It could be you: Welcome to the dizzying world of instant wealth

How can big lottery winners be helped from letting it go to their heads? One man knows...

When you hear the life stories of the very rich, their success usually seems to have followed the trajectory of a roller coaster. First, there is the dogged, incremental crawl uphill, briefly thankless, towards what awaits at the top, and then comes a great careless swoosh: a tipping point after which money seems to beget more money and everything just takes care of itself. Though there will be further little climbs along the way, the work done in that initial ascent will provide the momentum to drive through all of them. But the work has to come first.

The lottery doesn't pan out that way. The winner's journey from overdraft to overload is instant and jet-propelled, less like a roller coaster than one of those fairground towers that propels you into the sky in a matter of seconds. There's no time to anticipate, to adapt, to ease gradually into your new circumstances. You're still the same person, but you're also not.

This discord is the motor of our fascination with the life of the new lottery winner. Reporters always ask the blinking recipient of great good fortune how he celebrated, knowing that the 48-hour or so gap between getting the news and getting the money affords the chance for an amusing bit of colour. So it was last week after Neil Trotter, a mechanic and amateur racing driver, visited a Londis in Wallington, Surrey, and bought a EuroMillions ticket that would turn out to be worth £108m, enough to make him Britain's fourth-biggest winner. You had to feel a little for his partner, Nicky, who heard Neil, his sense of his own eligibility perhaps somewhat altered, telling the world that he didn't want to get married just yet in case he "regretted it later". For now, though, Neil and Nicky celebrated: they did this, they told the media, with a couple of Budweisers. Budweisers, we all marvelled! Look at this man, richer than David Bowie, and still he's drinking Budweiser! He probably didn't even drink it out of a crystal flute!

We've always liked a gamble, it's true, as the Budget reminded us, with its promise of a tax cut for the nation's bingo fans. But sudden wealth of this incomprehensible sort is a relatively recent phenomenon in Britain. There were the football pools, but the most anyone had won by the time the National Lottery launched in 1994 was a couple of million. The likes of Mr Trotter are almost unprecedented, and as the lottery approaches the 20th anniversary of its first draw, it seems an opportune moment to ask whether their ability to handle such a fate tells us anything about how we are all built: is there a linear relationship between wealth and joy, or is there, as the rest of us might prefer to believe, a law of diminishing returns?

If anyone should have a sense of this, it's Andy Carter, who has the delightful job title of senior winners' adviser. When you call up and claim your prize, Camelot will dispatch Andy, ferryman to the land of the rich, or one of his six colleagues: it's their job to take you by the hand and explain how, exactly, one lives with a fortune. Not everyone wants to publicise their luck; sometimes, if a neighbour makes an unwelcome visit when Andy is there, he has had to pretend to be an estate agent or insurance man. "And we keep in contact with people," he says. "We get invites to children's weddings, because we were there at this unique moment in their life. With anonymous winners, it may well be that we're the only people who know. So while they don't know us personally, they sometimes ring up because they just want a chat."

Neil and Nicky do not appear to have had any qualms about going public. Last Monday, Andy visited their home, and asked Neil to complete some paperwork. He asked for ID, scanned the ticket, and when authorisation came through, asked where Neil would like the cash deposited. And that, in a sense, was that.

In another sense, though, it wasn't. Once the formalities are completed, Andy helps the newly minted – anyone who gets more than £500,000 – work out what's next. He sits them down with financial and legal advisers and encourages them to make a plan. "You have to decide what your objectives are," he says. "You want to make sure it lasts you, and then you know what you can and can't give away, what you can do. Our big advice is to take your time." Sometimes, the winners are so grateful that they want to give Andy some cash as a thank-you. Sadly, he's not allowed to take it. Nor is he allowed to buy a ticket.

I wonder if this makes for a strange, yearning sort of life, seeing so much unearned good fortune as you go about your nine-to-five, but Andy insists he doesn't see it that way. "It doesn't worry me," he says. "Honestly, it's a privilege. You're at the centre of someone's life at this amazing time that they won't ever forget. If there's an issue with the job, it's that it makes you think it's easy or normal to win, whereas, of course, it's so rare."

And is winning good for you? Does it change you? Andy says that it doesn't change your values; it just gives you more choices. There are case studies to the contrary, such as Roger and Lara Griffiths, happily married when they won, separated and broke a few years later after a series of bad investments. Then again, they might have split up anyway. The better way to analyse the effect is to find a large base of players and then see how those who win compare with the rest. When Warwick University's Professor Andrew Oswald did exactly that, he found that the evidence was "overwhelmingly that winning the lottery makes you happier and improves your mental health".

Not everyone agrees. It has been suggested that whatever befalls us, for better or worse, we by and large revert to the mean. The Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert studied amputees and lottery winners, for example, and found that about three years after their life-changing moment, they had got sufficiently used to it to be about as happy as they were before. Perhaps the lottery's effect has more cumulative power on the rest of us than on the Neil Trotters: in the half-light of normality, a weekly flare of outlandish hope.

Whether that hope is a pleasure or a cruelty is hard to say. We are certainly more hard-headed about it all than we used to be, as a study of the progress of Camelot's slogans will suggest: from the warmly optimistic "it could be you" to a line that acknowledges that, for most of us, the win will remain a fantasy, and is most healthily understood as such: "imagine what you'd do". I don't know if such poignant fantasies are good or bad, but I know they're inevitable. Indeed, for the first time in absolutely ages, I'm thinking of buying a ticket.

Food blogger and Guardian writer Jack Monroe with her young son
peopleSinger tells The Independent what life is like in rehab in an exclusive video interview
Arts and Entertainment
booksPhotographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years - but he says it wasn’t all fun and games...
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Aguero - who single-handedly has kept City's Champions League dreams alive - celebrates his dramatic late winner
footballManchester City 3 Bayern Munich 2: Argentine's late hat-rick sees home side snatch vital victory
Muhammad Ali pictured in better health in 2006
peopleBut he has enjoyed publicity from his alleged near-death experience
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
Arts and Entertainment
The assumption that women are not as competent in leadership positions as men are leads to increased stress in the workplace
science... and it's down to gender stereotypes
Life and Style
The racy marketing to entice consumers to buy Fairlife, which launches in the US next month
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Inner sanctum: Tove Jansson and friends in her studio in 1992
booksWhat was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Property Lawyer - Cheshire

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: CHESHIRE MARKET TOWN - An exciting and rare o...

Austen Lloyd: Residential Property Solicitor - Hampshire

Excellent Salary : Austen Lloyd: NORTH HAMPSHIRE - SENIOR POSITION - An exciti...

Recruitment Genius: Gas Installation Engineer

£29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Gas Installation Engineer is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor

£28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Domestic Gas Technical Surveyor is req...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

Putin’s far-right ambition

Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

Escape to Moominland

What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

24-Hour party person

Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

A taste for rebellion

US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

Colouring books for adults

How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

Call me Ed Mozart

Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
10 best stocking fillers for foodies

Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

'I am a paedophile'

Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

From a lost deposit to victory

Green Party on the march in Bristol
Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

Winter blunderlands

Putting the grot into grotto
'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital