it, but I think it’s worth around £1.5m now.
What is the little luxury you offer yourself?
For each new piece that I compose, I buy a jewel related to the new work. I will spend between £200 and £1000.
If you were Chancellor, what is the first thing you would do?
I would offer more support to freelancers in the creative professions.
What is your number one financial priority?
To continue to have financial security. I would also like to find an investor to help me record with orchestras and raise more money for charity.
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