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Northern Ireland National Lottery winner reveals she's given away most of £12m win

As National Lottery turns 25, Mary Hamilton on how massive windfall changed her life

Mary Hamilton
Mary Hamilton
John Toner

By John Toner

Lottery millionaire Mary Hamilton has revealed she has given away almost £9m of her fortune to family, friends and charity.

The 70-year-old Newtownabbey woman scooped £12.9m in November 2014 and the windfall transformed life for her and husband Sandy (73).

The couple, both former accounts collectors, were immediately able to retire and Mary says her huge jackpot win probably saved her husband's life.

Speaking exclusively to Sunday Life to mark the National Lottery's 25th birthday, she said: "The greatest thing for us, I suppose it's quite a humble thing, my husband was not well and he was at that time having to leave work.

"He was finding it very difficult to work especially in the cold weather, it wasn't doing his health any good and he was getting worse. We had taken advice on it and the doctor had thought he should come out of work.

"That's the way things were going and we couldn't really afford for him to come out of work, we still had a mortgage to pay. It was a very stressful and difficult job and he'd be out in all sorts of weather visiting people.

"My husband feels that if we had not won the Lotto when we did he just doesn't feel he'd be around now. He couldn't have continued working. With only one wage coming in, that would have made life very difficult for us.

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"When we won this money, we were both able to retire instantly which I think is the dream of a lot of people. As well as that we were able to pay off our mortgage and no longer had to worry about that again. I'd say that's a dream for most people.

"That was the greatest thing for us to be mortgage-free and not have to work and being able to buy a holiday home in Portugal, and we have a lovely house overlooking the lough here. We spend a lot of time between Carrick, Donegal and Newtownabbey.

"I would spend a lot of time in Portugal now as we have two places there and we can invite family members over. It's much better for my husband's health, also.

"I'm between Northern Ireland and Portugal as I get a little homesick sometimes but he spends most of his time there."

The generous couple, dubbed Mary Christmas and Sandy Clause after winning the lottery during the festive period, have now given away most of their fortune.

Mary added: "The nicknames came about because I said I was going to be helping a lot of people. The papers gave me that name and of course Sandy was called Sandy Clause.

"It was appropriate at the time and it was fun, it didn't do any harm they were just putting over the fact I was willing to share the money and spend it and try and make other people's Christmases special.

"It was okay, it's not something that has stuck though which is fine. We're going to have Christmas here this year in Northern Ireland and it'll be the normal family gatherings.

"I got £12.9m and I would have given away £9m. I just felt I wouldn't need it all, I would rather give it away to people who I knew needed money, who would appreciate it, rather than leave it in the will for the tax man.

"If I could help people out I did; there was very few people I didn't give to. There aren't many people who know me who didn't get. I have tried to help my local community and the bulk of the money is gone but I don't regret it.

"I kept just enough for my husband and I to retire and live out a nice life for the rest of our days so we wouldn't have to worry about our mortgage and would have money for a nice holiday or new car if we wanted them.

"That's what winning the Lotto is about. It's not about sitting on it for any number of years, not at our age anyway. I'm sure it's different for younger people.

"I'd love to have won it when I was a bit younger rather than wait to this age, that would have been lovely, but obviously I'm still incredibly grateful."

The couple, who threw a party shortly after their win to celebrate and give away money to family and friends, have also donated over £1m to charity.

Mary continued: "We have helped all our family members and friends, and we have a big family circle, we've had a long journey in that sense.

"There was a long list of people we went out to over weeks and months paying off debts and accounts.

"We gave quite a substantial amount to different charities, around £1.5m, including the Children's Hospice which is my main charity and remains very close to me.

"When I won the Lotto we had a great big party in a hotel where I put on live bands and we had a meal. There was at least 300 people there which were friends and relations.

"People wanted to shake my hand and congratulate me but it was impossible to get round and see everybody so this was my way of getting in touch and it was a great night for everyone concerned.

"We gave out over £500 worth of Lotto tickets at the dinner but unfortunately there was no big winners although everyone went home with a cheque which was good.

"The amount varied depending on who it was but on that evening I would have given away probably around £200,000.

"We won't be having anything like that this year unfortunately, it'll just be parties and outings with family."

Millionaire Mary says she has spent some of the money on herself and Sandy despite her generosity.

She added: "I had a fairly old mobile phone so I bought new iPhones for my husband and I and also two tablets.

"Neither of us had our own cars, we had company cars, and my husband had dreamed of buying an Audi when he retired, that's what he always wanted to own. I wasn't that particular but after we won we went to Audi for him to buy his dream car and the salesman talked us into two Audis!

"They sat out in the driveway and certainly made our bungalow look a bit nicer, that was my husband's dream come true.

"That particular day we spent just over £100,000 on two cars and you never in your wildest dreams imagine you'd be spending that sort of money. It was a lovely feeling to be able to do that but also surreal."

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