As a scene, it’s comedy gold. A super-rich — or ‘high net worth’ as she prefers to call it — pneumatic, blonde divorcée, teeters into a charity shop in Merthyr Tydfil to do a stint behind the till.
She’s arrived with a donation of her own, following a bit of a clearout in her Belgravia town house: £360 worth of Gucci vouchers that, as she breathlessly explains, ‘can be spent in any Gucci at all’.
We won’t spoil how her generosity is greeted by perplexed staff in the South Wales shop, where bin liners stuffed with holey jumpers and dog-eared paperbacks are the standard fare, but what makes this scene all the more mesmerising is the fact that this is not fiction.
The blonde is 47-year-old socialite Amanda Cronin, a glamorous former model famed in gossip columns for having ‘the longest legs in Belgravia’. Home is a plush London townhouse with an abundance of staff, where a mind-boggling collection of limited-edition handbags nestle alongside jewellery worth an eye-popping £10 million. Stored in a garage nearby is a £200,000 Bentley.
Golden girl: Wealthy socialite Amanda Cronin
So, yes, Amanda is rich and, on paper at least, her world could not be further removed from most people in the Welsh Valleys, or that of the person capturing it all, 41-year-old filmmaker — and her new best buddy — Martin Read.
A self-described ‘rough diamond’, Martin grew up alongside his three brothers in a two-bedroom council flat in Kings Cross. He has been homeless several times and is today motivated by a deep concern for social justice— something you imagine Amanda might think was the name of a new fashion label.
Yet here they both are, drinking tea in Amanda’s living room (known as the Gucci room, after the cushions on the sofa), engaged in some affectionate teasing and behaving like the good chums they are.
It’s an unlikely friendship across the class divide that is at the heart of a new Channel 4 documentary, in which Martin takes a voyage to the heart of Amanda’s privileged world, and vice versa.
Called The Millionairess And Me, it is worth watching for that scene in the charity shop alone.
Most incredibly wealthy people prize discretion above all else. Which begs the question: why on earth has Amanda afforded us such a revealing insight into her world?
Best buddy: ‘Rough diamond’ Martin Read
The answer lies in a mix of canny self-promotion — Amanda has recently launched her own beauty brand — alongside a genuine take-me-as-I-come approach to life.
‘When Martin asked me whether I had any concerns about filming, I told him I’m not bothered what people think as long as I look good — at the end of the day, I am running a beauty brand,’ she smiles.
‘I also said he could ask me anything. I’m wealthy. I’m not going to hide it and I’m not ashamed of it. It doesn’t change who I am.’
She certainly needn’t worry about her appearance. In the flesh, she looks stunning — a teeny size eight, pneumatic-boobed bombshell in a figure-hugging designer gold dress with diamonds dripping from her ears. Perched besides those Gucci cushions, she looks to the manor born.
Yet she didn’t start out wealthy. For a long time, Amanda was plain ‘Mandy from Southampton’ — the youngest daughter of a financial consultant father and a former beauty queen.
‘I’m a small-town girl. We had a beautiful home but there wasn’t loads of money.’
She attended a convent school before being scouted by a model agency as a teenager. Aged 22, she was earning £800 a day, and Mandy morphed into Amanda.
It’s an unlikely friendship across the class divide that is at the heart of a new Channel 4 documentary, in which Martin takes a voyage to the heart of Amanda’s privileged world, and vice versa. Pictured: Martin and Amanda
She went on to walk the runways of Europe and entered into a brief first marriage (one she prefers not to discuss) which produced daughter Sofia, an artist. In 2006, she got together with her second husband, serial entrepreneur Mark Daeche, after being introduced by friends.
Theirs was a whirlwind romance. Within weeks, they had moved in together and, not long after, Mark, now 58, presented her with a 40-carat sapphire ring, although they didn’t marry until 2013.
The couple divided their time between London, Monaco, France and Geneva, their life a whirlwind of parties and seasons: summer in the Mediterranean, winter in Barbados and Aspen, Colorado.
‘We were very happy for a long time, but then he seemed to get caught up in his work,’ she recalls. ‘He was very stressed and, try as I might, I couldn’t reach him. For 18 months, it felt like he was mean to me at breakfast, lunch and dinner.’
After spending growing amounts of time apart and becoming increasingly unhappy, in May 2017 Amanda asked for a divorce.
Called The Millionairess And Me, it is worth watching for that scene in the charity shop alone. Pictured: Martin and Amanda
An acrimonious split ensued. While Amanda won’t disclose her ultimate 2019 settlement, the townhouse — not to mention the other one she’s renovating in another part of Belgravia — suggests that it was sizeable. Amanda is keen to insist that whatever the outcome, she would never have been content to be a trophy wife.
‘I could sit there taking Xanax every day, drinking in the evening, but I didn’t want that. I have increased my wealth by 30 per cent since my divorce, and I have done that on my own.’ No doubt 41-year-old Martin takes a different view of what it means to achieve success on your own terms.
He was first homeless at the age of 16, unable to cope with sharing a single bedroom with three brothers in then run-down Kings Cross, where his father, a Cypriot who had come here in 1974 to escape the war, ironed dresses in a local factory and his mum did her best to keep her four boys off the street.
‘I was going crazy with the lack of space,’ he recalls. ‘Mum was quite strict, too, and I needed to spread my wings’.
Martin went on to sleep in disused garages and squats, his dream of a career in TV giving way to work cleaning London Tube tunnels and clearing leaves off railway lines.
Given that the two of them were unlikely to cross paths over canapes, the million-dollar question is surely how they met. Pictured: Amanda having her makeup done
By his 30s, he was homeless again after being diagnosed with ADHD and suffering a breakdown due to over medication.
Still determined to pursue his dream of being a filmmaker, he was accepted on a course at Newport Film School in 2012, but was homeless during the first year.
He subsequently made an award-winning film on homelessness for the BBC, only to find himself on the streets again in 2018 after being unable to obtain regular TV work.
He now lives in a small flat in Cardiff, where he continues to make films with a social conscience.
‘It’s not always easy to get people to invest in them, though,’ he says. ‘Unless, of course, you get someone like Amanda involved.’
Given that the two of them were unlikely to cross paths over canapes, the million-dollar question is surely how they met.
Coincidence, says Martin, who says he was told to get in touch with her by an artist friend called Gina McQueen, who’d been commissioned by Amanda to paint a picture of her beloved toy poodle, called Monty, on a handbag.
Their friendship unfolded in person when lockdown restrictions were lifted. ‘Amanda would invite me to her house for dinner and margaritas and she took me out to the members club, Annabel’s
‘Gina told me about this very cool rich woman and said I should check her out on Instagram,’ he says. ‘I liked what I saw and asked her for Amanda’s number, called her up and we got on like a house on fire.
‘We chatted for over three hours. She’s incredibly good fun and she’s got something of the maverick in her, which I like. She lives life without fear.’
The sentiment is echoed by Amanda. ‘We’ve both had second chances in life, and we’re both quite spiritual people,’ she says. ‘I am a churchgoer and while Martin doesn’t follow a formal religion, he has his own beliefs.’
Their friendship unfolded in person when lockdown restrictions were lifted. ‘Amanda would invite me to her house for dinner and margaritas and she took me out to the members club, Annabel’s.
‘It was through these social events,’ he explains, ‘that the idea to make a film together was formed — and here we are.’
Filming unfolded over the course of three months last year, Martin shadowing Amanda as she goes about her mind-boggling life.
He’s there when she shops with her interior designer for fittings for her new £5 million townhouse and points out that the £80,000 bathtub she’s ogling could buy you an entire flat in Cardiff. And that’s before we get to the £7,500 gold bath taps.
Filming unfolded over the course of three months last year, Martin shadowing Amanda as she goes about her mind-boggling life
‘I thought it was insane,’ Martin admits. ‘We’re in the middle of a cost of living crisis, where people are having to choose between eating and heating, so, yes, I did think it was over the top.’
The pair also flew to Monaco, indulging in a whirlwind of glitzy lunches and dinners as well as attending a fundraising dinner in Basel, where Martin attempts — not entirely successfully — to engage the wealthy guests in a chat about universal credit and the poverty trap.
Amid the polished and gilded veneer of wealth, Martin looks like a fish out of water most of the time, and he admits he felt it, too.
‘At first I loved it and got sucked in by the luxury of doing nothing other than hang out with rich girlfriends for dinner and drinks every night and spending money like it was going out of fashion,’ he says of his time in Monaco.
‘Then, after a few days, I got sick and tired of the never-ending eating and drinking and remembered my purpose in life.’
No such glitzy dinners in Merthyr Tydfil, a deprived town that Martin chose to take Amanda to in return, in the hope it would open her eyes to life’s harsher realities outside her rarefied postcode.
Amanda spent a weekend there, staying in a local hotel.
The pair also flew to Monaco, indulging in a whirlwind of glitzy lunches and dinners as well as attending a fundraising dinner in Basel, where Martin attempts — not entirely successfully — to engage the wealthy guests in a chat about universal credit and the poverty trap
In fairness, she seems to have embraced her time there with gusto, working in a charity shop, serving lunch at a homeless shelter and spending time with Shirley Debono, a Cardiff mum whose son was imprisoned for the theft of a mobile phone and who now campaigns for prisoners’ rights.
Despite the vast gulf between their backgrounds, the pair clearly hit it off. ‘At the end of the day, I’m also a mum, like Shirley, and I can’t imagine what she’s been through,’ says Amanda now.
For his own part, Martin says he enjoyed seeing ‘Mandy from Southampton’ emerge from behind Amanda’s polished façade.
‘We went out to the local pub after filming and she was able to really let her hair down. She enjoyed being in a place where people didn’t care about who she was, her class or wealth and she danced the night away,’ he says.
‘We opened her eyes to how the other half live and she loved it.’
It’s impossible not to like the refreshingly open Amanda. Nonetheless, underpinning the whole documentary is the vexing question of whether the rich should do more to bridge the wealth gap.
‘It’s complicated,’ says Amanda. ‘Martin and I are never going to agree on tax (he thinks the wealthy should pay far more).
‘But over-taxing rich people will just take them out of the system, and that doesn’t benefit any of us. Nor is saying that you need to sell your Bentley the answer.’
At this Martin, who admits his finances are still precarious, rolls his eyes affectionately.
It’s impossible not to like the refreshingly open Amanda. Nonetheless, underpinning the whole documentary is the vexing question of whether the rich should do more to bridge the wealth gap
‘The wealth gap between rich and poor is as bad as in Charles Dickens’ times,’ he says, ‘and something has to be done. I still can’t get those £7,500 gold bath taps out of my mind.’
It’s a perfect illustration of their unlikely dynamic — one that admittedly would never become romantic. Both roar with laughter at the thought.
‘It’s an unusual but real friendship,’ says Martin. ‘Amanda and I are truly good friends — we still call each other twice a week and hang out. People from different classes and worlds can be good friends — and that is what I wanted to find out in the film.’
As for Amanda, she admits that spending time with Martin has influenced her outlook, although she emphasises that she has long been involved in philanthropic causes. So would she buy Martin a flat or give him money? She won’t be drawn.
‘I’ve never been afraid of getting my hands dirty, but it’s made me think I haven’t been put on this Earth to wear lovely clothes or design skincare,’ she says.
‘But they are tools in my kit that give me a platform, and it is what I do with that that matters.’
- Watch The Millionairess And Me on All 4 (channel4.com)