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Nick Hancock

Planning for his retirement brought the host of television’s They Think It’s All Over down to Earth, when he was so impressed by the mortgage advisory firm that he joined it as sales and marketing director, says Andrea Tryphonides.

Nick Hancock is not joking. Or, at least, he is a man who wants to be taken seriously. When Earth Mortgages announced that the host of They Think It’s All Over and creator of Room 101 was joining the firm, many wondered whether it was a slightly odd joke.

But this was no prank. Hancock was appointed sales and marketing director in September after meeting the Earth Mortgages directors through a mutual friend. The initial idea was to invest some money in the firm.

He says: “Basically, I wanted to make sure that I have something for my pension pot. Once I went to see the Earth Mortgages team, I thought why not get involved properly and get my teeth into it a bit more?”

After he was criticised initially for being a little vague as to the ins and outs of the industry, Hancock has done his homework and now expresses some pertinent views on the market. He says: “Regulation is certainly a good thing. Our compliance department takes it extremely seriously, of course, and we closely monitor our advisers. But I do not believe the market has changed all that much post-regulation. The business needs of the market are fairly constant. But one of the challenges is to educate consumers on how to communicate with lenders and advisers.”

Hancock believes his unblinkered view of the mortgage industry will benefit the firm. He ultimately sees himself as a consumer and asks his fellow directors Darren Millington and Mike Worthington questions that Earth Mortgages advisers will potentially face.

Hancock was born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1962 and grew up with three sisters. He says he shocked himself and his parents by getting a place at Cambridge University to study English. He performed in Footlights, the university’s comedy troupe, and trained as a teacher before leaving for a short stint at advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi in 1986.

Describing himself as “a mild-mannered media man by day, moonlighting as a poor comedian by night”, he rubbed shoulders with emerging talents such as Jo Brand, Eddie Izzard, Julian Clary, Jack Dee and Mike Myers.

Hancock left Saatchis six months to the day after he started but asked his former colleagues not to mention anything to his parents, so as not to disappoint them while he performed on the comedy circuit. He launched Room 101 as a radio show and then converted it for television in 1992. They Think It’s All Over was first aired in 1995 and he hosted it for the last time at its 10th anniversary.

Earth Mortgages certainly wants to use Hancock’s television persona and talents as an entertainer to promote its slightly wacky brand. Current advertisements have It’s A Knockout frontman Stuart Hall walking around a brightly coloured set. Hancock will be used in future advertising but is concentrating on getting to know the business.

The first big challenge for the team will come after the holiday season. Hancock says: “There is always that lull as we approach Christmas but, by February, the next big push for Earth Mortgages is going to be a rebranding. We are looking at rebranding as Earth Money. We will also be looking at other areas which we can get into.”

The possible rebranding is set to open the door to work in second-charge mortgages and other forms of financial advice but Hancock stresses that nothing has been confirmed.

He does not rule out looking at the pack- aging industry to increase market penetration. He is also interested in the fine line between prime, near-prime and non-conforming mortgages. “I believe we still pander to a terrible bias that borders on snobbery when it comes to sub-prime mortgages. This affects an awful lot of people who are our next-door neighbours, the people you live across the street from. To stereotype these people is a terrible mistake. The near-prime market is the biggest of them all.”

Earth Mortgages has a small panel of lenders. Hancock may look at expanding the panel but believes its current maximum of five lenders provides a broad choice for clients.

Admittedly, Earth is not a name that springs to the mortgage-savvy but Hancock is geared up to change that. He says: “Post-regulation, there has been a little bit of a drop-out but not much consolidation. I believe there will be opportunities to consolidate and we will grow to become a national mover and shaker.”

He is unfazed by the flat market predicted by the Council of Mortgage Lenders and the even gloomier picture painted by other doom- mongers. “Okay, overall we may be looking at a flat market but there is so much focus in London and in the South. Look up North and the organic growth we are seeing up here.”

Earth Mortgages is based in Rotherham and has 200 staff including a number of advisers. Hancock will be working two days a week at the office and juggling the rest of his time between home and his television and radio career.

The firm has just appointed Bunmi Sobowale as its marketing manager. Hancock jokes: “I will now be able to lie on my chaise longue – covered in Stoke City colours, of course – and throw things at her to do while I just relax.”

Hancock appears to be anything but lazy but he claims to be unambitious. “I am one of the most professionally lazy and unmotivated people,” he says.

Whether his comedy career will be helpful in his new role is questionable but what he can bring is a talent for communication. He says: “We must be able to communicate and be open for there to be no sleight of hand.”

He does not think that his peers in the entertainment business bear much resemblance to mortgage intermediaries, saying the latter are a much more respectable bunch.

Between Earth Mortgages, his comedy career, his beloved Stoke City and his wife and two children, Hancock has a lot of balls in the air. Rather than thinking it is all over, it is just the beginning for him.

Born: October 25, 1962

Lives: Outside Stoke-on-Trent with wife and two children

Education: BA in English from Cambridge University

Career: “Twenty years as a fat clown and now just starting my first proper job”

Hobbies: Football, cricket and fishingCar: Land Rover Discovery

Favourite book: The Great Gatsby

Favourite film: Harvey or The Third Man

Hero: Kate Armer, his personal assistant

Life ambition: “I am realising it now. Having a proper job and being taken seriously”

Career ambition: “This is a difficult one. I am pretty content at the moment”

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