Expensive cameras, Disneyland tickets, designer perfumes... how Janice won the lot!
Londonderry woman Janice Doherty takes competitions seriously, and little wonder, given her success. Kerry McKittrick meets her and three other people on a winning streak
Kim Searle recently won headlines because of her hobby – she enters competitions. Upon waking she checks her Facebook page and then goes on to enter anything up to 100 competitions every day. It sounds like a lot of effort but when you consider that over the years she has amassed prizes to the value over £100,000 it obviously pays off.
The 51-year-old bookseller from Powys in Wales has won everything from a 42-inch flat screen TV to her entire set of bedroom furniture to holidays in Australia, Hawaii and Disneyland.
On a smaller scale other prizes have included a mop and bucket, water filters, oven gloves, skincare and clothing. In pride of place in her home is a three foot high Pooh Bear.
The items that Kim doesn't use are passed on to friends, her godchildren or the charity shop.
Kim is not unusual in virtually making a career out of entering competitions.
We talk to four people who keep chasing those valuable wins.
Janice: 'Every day I enter new competitions'
Janice Doherty (50s) is a volunteer for the Derry City Of Culture organisation and lives in the city with her husband Nigel. They have two children, Christopher and Judith. She says:
It started in 1995 when my daughter entered a Mother's Day competition. She filled out the postcard and sent it in and the next thing I knew I had two bottles of wine and a bouquet of flowers. At that point I got hooked.
I have a particular method I use. I try to keep to local competitions because they attract less entries. I do all the ones in the local and regional papers and I look out for local magazines. If I go into newsagents I'm always scanning papers and magazines to see if there are any competitions.
I've won weekends away, cookbooks, holidays and several kitchen appliances – I got a new washing machine quite recently.
I've had a couple of especially good holidays. A few years ago there was a token competition in the Belfast Telegraph. The finalists were invited up to Belfast to select their prize. We each had to pick an envelope that contained anything from a weekend away to a Caribbean cruise. The envelope I picked had a family holiday to Florida that included tickets to Disney World.
I enter all sorts of competitions and I do it every day. I have my little methods to give me an edge. A lot of competitions require entries on postcards, so I always use a bright one which I think has more chance of catching the judges' eyes. Once I won a stay at a hotel in Mayo and picked up a couple of hotel postcards while I was there. The next time there was a competition I used one of them and won again.
My husband and I are keen golfers so my favourite prize was winning tickets to watch the Ryder Cup in Detroit – it was five-star all the way. We also won a holiday to the Maldives. Whenever we're heading away on holiday my friends always ask if it was a competition prize or something we've paid for ourselves. I've been to a few places I wouldn't necessarily have gone to if I hadn't won the trip.
I find it exciting to see what will come through the post. Doing competitions is something of a challenge and it does cost money in stamps but I think the things I've won outweigh the cost!
I am selective in the competitions I enter. I try to keep it to things that I or my family will use. For example, I've won tickets to concerts that I've gone to myself or I've taken my sister to."
Christine: 'Madeira holiday was best win'
Christine Steele (56) is a civil servant. She lives in Belfast with her husband David and they have two grown-up children. She says:
I always did the odd competition but about eight years ago I was looking for something to pass the time and I decided to take the jump and subscribe to a couple of competition magazines.
Every day I sit on the bus to and from work and enter competitions on my phone. During my lunch break I take half an hour and do some then and later in the evening I'll sit with my laptop in front of the TV after dinner.
It's one of those things that you get back what you put in to it. Some weeks I'll win two things and three things the next, then I might not win anything for a month after that.
I only enter competitions for things I like or would use or my family might use – it would be wasteful otherwise.
My social life centres around competitions these days – I get concert tickets and theatre tickets. I recently won tickets to two nights of ballet at the Grand Opera House and it was wonderful – I had never been to the ballet before. I get a lot of meals and vouchers for things. I think the biggest thing I won was £1,000 towards the cost of a holiday. We went to Madeira and it was wonderful as we could afford to have a really nice time.
I've won lots of weekends away. I've recently had an overnight stay at the Culloden Hotel in Cultra which was great. I've had spa treatments, £500 of my choice of Denby pottery and a beautiful lamp and nativity scene from Belleek Living. They're not that kind of thing you would normally spend money on but they're lovely to have.
I've won quite a few experiences and days out. I won a day at Kirkistown motor racing circuit with an MX-5 car and after that I won the use of an MX-5 for three days with my overnight stay at the Culloden. I have to admit I recently bought an MX-5 because of those experiences.
I like the ones that you need to work at. I recently won a spa treatment with champagne afternoon tea as part of a photography competition – it's good when you really need to think about what you're submitting. I also wrote a poem once that won me a place at a gala dinner with a limousine and suite at the Europa Hotel in Belfast. The only problem was I had to read out the poem to 300 people at the dinner!"
Rachel: 'I met Cheryl Cole on my dream trip'
Rachel Richardson (27) is an online market researcher from Dungannon. She says:
I started entering competitions a few years ago. I like to travel and signed up for a few newsletters on travel sites and magazines. If they posted competitions online I would just enter those – it only takes a couple of clicks. If you enter something that ends up sending you emails all the time you can just unsubscribe after you've entered.
Four years ago I won a holiday to America for me and eight of my friends. We started off in Los Angeles then were driven by a guide to San Fransisco, Yosemite Park, Las Vegas and a few other places, finishing back in LA. The flights, accommodation and guide were all paid for. That was a pretty good prize as it was worth £1,000-£1,500 each for nine of us.
The year after that I won another prize to Tanzania. It was the year that Chris Moyles, Cheryl Cole, Gary Barlow, Alesha Dixon and other celebrities were climbing Mount Kilimanjaro. My friend and I were brought out to their base camp and had coffee and cake with them before they set off on their climb. We then went off on a few days' safari.
Last year I won a guided tour in Guyana in South America. That was great as it was somewhere I always wanted to go. Again it was a couple of weeks with flight, accommodation and a guide at each of the destinations. I went alone but it was a guided tour with a group of other people and it was just fantastic.
I've also won a lot of gig tickets too, allowing me to see acts such as Adele (left), Plan B, Tinie Tempah and Ellie Goulding.
I don't enter competitons that often – maybe one a month – but I seem to have a knack of winning them. I can't play the lottery now as I get so disappointed because I don't win it. I only buy a ticket once every three months because of the sense of failure."
Gary: 'We still have a tray of winning tickets'
Gary Toner (31) is a civil servant and lives in Belfast with his partner Jenny and her son Joel. He says:
Four years ago I was short on cash and we really couldn't afford a social life. It was a Friday and I had nothing to do at the weekend because I had no money to go out.
In my lunch break I happened to see the paper from the day before with a competition for the Coors Open House Festival, an overnight stay at a Premier Inn and a box of beer. The deadline was noon that day but I took a chance and sent a text. I ended up winning the competition. I went from a weekend with no plans to one that was chock full.
I've never entered anything like that before, never mind won, so I was pleasantly surprised.
Two or three weeks later I entered another competition that won me tickets to a Pixie Lott concert and entrance into an awards ceremony after-party. At that point I decided there might be something to this lark.
From that point I started looking everywhere for competitions. I would go to the Belfast Welcome Centre in my lunch hour and pick up the free magazines there because they often have competitions. I also started using Facebook and Twitter like never before as there are plenty on there.
I go for activities and experiences instead of household goods – I don't need a house full of useless stuff. As a result we've been to places and done things that we wouldn't have necessarily done before. Jenny and I have become really fond of London as we've won a few pairs of flights to there. It means if you don't have to pay for the flights you can stay at better hotels or spend money on activities that you wouldn't have otherwise done.
We've won surfing lessons which we've been able to team with overnight stays at the Ramada Hotel in Portrush. We enjoyed that so much we've paid to go back and do it again.
For me competitions have been all about the experience – Joel has been an Ulster Rugby mascot and driven a Stena Navigator. At the moment there's a tray in our kitchen with the prizes we haven't redeemed yet – cinema tickets, tickets to W5 and holiday vouchers among other things.
At one point I got a bit obsessed with the whole thing – I was out one night and thought I would rather be at home filling in competition forms but I knocked that idea on the head pretty quickly. Now it's something I just do at home in my spare time."
Tips to help make you a winner
Firstly, realise that success isn't guaranteed with competitions. Think of it as a potentially rewarding hobby, rather than an unpaid job.
Keep track of what you've entered and set up a dedicated email address – you'll be flooded with spam otherwise.
Be picky – only enter competitions that you actually want to win. You could end up with a house full of junk.
Never pay for postcards – keep an eye out in coffee shops, newspapers and libraries. Free postcards are out there if you know where to look for them.
Take the time to tick and opt out of further contact – there's usually a tick box for this at the end of each competition form. Make sure you read the fine print to avoid a ton of spam mail.
Make the most of social media – sign up for Facebook and Twitter. There are plenty of competitions to be found.