Thanks to the lottery, big divorce settlements and fat-cat salaries, there are now as many British millionaires as there are citizens of Greenland. So how rich is rich?
the National Lottery has been so successful, anyone could be forgiven for thinking that millionaires must be two a penny by now. And it's true that there are enough of them out there to populate a town roughly the size of Hereford if they all decided to move in next door to each other. There are currently around 49,000 millionaires in Britain, and they are multiplying at an amazing rate; there were only 18,000 in 1988, according to the Inland Revenue. Fat cat salaries have helped swell the ranks; as have big divorce settlements; as has the lottery, which created 120 new ones last year. So if your ticket nets you a million, don't expect to be the only one in the neighbourhood.

If passing the magical million mark has lost some of its exclusivity, it is also no longer the gateway to a life of champagne, caviar and cruises. "If you suddenly came into a million pounds, you probably couldn't expect not to have to work for the rest of your life, mainly because people's expectations tend to rise depending on how much money they have," says Brian Tora, chairman of the investment strategy committee at the stockbrokers Grieg Middleton. "For example, you might decide to enrol your children in a private school. If you used to go on holiday in Blackpool, you'd start wanting to go to Florida."

Surely you could get a lot of trips to Florida out of pounds 1m? Not if you wanted to sail there yourself on your own custom-built yacht from Oyster, the most expensive at this year's international boat show, starting at pounds 800,000. Luxury costs. If you opted instead for the K Club in Barbuda in the Caribbean where the Princess of Wales recently stayed, it would set you back pounds 1,800 a night; you could stay for 18 months solid, but then you'd be broke again. And if you decided to stay at home in Holland Park or Hampstead, you could easily blow the lot on a house - and still have to take out a mortgage.

Of course, reckless spending is only one option. Brian Tora would give varying advice depending on the circumstances of the lucky winner. He would advise a young, working couple to begin by bringing their mortgage down to a tax-efficient pounds 30,000 and paying off any loans and credit cards, and judiciously invest the rest. "In principle, you would keep your job. I do not believe pounds 1m would mean a life of luxury. You wouldn't have to work if you didn't want to. Your million could produce pounds 40,000 a year, which would mean you could have the cottage in the country and a meal out on a Friday night, but if you wanted Caribbean cruises or trips to explore the temples of northern Thailand, it wouldn't go that far."

Mr Tora, who has never bought a lottery ticket, suggests that while a million is a good thing to have, it should be viewed as a life-changer rather than a life-transformer. "Suppose you have quite a good job that pays well but you don't like it much - you have to get up at 6.30am to get the train to the City, and put in long hours. A million would give you the breathing space to change careers, try something different, write a book. Or if you were an accountant who lived 50 miles out of London but had to commute to the City because you could only earn half the salary locally, you would be able to take a job locally and see more of your family."

Suddenly becoming filthy rich - or at least, quite reasonably rich by most people's standards - must lead to a sudden hike in one's desirability on the cocktail-and-canapes reception list? Again, a measly million is only effective up to a point. "Money doesn't buy you social cachet," says Drusilla Beyfus, author of Modern Manners (Mandarin, pounds 6.99). "It would be crazy to say that there aren't doors which won't suddenly open - rich people have their own popularity. You will get a lot of sponging. But it wouldn't transform your life. In this country there isn't much of a tradition of admiration for those who flash their money about. The English aristocracy has always feigned shabbiness - it's the Americans and new societies that admire wealth."

While the dosh itself means little, Ms Beyfus suggests that judicious application is the only way to up one's social rating. "You would need to know how to handle it. Endowments to schools and colleges would mean that your child's application might be more favourably looked on. You might well be invited onto charity committees, which can be a smart social route." A keen Lottery player herself, she would know exactly how to put a big win to work.

Peter York, social commentator and presenter of BBC1's Peter York's Eighties, is another keen lottery player with no illusions about just how much a million would mean in the beautiful people circles. "For the world at large, it's still a very important signifier. But amongst the elite, the assumption is that everyone has that much. At that level, it's not such a honey pot as to make elite people take an interest in you." How much would bring them buzzing round? "pounds 5m is comfortable, pounds 10m is serious," says Mr York. "And in reality, it depends what form it takes. You might be, say, an academic living in a house in Hampstead, not considering yourself at all well off, then go to sell your house and find it's worth a million. To have a liquid million, is still quite something," he concedes, "though it won't open the doors of high society." High society, however, does not scorn the idea of topping up its own coffers. "The general attitude to the lottery is not at all surprising. What is surprising is the universal and non-ironic way that people in society talk about what they would do if they won. People with money are very interested in money."

So: it may not be that luxurious or socially elevating, but is it fun being a millionaire? A big win means counselling (American millionaires call on the Impact Group, a Massachusetts-based support network for the super-rich and super-miserable). It means long-lost relatives crawling out of the closet, cap in hand; your family may tear itself apart under the strain. Friends who claim you always agreed to share any winnings will see you in court. Every skeleton in your cupboard will be rattling away, and you may find yourself branded a Romeo love rat on the front page of the Sun ... a complete nightmare all round. Or is it? Well, no, actually. As most ticket-buyers suspect, being a millionaire is, in fact, fantastic, even if it doesn't mean you can holiday alongside Princess Di, join the aristocracy, or maintain your anonymity; and multiple millions are even better.

"These people who say it's ruined their life, I can't really see what their problem is," says Mike Antonucci, an antiques dealer from Plymouth who won pounds 2.8m in July 1995. The main disadvantage he can think of is putting on a few pounds. "It has taken the stress factor out of everyone round me. There's a lot less arguing. The only thing giving me stress now is the media," he says. "I'm still working. Life'd be boring if I didn't, and I can't just turn round and stick two fingers up at the people who rely on me to supply them." He rushed out to buy himself a white Mercedes, has invested in property, donated money to charity, and also installed a recording studio in his back bedroom to fulfil his dreams of helping local musicians, and making his own record (title "It Could Be You").

If you have to roll your sleeves up to make your money, the satisfaction is even greater. Pat Mancini, who owns the Queen's Hotel in Blackpool, thoroughly enjoyed building up her million. "It's been hard work, but I love what I do. I'm glad we worked for our money, it's given us a lot of pleasure, a lot of goals to aim for over time. I ran away from Manchester to Blackpool with my husband in 1966. We had pounds 80 in our pockets. Ten years ago we paid three-quarters of a million for the Queen's, and now it's worth about pounds 3.5m-pounds 4m. We did buy ourselves a mansion in Lytham in 1989. We've hardly used it - we spend all our time at the hotel. We used to walk up and down the prom, looking at hotels, picking out the places we'd like to manage best. Now we stand over the road and look at our own hotel and see what we've achieved and it's really satisfying."

8 Additional research by Colette Harris

money, money, money

1. People who work for a living are more likely to become millionaires than anyone else if current trends continue. 21 per cent of the UK's current millionaires have earned their money through hard work.

2. The interest on a million pounds can earn a married couple pounds 126 a day after tax.

3. Recent millionaires include Liz Hurley who secured a pounds 1m annual contract with Estee Lauder, David Platt, the England football player who was transferred to Arsenal from Sampdoria for pounds 4.75m last July, and nursery nurse Esther Tracey who scooped pounds 1,373,571 on the lottery.

4. Ways of winning a million, apart from doing the lottery, include filling in a pools coupon, the Premium Bonds (their first millionaire was created in April '94), or being admired by Robert Redford in a casino.

5. Nearly 29 per cent of millionaires inherited their wealth.

6. Lottery millionaire Lee Ryan, who won pounds 6.5m in March was described by a Camelot spokesman as "the most extravagant winner" having bought himself a Bentley, Ferrari, Porsche and Rolls-Royce as well as a helicopter.

7. In June 1994 merchant bank Robert Fleming gave some of its senior executives a bonus and pay package worth over pounds 1m as a result of record pre-tax profits.

8. Camelot has a team of advisers comprising an ex-policeman and two psychologists to visit the homes of lottery millionaires soon after a big win. The advisory team's identity is kept secret.

9. 21 per cent of millionaires are elderly

10. 80 per cent of lottery millionaires have chosen to remain anonymous. The largest anonymous win was for a ticket worth pounds 17m.

Some information from the Datamonitor report on High Net Worth Individuals, published Oct 1995