Former Prime Minister John Major is not remembered for much these days apart from his notoriously unsuccessful Cones hotline and squiring the National Lottery.
Two decades have now passed since the latter’s rather more successful introduction and an astonishing £32bn has been poured into good causes. There are few things in this life that receive almost 100 per cent approbation but the Lottery appears to be one of them.
I have never bought a Lottery ticket and like the mythical High Court judge am not entirely sure how it is played apart from the scanty knowledge that six numbers are involved, apparently.
But thanks to my profession as a hack I have had quite a lot to do with it one way or the other, mainly tracking down winners. I recall desperately hanging on a £1m winner’s doorstep in Barnsley trying to get an unwilling interviewee to give me enough copy to create a ‘splash’ in that week’s paper.
It’s hard for people nowadays to understand the enormous excitement that the Lottery generated in its first few years. For those born too late or who don’t remember, it was quite simply overwhelming.
The very first winner, an ethnic minority couple, won millions and inevitably didn’t want their names revealed. No matter. Reporters across the country were whipped into a frenzy by their News Desks desperate to secure the scoop. The News of the World got that one.
The Sun even went so far as to make one of its hapless hacks change his name by deed poll to Lenny Lottery. And, of course, the Lottery spawned a whole new mini-industry.
There were fascinating tales of husbands and wives splitting up after their huge wins, a story of people offering to sell one of their kidneys to a West Yorkshire winner who needed a transplant and others detailing how some couldn’t cope with their change in circumstances and went off the rails.
Then there were the tales of the tabloid’s favourite hate figure the so-called Lotto Lout and self-confessed ‘King of the Chavs’ Michael Carroll.
The former jailbird was 19 when he won £9,736,131 in 2002. Few things are more boring and infuriating to journalists than someone who wins big and then does nothing more interesting than buy a middle-of-the-road car and a slightly larger house in a better part of town.
But Mickey was a tabloid dream come true. After his £9m win he started ‘splashing the cash’ –100 trips to Spain, bling, booze and luxury cars. He was jailed again for affray and so it went on... Last year he admitted to having just 70 pence in his bank account.
And there were the tales of people missing out of syndicates. The pain! The misery! One that sticks in my mind is of two sisters. One pulled out of the syndicate just a few days before a huge win was recorded. I still feel her pain. Worst of all, perhaps, were the work syndicates. Imagine all your colleagues whooping it up, the champagne sloshing everywhere, gaggles of TV cameras and staff delightedly causing a meltdown in Human Resources by pinging their goodbyes en mass while you had to carry on trying to be brave and cursing yourself endlessly. There were philosophical pieces too along the lines of: “Be careful what you wish for, lest it come true.” And Christians had their angle too reminding folk of the famous line in the Bible saying: “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?”
Today, it is different. Even huge wins don’t merit much coverage. We have all moved on.