Meet Libby Caudwell: The Billionaire’s Daughter Who Walked Away From Her Dad’s Money

Libby Caudwell turned her back on – quite literally – billions of her dad’s wealth to rough it on the beach in Australia…

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by Sophie Cullinane |
Published on

For Libby Caudwell, 26, life is something of a contradiction. ‘Take what happened this January,’ she tells The Debrief. ‘I ended December with £14 to my name but my boyfriend and I had booked a couple of weeks off work to go on holiday with my family. That morning we dragged out suitcases through a pile of vomit on the doorstep of our place in Brixton, South London, to the tube. There were no seats, so I stood with my face in another commuter’s armpit all the way, where we boarded an economy flight. Normal, right?’ But that’s where the normality ended. ‘When we got off the flight we got into a taxi waiting to take us to my dad’s 80-metre super-yacht. Staff met us to take our luggage to a luxury suite, before handing us two glasses of champagne. Because, try as I might, I’m not just a typical 26-year-old girl in my first job in London – I’m also the daughter of a billionaire.’

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When Libby Caudwell scanned The Sunday Times Rich List last weekend, she was unsurprised to see her father’s name amongst the roundup of the county’s wealthiest people. John Caudwell, aged 62, entered the realm of the super-wealthy in 2006 when he sold his Phones4U mobile phone empire for £1.46 billion. Several business deals later his combined fortune now stands at £1.5 billion, meaning he is joint 55th on the newspaper’s notorious annual list. It’s impressive by anyone’s standards but, according to Libby, her dad’s wealth took a while to register.

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‘All I knew was that my dad worked incredibly hard when he was building Phones4U – often 18 hours a day – but I had no idea what that meant. It’s not as if parents fill you in as child about their financial situation,’ she says of growing up wealthy. ‘I vaguely remember on my dad’s 40th birthday when I was six I heard rumours he was a millionaire, but that just reminded me of films like Richie Rich. It didn’t register. After all, we always had normal family holidays like sleeping in the car as we drove to the South of France and whenever we did do something extravagant, dad would remind us: “You lot need recalibrating!”’

There isn’t really a way of saying, “My dad’s a millionaire” without sounding like a total dick

Libby insists that at her boarding school Cheltenham Ladies’ College she was surrounded by similarly wealthy girls. ‘I actually felt like the common one,’ she laughs. And it wasn’t until she went to Bristol University that she realised her father’s background and his £1200 per month allowance wasn’t exactly normal. ‘At first I didn’t tell anyone about because I’ve always found it a bit awkward – there isn’t really a way of saying, “My dad’s a millionaire” without sounding like a total dick,’ she recalls. ‘Sometimes I would deliberately hide things, too. My dad has a spectacular boat and I wouldn’t put pictures of our holidays together up on Facebook for example because I didn’t want to look like I was showing off.’

I just felt shit about myself knowing I had every resource and opportunity yet I still couldn’t find a job that paid

It was in that post-university nightmare of finding a job though, that Libby started to feel uncomfortable about her father’s wealth. Desperate to be a journalist, she found herself taking up a string of unpaid internships. ‘I was living in my sister’s house rent-free and still relying on money from my dad to survive,’ she explains. ‘It felt like I was failing. There was a voice in my head which was my father’s – or my version of him because he never actually said this to me – saying I had to make something of myself and I just felt shit about myself knowing I had every resource and opportunity yet I still couldn’t find a job that paid.’

So Libby made a drastic decision – that she’d cut herself off from her father’s money, fly to Australia and get a job on her own merit. ‘I felt guilty at first and was scared he’d think I was throwing his success and support back in his face,’ she explains. ‘And yes he was hesitant because he was scared I’d come back a year later and still be in exactly the same position. But I told him I was so ashamed of him watching me floating around aimlessly – so he eventually agreed.’

Libby lined up a job working on a beach in Australia teaching watersports and scrubbing down boats. She made £384 a week. ‘I thought it would be scary, but it was actually a relief,’ she explains. ‘I was finally answerable to myself. And the money I had was mine to spend guilt free because I’d earned it. It felt like I was finally taking control of my life. Even though the living conditions were pretty gross – think plaster falling off the walls – I was never tempted to phone dad for help. Instead, I sent him a picture of one of my rooms to show him I was officially recalibrated!’ The only time she missed her former life? When she saw her dad tweet a picture of him with actress Eva Longoria.

 

She kept any such thoughts hidden from her new colleagues and friends, though. ‘Imagine the pre-conceived notions people working with me might have about a spoilt little rich girl slumming it on the beach with the rest of us. I just wanted people to get to know me as me before I told them about my wealth,’ she says. But then she started dating Simon – and knew she had to come clean. ‘Despite the fact that none of the success is mine, it’s still such an integral part of my story and how I feel about myself that I didn’t want to hide that from someone I was falling in love,’ she explains. But Simon already knew. ‘We were sitting on the back of the boat and he turned to me and said, “Doesn’t your dad have a 80 metre yacht” and my stomach just dropped – apparently my manager had been jokingly bragging about how he had a billionaire’s daughter scrubbing a boat the whole time.’

But despite the fact Libby was hurt people had been gossiping behind her back – ‘I just thought it was a petty thing to do’ – she never doubted Simon’s intentions. ‘He’d already got to know me before he found out,’ she explains.

 

A month later, the pair moved back to the UK – and moved in together. ‘At first, Simon was very nervous because when we first got back we were both unemployed and living rent-free in my Dad's flat in London and he was very worried that dad would think, “Who the hell is this Australian beach bum living off my daughter?”’ she explains. ‘But now he's got a job as yacht broker and makes more than me, so he feels much more confident being part of that lifestyle.’

Libby says the pair would have a pre-nup if they married - to protect them both. ‘Simon would insist upon that before I'd even mention it because the last thing he wants is for people to think he's some kind of scoundrel,’ she explains. And she says her London friends also never want to look like they’re taking advantage of her family wealth. ‘Sometimes I feel guilty about my wealth around friends,’ she says. ‘If I arrange dinner for example and it ends up being more expensive that I expected, I feel desperately uncomfortable. Even though I don't have money, I still feel that people could just say, “Well she's ok, she doesn't have to worry”. But my real friends don’t. Just like they don’t ever let me pay for taxis just because I can.’

 

For now, Libby is working in the offices of Boris Becker – and hasn’t gone back on her dad’s allowance. That means no more dropping £1000 on designer dresses (‘My biggest extravagance was Jenny Packham’) and budgeting for food and travel (‘How does travelling cost me £35 a week?!’). It’s a world away from the one she could chose to live, but that’s the way Libby wants it. ‘My independence is so important to me and dad wants me to be independent as well, so I can feel good about myself,’ she explains. ‘My hope it that one day I’ll be able to take on my dad’s charity Caudwell Children, which would be an incredible honour. My wealth is an integral part of what made me who I am, but it doesn’t have to define me.’

Follow Sophie on Twitter @sophcullinane

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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