We paid our pound, we want to see him

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The Independent Online
Put yourself in the shoes of that poor young man from Blackburn. What would you do if it really were you?

After picking myself up from the floor, I hope I'd have the sense to recognise the reality: that a huge windfall from a National Lottery in its infancy cannot be concealed. Life will be different, richer. To fight the obvious is pointless.

If the television cameras are already parked in your street (I will come back to the question of whether they should be there in the first place), it is far better to go public, on your own terms, than be hunted down and pursued. The point is to be in control of your good fortune rather than haunted by your new wealth. The rich really are different.

In this case the man and his family have already been driven from their modest £50,000 home. But consider the alternative. Why not accept the inevitable and make plans to move to a new house with the increased security you are bound to need? This is a f a r wiser course. It might actually be quite enjoyable.

As with all good soap operas, this incident is turning into a real-life morality tale. If preachers still thundered from pulpits, what a marvellous message they could bring about how money can't buy happiness. The family of the man says he is already cursing his winnings, and wishes he could return them. How wet! I find myself shedding few tears for him. In fact, I think his response is quite pathetic. Nor will I sigh in sorrow for this week's winners. If you really don't want your life to change in anyway, why on earth buy a Lottery ticket in the first place? The whole point of the exercise is to subject yourself to the whims of chance in the wild hope of winning and getting rich. Despite the £40m advertising campaign going on at the moment, no one is forcing Lottery tickets into anyone's hand. The queues on Saturdays can be so enormous - WH Smith is thinking of removing the sales points from its shops - that getting a ticket is an act of determined free will. Every action, as Newton taught us, has some reaction or consequence. In most c ases, we simply lose our pound.

One of the most useful mottoes in life is surely the one that runs: be careful what you wish for, you might get it.

And anyway, are the media behaving so very badly in pursuit of the winner? I'd say that it is the organisers, followed very closely by the Government, who have most to answer for. It is true that you can tick a box requesting no publicity - I've done it myself. But anonymity is clearly something Camelot cannot guarantee for all entrants and all winners. It is somewhat beside the point for the pools organisers to say that they can manage it. The pools are a discreet and a very British phenomenon comparedwith the brash new Lottery. It's like Blackpool as against Las Vegas.

Blessed by government, the Lottery is specifically designed to generate massive public interest and equally massive revenue, with cuts going to the Treasury and to good causes that otherwise seek public funds. That is why the draw is on television (it doesn't have to be), the hype is so enormous and John Major turned up to launch it.

We, the public, are being subjected to a very hard sell indeed. To deny us the sight of the first really spectacular winner defies human nature. It is a perfectly normal reaction - why shouldn't all of us whose £1 tickets have contributed to what should be his good fortune want to see him?

Lunching yesterday with a group of television executives, one of whose companies had a camera crew in the man's street, I detected no shame, and I agree with them. It is an extraordinary story.

Behind all of this lurks the really serious question: what is the Lottery doing to our culture? With its fundamental message that you can get rich quickly, by fluke, it is certainly doing very little to promote the work ethic. And it certainly seems to be tarnishing everything it touches.

The BBC is already reeling from the totally justified mauling its Lottery programme is getting. It is one of the richest ironies around that it actually paid Camelot for the exclusive privilege of televising the draw. In the end it has gained just a two-second advantage over ITV. In fact, this is one national event that would have suited ITV far better than Auntie - ITV is much smarter when it comes to being vulgar. Talking to people associated with the show, they say that the BBC was so obsessed with winning the rights that it paid scant attention to what to do with them, how to build a programme around the draw. The curse of the lottery show is that week by week it is proving that Auntie is far less of a professional broadcaster than she likes us to think she is.

The truth is that the Lottery winner should turn to the corporation for a quite different service. He should go into a nice, calm professional BBC News studio and give us a simple interview. And then he should go home to his nice, new secure house, and thank his lucky stars.