Ulster's hidden millionaires
They have wealth beyond their wildest dreams but no-one knows ... Robin Walsh reports on Ulster's secret lottery winners
They are the next door neighbours who hide the secret that they are millionaires.
Some are scared their wealth will end lifelong friendships. And some worry that new found friends would be attracted by their money and nothing else.
They are the National Lottery millionaires who go to amazing lengths to conceal their wealth.
Camelot, the operators of The National Lottery, has announced that since it began more than 12 years ago the lottery has turned 2,000 people into overnight millionaires.
About a quarter of all major winners throughout the United Kingdom decide to go public.
But Camelot guards the identities of anonymous winners with a Crown Jewels-like security and won't even say how many there are in Northern Ireland.
A total of 16 Ulster jackpot winners are known about publicly. They decided to share their dream come true with the public - led by the biggest single UK Lotto winner of all, Belfast grandmother Iris Jeffrey, who landed a £20m fortune more than two years ago.
But the province is typical of the rest of the UK in Lottery terms and on that basis there are dozens of jackpot winners living the secret.
Camelot's Northern Ireland Regional Office supervisor, Catherine Jordan, knows all the winners - but keeps her cards tight to her chest.
"The wishes of our players are the most important aspects of our business and we will abide by what they say, come what may," she says.
"Obviously it's in Camelot's interests for winners to go public - it really does show that the dream comes true more frequently than people might think.
"And I would suggest it's in winners' interests as well - it gives them freedom to enjoy their good fortune and after the initial publicity, they can settle down openly to enjoy their new life.
"However, if they want to remain anonymous we will do everything in our power to ensure that happens."
Ms Jordan and her two office colleagues keep in regular touch with the secretive winners - mainly by telephone.
"We get quite a few calls from them - after all we're the only people who can share their experiences apart from maybe a handful of very close relatives. And in some cases relatives don't even know so, we are the only confidants."
On those occasions the Camelot staff have accidentally met winners out in public, they ignore them.
"If they are in company or we are in company, we just don't talk to them. We might just exchange a little knowing smile", says Ms Jordan.
It's thought a number of winners still live in the same homes - some of them council houses. And keeping the secret isn't easy.
One winner went on one of Concorde's last trans-Atlantic flights and can't tell anyone about it and another drives a less fine car than the healthy bank account can afford.
One couple go regularly to the West Indies, are careful with their suntan and tell neighbours they've been visiting friends in England.
And one young unattached winner, whose jackpot ran into millions, keeps the secret in case romance is found for the wrong reason.
In giving these examples, Catherine Jordan gives no clue to identity or location - not even the sex of the winner in search of romance.
One couple who have gone public are Eamonn and Maura Morrison of Cloughmills in Co Antrim who won more than £3.5m when Eamonn hit the Lotto jackpot eight years ago.
"I don't know how people can keep the secret and fully enjoy their good luck", says Eamonn.
"We made no secret of it and have retained all the close friendships we had before we won. In fact, people bought us presents to celebrate our good fortune".
The Morrisons and their two children have just moved from their original home.
"It's obviously a bigger house - but we are staying in Cloughmills," says Maura.
"Of course, our win has meant we no longer need to worry about money, but I like to think we are still the same people we were."
Meanwhile, dozens live the secret € maybe one of them next door.
Vital statistics in the numbers game
- The total wealth of all 2,000 National Lottery millionaires created to date is £5.6bn
- An average of 14 new millionaires have hit the rich list every month since The National Lottery was launched in November 1994
- One in every 23,500 people in the UK is a millionaire jackpot winner *
- In total, the National Lottery has paid out over £28.7bn in prizes across all games and prize levels since launch
- On average, the National Lottery creates four million winners every week across all its games € from prizes of £1 to big jackpots worth several million
- The average Lotto jackpot prize paid out is £2.1m, across both the Saturday and Wednesday night draws
- The biggest jackpot in UK € and European € lottery history was a record-breaking £125m EuroMillions jackpot on February 3. In the end it was shared between three winners across Europe (two in France and one in Portugal), but had it been won by a single ticketholder it would have been the world's largest lottery prize ever paid out **
- The Big Draw 2000, a special, one-off draw to celebrate Millennium Eve on December 31, 1999, produced a staggering 18 winning tickets worth £ 1m € that is the most millionaire tickets ever created on one night
- Every minute of every day, approximately £2,500 of lottery money goes to Good Causes
- To date, over £19bn has been raised for Good Causes by the National Lottery ***, and more than 250,000 individual awards have been made across the UK
* Based on the total adult (16+ player) population of the UK of 47 million € Source: Census Day 2001 (April 29).
** Although previous jackpots in the United States have been higher, the actual prize amounts paid out to the winners have been less than £100m.
*** Including investment income.