Camelot's worst nightmare is back

The Lottery winner Lee Ryan is out of jail and charging pounds 50,000 an interview. By Rebecca Fowler
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The Independent Online
When Lee Ryan walked out of prison yesterday, beaming widely, he was not clutching the pounds 30 traditionally handed out to departing inmates. Mr Ryan, 32, has his own pounds 6.5m fortune, won on the National Lottery, and was instead picked up by his wife and three children in the Bentley to be taken to his pounds 1m mansion where the gardener was hanging a "welcome home" sign.

When that sapphire hand of fate, created by Camelot's advertising company, swept down from a star-filled sky last year and boomed, "It is you, Mr Ryan," the lottery had found one of its most appropriate winners. No one better summed up that, in spite of all our residual Christian faith that the meek shall inherit the earth, the lottery is entirely amoral and at the current rate a dodgy car dealer has better odds of winning than any virtuous vicar.

In this modern-day fairy-tale it was Ryan, sentenced to 18 months for handling luxury stolen cars, who claimed the gold at the end of the rainbow and went off into the sunset of Stafford jail. As one of the earliest and most publicised winners, it was a bitter blow for Camelot, anxious for good publicity to combat fear that the lottery was an evil force creating a nation of greed-crazed gamblers.

Instead they were presented with Cheeky, as he was dubbed by the tabloids, who concluded stoically after his trial that he had "the mind of a criminal" and has not ruled out the possibility of further jail sentences because "you can never say never". When the charges against him were first disclosed in the press, a spokesman from Camelot was forced to acknowledge: "Everybody in this country over the age of 16 is entitled to play the lottery ... all sorts of people will be winners."

But it still sat uncomfortably with that celestial image of the hand emerging from the heavens, that has so upset the Church of England, and benignly points to the one person in 14 million who has hit the jackpot. It is the quasi-religious image Camelot created for itself that has tripped it up. "When we won, we looked at each other, me and Karen, and thought why us?" Mr Ryan said candidly after his win. "Because to be honest, I'm not the most deserving person to have won."

Mr Ryan is not alone in facing post-lottery-win scrutiny. When Mukhtar Mohidin, the Blackburn factory worker, won pounds 17.9m, Camelot announced: "They are a delightful family ... they have reacted very well to the news." To date Mr Mohidin has fled the country, moved to the Home Counties under a new name, and temporarily split from his wife while his friends and family descended into an undignified scrap for a share in the fortune.

Yet, despite the undisputed evidence that Cheeky is a rascal who was given an extra week's imprisonment for shouting at the judge and vaulting over the witness box, he also delighted the punters by enjoying the fairy- tale so flamboyantly. While the arguably more deserving winners bought new Vauxhall Cavaliers, gave to their children and invested the rest, he was spend, spend, spending, and pronouncing that the most important thing for a lottery winner is "to be yourself".

He promptly bought the pounds 1m mansion set in 40 acres of land, a Bel Ranger helicopter, and a fleet of the luxury cars he is so fond of, including pounds 180,000 Ferrari Testarossa, a Porsche, a Jaguar, and he also has a Ducatti motorbike. He plans to concentrate on passing his commercial flying licence. The mansion is set in 40 acres. Not bad for the less-than-honest car dealer who advertised sales with fluorescent yellow signs in the back window of his council house on Leicester's notorious Braunston estate.

Although there is nothing commendable in Cheeky's crimes or his extravagance, he has also provided the best sport of the lottery so far: watching Camelot trip up over the total and utter amorality of the lottery, while winners emerge as normal and fallible individuals with histories that are not always a PR dream. The lottery operator, which is itself scooping more than pounds 1m in profits each week, would not take messages for Cheeky yesterday, who was reputedly asking pounds 50,000 an interview. "We don't really have anything to do with him anymore," said a spokeswoman.

But even Mr Ryan, a charitable man according to his lawyer, is not averse to some old-fashioned platitudes fitting of a more traditional fairy-tale, that would warm the hearts of Camelot and Anglican vicars alike. As he stepped into the Bentley, with the registration LEE 4, he said: "It has done me a good favour going to prison. It gave me an insight into what it's all about again. Money is not the be-all and end-all. It's family ... I had what I wanted before I got the money, but I just didn't realise it."