Belfast Telegraph

Gail Walker: Lottery winning Connollys showed us how to react when life throws the inevitable curve ball our way

Like the £115m jackpot winners, we all need cool heads for whatever surprises are in store, writes Gail Walker

EuroMillions winners Frances and Patrick Connolly
EuroMillions winners Frances and Patrick Connolly
Gail Walker

By Gail Walker

Most of us - even those who don't buy a ticket - have a secret dream of lifting a tidy little win on the Lottery. Just enough, perhaps, to allow us to spend the rest of our lives at leisure and to fend off the normal financial insecurities which may beset us and our families as we make our way through life.

If the scale of the daydream is limited at all, it is only by the worry about the attention it would bring to our hitherto private lives. So, in our minds we work out that £50m might be just too much ... whereas £2m, let's face it, that's nothing nowadays and, since we are daydreaming after all, we might as well make it £5m ... no, no, £10m ... that should do. Enough for a lifetime and leave enough for the kids ...

Not a vast sum, though, for even if the big win was to be kept secret at first, we reason, would we be able to restrain ourselves and not have to explain the limo suddenly in the driveway, the huge stone lions on the gateposts of the suburban semi, our little granny with her own butler carrying her messages home from the Spar, the dulcet tones of Tony Bennett (for real) serenading us from the back garden on Valentine's Day, like that closing scene in Analyze This?

Doubtful.

Given all this, it was with something akin to genuine awe that we watched the Connollys of Moira handle the public announcement of their colossal £115 million win on the EuroMillions, which made them the fourth biggest UK lottery winners in history.

Frances and Patrick Connolly negotiated this trickiest of public outings with grace and aplomb - and managed to introduce a whole new dimension to the proceedings. By making it clear that they intended to divest themselves of some of their fortune - helping up to 50 people right away, no less - the couple were both able to celebrate their amazing luck certainly without any sense of gloating and also to share the goodwill, albeit in a carefully choreographed way.

Family, friends and charities will share a part of the proceeds of the couple's success - they had already drawn up a list of those they thought might benefit most from their generosity. Personally for the couple, a holiday in sunny climes is planned and Patrick has a wish to fulfil a lifelong ambition to attend the Monaco Grand Prix.

Modest enough celebrations, you might think, but also completely in keeping with the down-to-earth manner in which the Connollys responded to the queries of journalists. Asked if she was worried about personal security, Frances quipped: "I've never met anyone I couldn't take down myself."

Both were clear that money couldn't buy happiness and were quick to point out that they were already happy, as parents and grandparents and as professional people, in their family and work lives, before this amazing win overtook them.

Lottery wins are, of course, completely random. There are as many examples of wins being rapidly squandered, unexpected wealth only hastening the ruin of already down-at-heel people or slowly destroying those leading perfectly decent productive lives as useful citizens, as there are genuinely uplifting tales of almost miraculous wins transforming the doomed prospects of people teetering on the last possible rung of the social ladder, or those racked by illness. The classic tale of winnings gone wrong is that of Viv Nicholson (she of "Spend, spend, spend" fame) whose husband won the equivalent today of £3.5m on Littlewoods pools in 1961. She gave that famous response to the question: "What do you plan to do with the money?" Her life subsequently is a tale of dreadful misfortune and humiliation, made all the more poignant because that aftermath could just as easily have happened to any of us, just as the Pools win (or any sort of random change of circumstance) might do.

The question isn't: what happens next? But rather, what type of people are we right now? The temptations of great wealth have been the subject of parable and fable down through the millennia and for good reason - nothing is as intoxicating as vast riches, and the lure of money and the power it brings with it has formed the centrepiece of morality tales in every culture, from the grandeur of King Midas to the trickery of the leprechaun's pot of gold. In every case, it is the draw of the quick win, the sudden elevation of social status, Little Lord Fauntleroy, the chimney sweep discovered as the lost heir to a fortune, the plot of Trading Places and a dozen other Hollywood movies and penny-dreadful potboilers ...

Of course, the fact is, every day we are tested by changes of circumstance, not as melodramatic as a Lottery win certainly, but equally impactful on our day-to-day existence. Loved ones die suddenly, jobs are lost, new lives arrive and must be cared for, accidents happen, opportunities come and go ... which of us wouldn't trade £115m for an extra five minutes with a lost parent or child?

What wealth could buy us even a fraction of the joy a newborn child brings just by being there?

Most of us recognise these things naturally and so we are generous when we win out and accept our disappointments with as much grace as we can muster.

What stands to us in times of stress and strain, as in times of euphoric success, is not what we are likely to do next, but what our character already is.

When we think of ourselves being unimaginably and impossibly fortunate, we do like to imagine that we would be like Frances and Patrick Connolly - level-headed, grounded, humorous, modest, generous, take it all in our stride, meet "triumph and disaster/And treat those two imposters just the same", as Kipling's old poem has it.

But the fact is, we may only be able to do that if we are doing it already in the many small and private ways life presents us with. The vast majority of us won't ever be tested by the sudden acquisition of riches beyond the dreams of avarice. In that alone, the Connollys have an advantage over us.

But as we face into another new year, let's hope we can demonstrate like them the same cool heads and warm hearts in every ordinary, everyday, life-changing challenge that most certainly lies ahead for all of us.

Belfast Telegraph

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