Why winners can't cope

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The Independent Online
THERE'S a ghastly Schadenfreude about most of us that rubs our little hands in glee when huge lottery winners come to grief.

The latest winner to lose is 29-year-old Gary Ashmore, who is apparently drinking himself to death in Spain while looking for the playboy scene. When he won pounds 1.5m he gave up his job as a car salesman and left the country. Now he sleeps all day and drinks all night. "Every day starts with a hangover that lasts till I get drunk again," he said. "I'll be dead before the end of the year if I carry on."

A few years ago Mark Gardiner shared a pounds 22m. He became surrounded with hatred, his mother saying: "I have a vision of Mark finishing up with a Ferrari going into a brick wall - and I hope it's tomorrow."

But compare these cases to the way Bob Carruthers, 67, copes. He won pounds 2.4m and deals with the changes in his fortune by doing his best to forget he has won. He and his wife were going to move from their humble house in Silksworth to a posher area in Sunderland, but realised they'd be isolated from family and friends.

All his neighbours have been pleased for the couple, and Bob still goes to his engineering club twice a week where he builds model steam engines and drinks orange juice. He hates change.

There seem to be several factors that predispose to keeping your feet on the ground if youscoop a jackpot. "Winners are more likely to be able to cope if they are secure emotionally, educationally, vocationally, in their social relationships and work, and comfortable with their sexuality," says Dr Sidney Crown, a retired consultant psychotherapist from the Royal London hospital. "Then you have to take into account how they normally react to stress. And winning the lottery is stressful.

"Most people have never been in a position where their close friends tried to sponge off them, and they might be upset to find that people they trust can turn out to be so greedy. It is shameless. On top of this they may be surrounded by publicity, from the local paper to television, and this is quite new and stressful."

Carolyn Fitzgerald, who worked as an adviser to winners at Camelot, said they found people cope best when they take their advice - which is to take no big decisions, even whether to leave work, until the realisation of their win has completely sunk in. "We can almost guarantee that they will go back on any decisions they make immediately after they win. They're in a state of excitement and confusion."

Do older people behave more responsibly after a big win? "Not especially," said Ms Fitzgerald. "If anything older people, because they feel they've less time left to enjoy their money, tend to rush things more than younger ones."

For instance, Charlie Dunlop, 52, blew a pounds 100,000 fortune on cocaine and was left with pounds 4.29 plus 18p interest. But on the whole people behave sensibly after winning. "Lots mention Viv `Spend, Spend, Spend' Nicholson, the pools winner. She seems to have done every big winner a big service by setting such an example to avoid."

If your life is empty in the first place, and you've lived in hope of winning the lottery, the chances are that the money will simply fall through the hole in your life, through drinking, taking drugs, gambling, giving it away or blowing it on crazy, money-losing schemes. If you're happy, it doesn't really seem to matter whether you blow your money or not."

Melvin Eddison, who won pounds 2.5m, was a bit of a spend, spend, spender, but said: "I was born happy and please let me point out that neither saving nor spending will make folk content - that comes from inside you and the people around you."

Leading article, page 22