Simon Bullock: Are you living your own authentic life?

Posted by TEBI on April 24, 2024

Simon Bullock: Are you living your own authentic life?



Sadly, we’ve come to the end of our podcast series Second Lives. In it, my co-author Jonathan Hollow has been exploring how to plan a life for yourself beyond full-time paid employment. In this, the 12th and final episode, Jonathan speaks to SIMON BULLOCK, founder of the London-based financial planning firm Mulberry Bow about the lessons we’ve learned, and how to motivate yourself to put those lessons into practice.

For Simon, the key point to remember is that it’s your life, and the only one you’ll have. So you need to stop living a life that others want or expect from you, and to start living the life that you want to lead. 

“When I was about 28,” says Simon, “I realised I was living for other people. I was living for what I perceived my family wanted from me, or my friends wanted from me. I was living with my head, and not my heart.”

Simon turned his life around and started living on his own terms — and you can too.




Robin writes:



TEBI would like to thank the London-based financial planning firm Mulberry Bow for collaborating with us on this series. 
As well as Spotify, you’ll find The TEBI Podcast on all the major podcast platforms, including Apple PodcastsListen NotesPlayerFM and Podbean.

Simon, tell us about Mulberry Bow and your role in it.

Sure, absolutely, Jonathan. So, Mulberry Bow is a privately-owned boutique chartered financial planning practice in the City of London that I established about nine years ago. Our ‘throwaway’ line is that we “help smart people avoid doing dumb things with their money”.

We cap our client numbers at 50 per advisor, which is quite unusual in the industry. The average is somewhere probably around 250 clients per advisor across the UK wealth management industry.

We felt that at those numbers, you tend to be quite reactive and it can become quite a transactional conversation. Whereas we wanted to do what we would call “ proper financial planning”: really understand clients’ tax planning and financial objectives and pensions and estate plan – and all of that in some detail. And of course that takes time.

One of the things that Robin Powell and I were impressed by when we started collaborating with Mulberry Bow on the series was our sense of the values behind you and the business. I’m curious as to whether you’ve had brainstorming sessions to document these values or whether they more arise from your personality, and who you choose to recruit?

Yes, it’s  a good question. Probably a bit of both. We definitely have involved the whole team in that. And we have got a document that’s called What Makes Mulberry Bow Different? That is mainly now an internal document, but it’s a good reminder for us of what we’re not! Like a lot of businesses that start up as we did, coming up to 10 years ago, you look at what else is out there – in terms of financial advisors there are obviously very good ones, but our feeling was that there are nonetheless issues. If you like, a lack of alignment of interest.

We reacted a little bit to that, but then also think we’ve put our own positive personality into it. I think it was Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, when they started Apple, who said they designed devices that they themselves want to use. And we very much designed a financial planning firm that we would want to use.

Well, let’s listen to a few of the extracts that you picked out and found particularly meaningful. Andrew Hallam was one of my favourite guests. That was episode 41. I would describe Andrew as a writer and teacher about life, giving, and happiness.

Jonathan Hollow: “You set out in your book some evidence about what I would call the ‘shape of happiness’ that people typically experience in their lives – with particular respect to their 20s and then their late 40s or early 50s. What is that general shape?”

Andrew Hallam: “Yes, it’s U-shaped. And so by that what I mean is when you are in your early 20s, the world is your oyster. Generally, when we look at global surveys on overall life satisfaction, it’s very high for most of us in our early 20s. But what happens is, expectations start being put on our shoulders. Some of those expectations are genuine: we need shelter, we need a place to live, we need to get a job. But coupled with those genuine expectations are the ‘smoke and mirror expectations’ that we just perceive, but don’t really exist. So they are the ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ expectations. If I don’t get this job, what will people think of me? Or, if I pursue this kind of job, I can have some sort of status within my neighbourhood? If I buy this kind of house, if I buy this kind of car …? And it’s interesting, Jonathan, because what that ends up doing is it actually ends up dragging us down.

“The U drops into our 30s, into our 40s. It gets to the point where we are basically living a life for other people without realising it! And what the research suggests is that in most cases, once we get into our early 50s, the Joneses do not matter.”

So I’ve got to ask Simon, how has that been for you?

It is really interesting! I remember thinking about it when I first listened to it, and it was really interesting hearing it again and comparing it to my personal journey. From my point of view I lived a “compressed U-shape”. I went through those phases that he talked about, pretty much from 20 to 30 years of age, and then I was out the other side. The idea that Andrew talks about living for other people really resonates, and that hit home for me when I was about 28.

It’s quite funny actually. I got sent to a career advisor by the company I was working for, you got two free sessions, and I ended up paying for a further hundred or so sessions. Because I saw that lady every week for two years! We went on from talking about careers, to talking about life, the universe and everything – as Douglas Adams might say. And it was just incredible. What I realised, was exactly what Andrew is talking about there, which is that I was living for other people. I was living for what I perceived my family wanted from me or my friends wanted from me, and I hadn’t realised that. And another way that that lady helped me to talk about it and understand it, was that I was living with my head and not my heart.

When I came out the other side of that, I shaved my head, I quit my job and I went travelling around the world for a year. And I ended my long-term, eight-year, relationship as well, which was not a bad relationship at all … But I realised that it was someone that I was best friends with, but wasn’t the person that I was meant to be with.

So it was an amicable parting, thankfully, and off I went and never looked back. There have definitely been some tough years since then, and I think that the first year after I set the business up probably stands out as a really tough year. But other than that, I’ve been very fortunate.

Pretty much from the age of 30 through to being 48 now, I’ve been on the other side of that U-shape. As Andrew says, as you get older, you get a better sense of, broadly, what you want to do with your time and what’s important to you. And you care less and less about what others think.

And to a certain extent, when you set up a business – indeed as some of your guests have talked about – you can’t think about what other people think. You’d never do it. You have to have in a way, no shame, or no fear of shame. And just go for it. Because, if you really thought it through, you’ve never do it.

You’ve also made a transition to a life in France as well?

Yes! I suppose that when I was listening to your other guests talking about second lives that’s what jumped into my head. I had gone from a corporate career and then ran my own business and that already felt like a second life – very, very different.

And then, about two years ago, having got that up and running, one of the great privileges that came with it was an ability to shape how I wanted to work, and what I realised in conjunction with my wife is that we wanted to raise our children in France.

So while our children were still relatively young, under five, we relocated to France. I still have a flat near London on the Elizabeth line. And I spend more than half my time here. Fortunately, because you get an awful lot of school holidays in France, the family is with me at least half the time as well. So it’s probably about one week a month that I’m here on my own. I just completely focus on work. That’s probably the one downside of being away from my family for that one week of month, but I don’t work when I’m in France. I do a lot of thinking and planning but I don’t actually work there.

And so when I’m in London, it’s quite intense. I effectively cram a lot in. I know that one of the things that you talked to one of your guests about was the idea of the four day week. In many ways, I’m an example of someone who’s doing something a bit like that, but probably in a slightly more extreme way.

Did you specifically wish your children to grow up bilingual and to be more cosmopolitan?

Yes, I definitely saw that as a nice side effect of it, if that’s the right way of putting it? I mean, they’re actually trilingual because, whenever my wife’s alone with them, she switches to Polish. So they’re going to end up with three languages. And I guess if they want to learn a fourth language that will make it a lot easier than I have found learning French! So I like that. We both love to travel.

We are in mixed family in terms of nationality. I’m even a quarter Welsh so we’ve got that in there as well. So I think that’s how we see the world. And I noticed, spending time in France, and Spain and Italy, that it just seems to be a lot more relaxed. And relaxed across the generations – you go into a restaurant, and there’s grandma at one end of the table with a glass of wine and a nice meal, and then as a kid asleep in the corner, and all the different generations are hanging out together. I’m not saying you don’t see that in the UK, but it’s maybe a little bit more so in France.

You also asked to hear again from Scott Moorhouse, who is, of course, a colleague of yours, but also a former Paralympian athlete, and in episode 49, he talked about his work with an organization called Amputees in Action.

Scott Moorhouse: “I worked for a while with a firm called Amputees In Action. They do casualty simulation work with the military. It serves a few purposes, really: firstly, the serious aspect of training the military by trying to make it more realistic.

I think previously what would happen is, they choose someone in the squadron platoon that day and they were going to be the injured party. You’d write on their forehead, “Your arm’s blown off”, or “Your leg’s blown off” – and it wouldn’t be very realistic. So the whole point was it would be the first time that some of the soldiers might experience somebody with an amputation and how to manoeuvre those people in a pretty threatening environment … it really shouldn’t be the first time that they had come across it. So we would get made up with special makeup and look like we’d been blown up and we’d get placed in certain scenarios where, we’d get a cue. It would be the big gun going off, and that would be our cue to come out and, scream and shout and pretend that we’d just been injured.”

That is a pretty extraordinary way of giving something from yourself to other people. What did this make you reflect on, Simon?

I looked for a long time for something that really resonates with me in terms of giving back. My wife and I, we tithe. It’s a religious term, really, that means giving 10% of your income. I think it’s still fairly popular for some people. What I liked about it was the simplicity of it. Giving is something that is so difficult, isn’t it? Because you could always (or certainly those of us that are lucky enough to live in the west and have any kind of professional job), could always give more. We’re all very well off, aren’t we? In global terms and certainly in historical terms as well. So where do you draw the line in terms of what you could give up in order to give more back? There is obviously always another thing that you could give up.

I was trying to look for something that was simple, something that we could just stick to and commit to, and my wife felt the same. We’ve already decided that apart from giving our children a reasonable start in life, that we would leave everything at the end of our lives to good causes. So we’d already made that decision. So we were thinking about the question of giving during our lifetime. What do we feel okay with?

And for some reason, 10% on top of, obviously, paying all our taxes and so on… that felt like that was a reasonable amount to give back. And so far it’s worked pretty well for us.

So to “Spotlight”, which you’ve mentioned to me once or twice before, and I’ve seen … for those who may not have seen it, it’s the story of journalist exposing sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in Boston if I remember correctly?

That’s right, that’s correct. It made a big impact on me.

Tell me more about that.

Well the way I looked at it (and perhaps this is terrible!) … I looked at it as a business proposition in terms of the return on expenditure. I mean, the human side of it is … incredible.

But then I found myself thinking about it, that it hadn’t cost that much money! Those were people working on a shoestring budget, they were incredibly brave and hard-working and highly motivated, those journalists. And they took on a massive global organisation with huge influence, and resources, and wealth and standing in communities – particularly in Boston. The Catholic Church at the time that this investigation was happening, in a lot of those communities, was completely untouchable. The local priest was God’s representative on earth as far as a lot of the worshippers were concerned.

So I just looked at it, and thought for what that’s actually cost, in time and money, the impact is immeasurable! And thought about how many kids they saved in the future from being exposed to that kind of behaviour.

I didn’t expect you to come up with that perspective on it! And it was that line of thought that led you to giving to The Bureau of Investigative Journalism?

It was exactly that. And also some of the stuff I’ve been reading about evidence-driven philanthropy, and effective altruism and so on. Sometimes that gets a bad press, but I think that the fundamental principle is really sound. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with applying some of the principles of good business to giving.

So this is from episode 47. It’s with Rosina Breen, who I would describe as a leader in investigative journalism.

Jonathan Hollow: “It sounds like from what you say that your mum always wanted to encourage aspiration and presumably independence, if she was keen on you going away to India on your own for a year. Is that right, that she would have seen this as a natural path for you?”

Rozina Breen: “I think she was highly nervous of me going to India on my own, but, you know, at age 18, 19… those are difficult conversations, aren’t they! And I would say that she was never specific about what she wanted me to do. And I feel the privilege of that, really. She didn’t try and drive me down certain career pathways. She was very open to the arts, which I think was quite unusual, perhaps, from a sort of community point of view; and ultimately wanted us – I have a brother and sister – ultimately wanted us to feel fulfilled and happy, also to be able to pay our own way. She always encouraged us to try our best and to feel fulfilled, and to achieve our potential wherever that may lie. So I felt very emboldened by her.

“… There is no point feeling or being safe. If you want to achieve, you have to stretch in order to grow.”

This obviously touched a nerve in you in a positive way, Simon?

Yes, it did, Jonathan. I think the bravery to go to India at 18 is pretty incredible. Although of course, Rozina had a very interesting childhood, so maybe she was a little bit more prepared for that, having lived in different places and countries already. But it did make me think about my first wife, who actually spent a year in Nepal when we she was the same age. She was teaching in a village school and living with the headmaster’s family, and so on, and I remember her saying that the experience set her up for almost any future challenge in her life. She felt she could take any challenge on having survived that and thrived in that environment.

Much less impressively, I do think back to the three French exchanges I went on as a teenager. I think the first time I was only 12 or 13, and it was quite daunting living in a family of strangers who spoke a different language, one that I was supposed to be able to speak. But I wasn’t necessarily the best student when it came to French! Even at the age of 12 or 13, getting organised with your clothing and personal hygiene, and all that stuff that you take for granted when you’re older … even for a week or 10 days … is pretty challenging at that age. And I do think that those sorts of experience when you’re younger, not just with money, but with all aspects of managing your life, really do set you up. And so I thought that Rozina’s experience was pretty incredible.

Well let’s turn to John Treharne. This was from episode 46. He is the founder of the Gym Group and would definitely be described as a serial entrepreneur. This is him on the sense of risk taking.

Jonathan Hollow: “You created and then sold a chain of health clubs in the decade up to 2001. And then in 2007 (I believe you were in your early fifties) you set up the first location of the Gym Group. So you built two major businesses from scratch. I’m really interested in what was going through your mind as you set off the second time around?”

John Treharne: “Here we go again!

“To be honest, the low-cost gym sector was very different; and I suppose that’s what particularly excited me about it – that it wasn’t just replicating what I’d done before.

“I suppose the other big spur for me was everybody told me it wouldn’t work! … “Nobody wanted to use a gym 24 hours a day. You couldn’t make any money only charging £10 a month, and nobody would want to join online ….” Well, 800,000 members later, I can tell you that they were completely wrong!”

Did you see a connection with your own risk taking there, Simon?

I did Jonathan. John was very kind to talk about this in his interview. He’s a long-standing client at Mulberry Bow, and I’m very fortunate to call John and his family friends, to myself as well as my family. And he is an inspiration for me, to be honest. I obviously didn’t know him when I set up Mulberry Bow. But I as I got to know him – well, I’m very proud of what I’ve helped to build up with my team but, with what John achieved, it was quite incredible to go from one gym to around 350.

It’s just an incredible achievement. And as he rightly said, he helped to remake an industry really. Because before that, I remember being a member of another gym chain, and paying over £100 a month. And this is going back 20 years. So for people like John to come in and make gym membership sites so much more affordable is pretty remarkable. I go regularly and I’m in a fortunate position now where I could afford a more expensive gym. But to be honest, I don’t really want or need one.

And of course, like several of your guests, he’s achieved in a different field before that as well, as an elite, top-flight squash player. So I think there’s a further inspiration there – whatever you achieve, you can always take on another challenge.

Let’s now go to Héctor García, who is a writer, and I would say an investigator of contemporary Japan. He was in episode 45 and it was certainly one of my favourite interviews.

Jonathan Hollow: … does the Japanese language actually have a word for ‘retirement’?

Héctor García: “Yeah, it has many words for retirement but, when you get into the nuance of what it really means, it feels – once you learn Japanese – it feels to me that the meaning is not as negative as the word “retirement”. So in Japanese, when you use the word “retirement”, it is more like you are transitioning to another phase in your life, in which maybe you were doing something, you were focused on a daily job, and now you’re going to be focused on your family. Or maybe you’re going to be focused on more relaxed work.

“In Japan, you can work even after you are 65 or 70, you can work 20 hours per week and it’s perfectly legal. You can keep making money if you want – but most people, they retire in the sense that they stop working for a company, but they keep doing all the things they can focus on. Mainly focusing on hobbies: you become an artist or you focus on your family, on your community, things like that.

“So the mindset is different. You are moving to another phase of your life.

“For me, the word “retirement” in English – it feels like you are not going to be useful anymore to anyone. You are retired. And you use the word also for other things. When you retire old furniture, you don’t need it anymore. You are going to throw it away.”

So you’re an expert on retirement planning. What did this extract from Hector’s interview make you think about, Simon?

Yes, I certainly agree with him! “Retirement”, to me, has become a bit of an outmoded word. We do still sometimes talk about it. Sometimes it’s helpful. Helpful shorthand, I suppose.

But more and more, we talk about wanting to get into a position where you only work if you want, on what you want, when you want. Our clients want control over their time and flexibility much more than they want to “retire” in the traditional sense.

I think what’s interesting, just observing my own family, and the clients I’ve worked with, is that generally retirement is not necessarily good for you. Even at 70! I think properly retiring, in the sense of … “I’m just going to play golf “ (or whatever people imagine doing) is not necessarily good for you. I think you have to keep your hand in.

Even this week, funnily enough, I just met a new client that we’re probably going to be working with, for the first time. And she was talking about her mother, who is retired in a traditional sense, and was doing nothing but leisure. She has now got involved with a charity, and she’s going to be a trustee, and she realised that even in her mid 70s, she needed to keep her hand in with something, and have a bit more structure and purpose. And that certainly fits with my view of things.

I’d like to play you another clip from my interview with your colleague Scott Moorhouse. He was drawing a distinction between what you can achieve with financial planning versus what you can achieve with investment management. I’d just be interested in your perspective on that.

Scott Moorhouse: “With financial planning, there’s a lot more tools that you’ve got in the kit bag to be able to help clients with.  Unfortunately, with investing, nobody’s figured out how to predict the future! There are very bright individuals with seductive, well-thought-out ideas, but they can still be wrong. I liked that with financial planning, part of it is the investment strategy, but a big part is things within your control that can be done. They’ll lead to good outcomes – and you can quantify some of those things.”

How do you feel about the distinction that Scott draws between planning and investing in relation to what you can predict and control?

I think there’s a lot to that actually. We work with some very good investment management firms, but I think that sometimes they can experience a little bit of jealousy because financial planning is quite tangible, isn’t it? If you can show someone a clear financial plan, they can immediately see that it’s going to save them time. And I hope, to give them a bit more peace of mind. You can show them pretty clearly that they’re going to reduce the leakage in terms of tax. Our clients are quite happy to pay tax, but obviously there’s nothing wrong with structuring things in a sensible fashion to not pay more tax than you really need to pay.

So maybe they can support their family a bit more, or give more to good causes, and so on.

So that’s all very tangible. You can really show it. And certainly within a year or two, our clients see the impact of our advice.

Whereas, for an investment manager, it can be really difficult can’t it? It can take time to really show the value of giving investment advice. With some of our clients particularly the larger clients, we’re often working alongside other investment managers collaboratively. And yes, it’s tough, it’s really tough on the investment side. The market can go up and you can get the credit for the market going up, when really, it’s just a rising tide raising all boats. Equally when times are rough, and the investment manager is doing a really good job, the client can get frustrated if they lost money.

Whereas I think financial planning, you can point at it and demonstrate it maybe a little bit more easily.

Yes. One of the big problems with investment management is where do you put the counterfactual?

Yes, exactly that, Jonathan. It’s really tricky. We’ve done some estate planning recently for clients where, because of a combination of inheritance tax relief, and capital tax relief, and income tax relief, they will be getting overall tax relief of around 80%. Now we don’t know exactly what their investment return will be within the vehicle that their money is going to sit, but they’re going to be up 80%, effectively, from day one.

You obviously feel quite strongly about transparency in the financial services industry, but for people listening that may not understand the nature of the issue, how would you describe the problem and how would you describe your own and Mulberry Bow’s response to it?

One of the key issues is that you’ve got an asymmetry of information. It’s interesting, because if you look at it that a symmetry is definitely reducing.

Investing used to be one of those areas, a little bit like cars, where you walked into a car showroom and you didn’t really know how much a car should cost. Of course, with the advent of the internet, and comparison websites, and everything else – that’s changed buying a car. Similarly, I think to some extent, investing your money has become democratised and there’s a lot more information now available to people for all of us – if we want to look for it.

I think the difficulty with financial planning and tax structuring and estate planning is, you’re entering another level of complexity. I’m not suggesting people shouldn’t get advice on investing. I think many of us should. And a lot of that is to do with behaviour. I’ve got a financial advisor. If we’re honest, I think we’re all, kind of, our own worst guide, when it comes to our own money.

But you’ve also got this issue that when you start to think about estate planning and tax structuring and things like that, there is another level of complexity that you need to take on board. And with that I think there’s a danger that you might not really understand what the options are.

So finally, as Mulberry Bow has been so critical to the development of this series, Simon, I’d like to offer you the last word!

That’s very kind. And a lot of pressure from you there Jonathan!

I think it’s been a great series. I think you’ve done a terrific job, and I think you’ve spoken to some really interesting people, and brought out such a variety of different stories as well those people have shared. That is the aspect that I’ve really enjoyed.

I often think about a Venn diagram: what’s important on one side and your relationship with money on the other. (This is obviously something that we think about for our day job!) And it’s really where those two things overlap, where your money comes into alignment with what’s important to you … that is the really enjoyable bit of what I do. So I think there have been a number of examples in the people that you’ve spoken to, where – absolutely, there’s been a money element, but it’s also been about what was really important to them and how did they bring those two things into alignment?

Because, it’s not straightforward, and it’s such a personal thing, right? Everyone has a slightly different view of what’s going to really work for them.

So I think it’s been an excellent series and we’ve enjoyed playing a small part in making it happen.


Jonathan worked for the UK Government’s Money and Pensions Service and is a writer and commentator on consumer education and protection. He is the co-author, with Robin Powell, of the award-winning book How to Fund the Life You Want, which is published by Bloomsbury.



HELEN ARTHUR on art as a new rural lifestyle.

CHARLOTTE LOCKHART on her global vision for a better work-life balance.

SCOTT MOORHOUSE on living with purpose before and after Paralympian fame.

JONATHAN CLEMENTS on his own lessons about live and money, what he’s learned from others, and why he still seeks new challenges after achieving financial stability

ROZINA BREEN on transitioning from the BBC to a small, high-impact not-for-profit journalism organisation, and juggling career goals

JOHN TREHARNE on how his sports career opened the door to a life of entrepreneurship as founder of two successful businesses, including Gym Group

HÉCTOR GARCÍA on the concept of ikigai, the importance of community support, and the wisdom from Japan that has fed into his new book

LISA GRANIK MW on a new life in wine, looking back on law, Stalin and a long relationship with the Caucasian country of Georgia

BRIAN PORTNOY on how to master the “evolutionary two-step” that keeps us fearing (and hoping) throughout our money lives

ALEX DAVIS on her journey from company director to Latin scholar

ANDREW HALLAM on money, meaning, giving and community



Investors are far more likely to achieve their goals if they use an experienced financial planner. But really good planners with an evidence-based investment philosophy are sadly in the minority.

If you would like us to put you in touch with one in your area, just click here and send us your email address, and we’ll see if we can help.


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