Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 23 September 2014

DebateNI home of Northern Ireland politics

Let's hope Strabane lottery winner finds only happiness in EuroMillions jackpot

Most of us aspire to be fabulously wealthy. But many rags-to-riches stories end up in tragedy, writes Michael Wolsey

Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street
Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street
Margaret Loughrey pictured after her massive Euromillions win
Margaret Loughrey pictured after her massive Euromillions win

The old adage has it that money can't buy happiness. The old rejoinder has it that the chance to find out would be a fine thing. Margaret Loughrey has been given that chance.

The 48-year-old Strabane woman, who was unemployed, has hit the EuroMillions jackpot of £27m. The ticket she bought after drawing her £58 Jobseekers' Allowance has taken her from the Jobcentre queue to a place near the top of Ireland's rich list.

Echoing the words of many a lottery winner, Margaret says she is determined the money won't change her. She’ll continue to live in her native town and will help her family and a few close friends.

 “If whatever is out there has given me this amount of money, then it couldn't be for anything but good,'' she said. “All it will do is change lives for the better and make a lot of people happy — not just me.”

Let us hope so. It would be nice to visit Strabane in a few years and find Margaret contented, in a bigger house, maybe, having enjoyed a few foreign holidays with her mum and her mates.

But the history of jackpot millionaires suggests that things do not always go so smoothly.

Adrian and Gillian Bayford became Britain's second-biggest lottery winners, scooping £148m in August last year. Gillian had been working nights as a healthcare assistant and Adrian was putting in long hours in a music shop.

“It will be fantastic to spend more time together,'' said the happy winners. “The money is going to benefit the whole family.''

Wrong. They were flooded by begging letters and fell victims to an email scam. Last month, they announced that their marriage had broken down irretrievably.

As he moved out of their new family house, a £6m mansion in Suffolk, into their £500,000 second home, Adrian did not go so far as to say he would have been happier had he never won the money.

That, however, is the declared view of Ireland's first and biggest EuroMillions winner, Dolores McNamara from Limerick.

Her win in 2005 landed the part-time office cleaner with €113m (about £95m) in the bank and a string of family problems.

Her eldest son was forced into hiding because of a kidnap plot, her other five children had to be fitted with personal alarms and Dolores became a victim of crime when the mansion she bought in Co Clare was raided and stripped of all its fittings.

Her daughter's boyfriend told newspapers she was a mental wreck, living behind security cameras and trusting no one.

Camelot, the National Lottery company, is adamant that only a small minority of winners regret their success. But there is ample evidence from the wide and wicked world that wealth and happiness rarely go hand-in-hand.

Bond dealer Michael Milken built a fortune on Wall Street and became one of the world's 500 richest people. But it all ended in court and humiliation when he pleaded guilty to a string of tax violations and was heavily fined.

Milken was the chief inspiration for the character of Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the film, Wall Street. “Greed is good,'' declared Gekko. “Greed is right. Greed works.'' Greed made him very rich but it landed him in prison. His wealth bought him nothing but trouble.

John Paul Getty is listed among the richest 100 people of all time and was the world's richest private citizen. His wealth turned him into a miser. He had a payphone installed in his home and put locks on all the other phones. When kidnappers abducted a 16-year-old grandson who shared his name, Getty refused to pay the $17m (£10.4m) dollar ransom.

An envelope containing the boy's ear and a lock of his hair was sent to a newspaper with a threat of further mutilation if the demand, now reduced to $3m (£2m) was not met.

Getty refused to pay more than $2.2m (£1.5m) — the maximum tax deductible amount — but lent the boy's father the remaining $800,000 (£5m) at 4% interest.

Howard Hughes, the aviator, engineer and film maker, was another man destroyed by his wealth.

He was brilliant at everything he touched but became increasingly eccentric and reclusive and developed an obsessive-compulsive disorder. He lived on chocolate bars, chicken and milk, peed into milk bottles and surrounded himself with hundreds of Kleenex boxes which he continuously stacked and re-arranged.

When he died in 1976, he weighed less than seven stone, had long matted hair, a long beard and long nails.

Police were shocked and insisted on seeing finger prints to confirm his identity.

The list of the wealthy but sad is a long one. It includes the Kennedys, the Guinness family, the Hearst newspaper family.

But still we all strive to be rich.

For as Spike Milligan, who achieved a little bit of wealth and very little joy, famously remarked: “Money can't buy you happiness but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery.”

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