Doug Wood could afford to indulge the odd whim as befitted a man who banked £2.65m from the lottery during one celebrated Saturday night seven years ago.
One of those was expected to be completed on Thursday night with a trip to Musselburgh racecourse in Scotland - the last of all the tracks in Britain the horse racing fanatic had yet to visit.
So when a taxi driver pulled up at his modest £66,000 home at Southend-on-Sea to take him to the airport and got no answer, it was clear something was wrong. When the neighbours finally broke into the house, they discovered that Mr Wood, 67, a diabetic who was constantly nagged about his weight by friends, had died in his sleep. Essex police said there were no suspicious circumstances.
Not only did Mr Wood die on the brink of achieving one ambition, he was on the verge of a second: spending all of his winnings during a burst of generosity to good causes and his friends.
Kathy Tanner, 53, a close confidante of the dead man, said: "He was determined that when he died he wouldn't have any money."
Mrs Tanner met Mr Wood 21 years ago when, as an out-of-work but jovial man, he regularly popped into the bookmakers where she worked to place £1.50 on a race. "He was generous even then," she said. "If he won £12 he would give you a £1 tip."
Then, he was living in a poky bedsit where he could touch both kitchen walls if he stretched out his arms.
But the win in September 1996 transformed him from an unemployed clerk to a globe-trotting patron of racing. He travelled to the United States, Dubai and Australia to follow the sport, bought a share in his own horse, Copper Shell, and spent about £40,000 on sponsorship at Brighton race course, among the many that benefited from his largesse. "He was a great supporter of ours and came to nearly every meeting here," said Judy Welsh, a racecourse spokeswoman. "The lottery didn't really change him but gave him the money to do what he liked to do."
Mr Wood, who never learned to drive, employed two women as chauffeurs and treated them - and Mrs Tanner - to regular holidays and daytrips to the races, often arriving in style by helicopter.
In their honour, Mr Wood, who never married, had a race named after them, the Three Angels. He used to joke that the three women also kept the gold-diggers at bay.
Even after his win, he continued to visit the bookmakers around his hometown but Mrs Tanner declined to say how much he spent. "It was a little bit bigger than his £1.50 bets," she said. Mr Wood still did his own shopping and ironing, lived happily in the two-bedroom bungalow surrounded by racing memorabilia and regularly treated his friends.
"We were talking once and I mentioned my washing machine was playing up. Two days later there was a knock on the door and there was a new one outside," Mrs Tanner said. "You had to be careful what you said in front of him. "He could be arrogant, he was very set in his ways, he was a typical bachelor. But he coped very, very well with the money. He loved having money and making everybody else happy with it. But now I've lost one of my best friends." A proportion of his money also went to charities, including £30,000 to the Royal National Lifeboat Institution - stickers promoting the charity adorn his home. Hospices received £300,000 and he gave the Injured Jockeys Fund £10,000.
His brother and sister also received six-figure sums. His brother, Barry, said at the bungalow yesterday he had had a "bloody good life".
Mr Wood bought a number of properties in the Southend area, which were given or rented to friends, and a property in Florida, as an investment and holiday home.
He went on more than 50 holidays after his win, including taking a family on his street on a trip to Lapland to see Father Christmas. On another holiday, to South Africa, he overheard a group of young swimmers talking about their financial woes and told them he would sponsor them if they produced their medals. They showed him and he wrote out a cheque on the spot, Mrs Tanner said.
But such high spending drained his resources and he said a few months ago that he was down to his last £80,000. He told his local newspaper that the chauffeurs would be going by the end of the year as well as the car - the fourth, including three Mercedes, that he had bought since his win.
In interviews since his lottery win Mr Wood said he would not have changed anything. He told The Independent in 2001: "I walk down Southend High Street and people shout 'Keep up the good work Doug: how much are you giving away this week?'"
WINNERS AND LOSERS
By Oliver Duff
JOHN ROBERTS This former security guard, right, won £3.5m in 1998 but ended up living in a caravan with debts of £20,000. His marriage failed, his £300,000 home was repossessed, and after buying 40 top-brand cars he is now left with a battered L-registration Rover.
WAYNE THOMPSON Mr Thompson, 34, became an alcoholic after squandering his share of a £2.5m jackpot on beer. He downed up to 24 pints a night after winning £125,000 in a works syndicate in 1999, and spent £36,000 on treatment at the Priory rehabilitation clinic to break the habit.
PHIL KITCHEN Destitute when he asked a friend for £5 to buy cigarettes and a lottery ticket in September 1999, Kitchen won £1.8m, only to drink himself to death. After moving into a £500,000 country house, he turned to a life of whisky bingeing and died, aged 58, in December 2002 from self-neglect.
STEPHANIE POWELL Bingo-caller Ms Powell's lottery numbers came up in October 1999, winning her £7.2m. She and her fiancé, Wayne Lawrence, gave up their jobs, bought new cars, had four holidays and moved house. But less than a year later, Lawrence walked out on her, unable to handle the stress of being rich. "Not needing to work, we were together too much," he said. "And I didn't like being known as 'the millionaire' and getting pointed at in the street."
MICHAEL O'LEARY Mr O'Leary, right, was jailed for four years in 2001 for killing his wife to prevent her taking a share of his £400,000 win. After keeping his 1995 prize secret for more than five years, he feared it would be discovered after Michelle O'Leary started divorce proceedings. He was convicted of manslaughter after admitting to strangling her.
REGINALD TOMLINSON Mr Tomlinson, 46, was jailed for three years in May 2001 after using half of his £100,000 winnings to set up a cannabis factory near his Derbyshire home. He had cashed his cheque to his father's account to hide the win from his wife, and blew the money on cars, a house and cannabis growing equipment.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies