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life after winning the lottery documentary

This is what it really feels like to win the lottery

Spoiler alert: it’s not all mansions and diamonds.

A London penthouse, a gleaming black Range Rover, a trip to New Zealand (first-class, naturally), a Selfridges spree, cash for family and friends. my “If I won the Lottery” shopping list goes on – and on. I imagine yours does too. The difference between us and Cassey Topham? Cassey actually won the Lottery. To the tune of… £45 million.

One bleak Tuesday in February 2012, Cassey returned home from her shift as a supervisor at Iceland. Browsing the web for replacement parts for her fiancé Matt’s broken computer, she decided to check her online National Lottery account. When the winning numbers exactly matched those she’d played four days before, she assumed there was a glitch.

But there wasn’t. Cassey and painter-and-decorator Matt, then both 23, had won big on the EuroMillions: £45,160,170. And 50p, to be precise. “The lady on the end of the line at Camelot was ecstatic, but I was in shock,” laughs Cassey. “I just asked, ‘What next?’” After telling her mum, she called her boss and quit, then had a bath because… what else do you do when your life has just tilted on its axis?

When I meet Cassey in the meeting room of a four-star Nottingham hotel, flies buzz around a plate of congealed pastries and a carafe of tap water sits between us. As she bats the flies away, four diamond rings catch the light – she has two on each hand. But they are the only markers of her immense wealth. The blue dress she’s wearing is Boohoo (her favourite shop) and there’s a few inches of dark root above her blonde highlights. Even now, seven years later, Cassey is still in shock about winning. “It took me a long time to process it,” she says. “I don’t think I’ll ever understand the amount of money that it actually is.”

Two days after learning of their win, everyone in the country knew how much money the couple had as, after telling Cassey’s parents, Matt’s dad and their friend Eddie (who popped by with a bottle of Tesco champagne), the couple went public. Lottery winners don’t have to reveal their win – only around 10 to 15% who scoop over £50k opt for publicity – but Cassey and Matt wanted to tell people in one go. Camelot’s PR team organised an event in which they posed with a giant cheque and sprayed champagne for the cameras. It made local and national news. Within minutes of the announcement, Cassey’s phone began to buzz. When she answered the first call there was no noise – the friend was too dumbstruck to say anything at all.

Then the spending began. They bought Cassey’s parents a house and paid off Matt’s dad’s mortgage. Cassey got her dad a Porsche and herself an Aston Martin (she’s now a “friend” of the brand). At the time, Cassey and Matt were saving for their wedding; the venue was booked and she was repaying the cost of her dress in instalments, with any extra cash going towards a honeymoon in Malta. The win didn’t change this: they used the same venue and dress and still went to Malta. The only add-ons were fireworks and real flowers (she had planned to use artificial ones). They paid off friends’ mortgages, gave others property deposits and cleared student loans. Their friends have never asked for cash, but strangers did. “They’d shout, ‘Do you want to pay for my petrol?’ across the station as I filled up my car,” she says. The pair’s only “blow-out” was a two-week Spanish holiday with friends – they covered the 12-bedroom villa, a dolphin cruise and the first round of drinks, after which their pals wouldn’t let them pay. In 2014, they bought a new six-bedroom house in the East Midlands, where they still live, and Cassey chose a chandelier for their hallway. A year and a half after their win, they visited New York. Shopping for rings in an expensive jewellery store, Cassey had what she calls a “Pretty Woman moment”, where a snooty sales advisor declined to let her try things on. “When I said I’d buy it, her demeanour totally changed,” she tells me. Did that feel good? “Oh, yes!” she says, with a wry smile.

“Strangers would shout, ‘Will you pay for my petrol?’”

And therein lies the Lottery’s unique power: it parachutes ordinary people into stratospheric wealth. Studies have shown that middle- and upper-class people are less likely to play the Lottery than someone who is working class. You can go from Iceland one day to Tiffany the next. In that way, yesterday’s Lottery winners are not dissimilar to the reality-TV stars and influencers of today. Those who win the Lottery and go public are catapulted to fame and wealth overnight, with no previous experience of dealing with the pressure of either. When the fallout comes, things can go wrong – sometimes disastrously so (more of which later). Thankfully, Cassey and Matt fared OK. Even so, when they won, paparazzi camped outside their home, and journalists followed them and quizzed relatives. They were papped at Tesco (headline: Every Little Helps) and were said to be going on Dragons’ Den – a total fabrication. “Most stories were so bizarre, we could laugh,” Cassey says. Others, I imagine, were harder to ignore. Matt’s estranged mother spoke to the press about her sadness over not seeing her son, insisting it wasn’t because she wanted his cash. The couple hit the headlines again when the Nottingham Post reported that a £1.2m house of theirs had fallen into disrepair, attracting drug users and vandals.

But despite the intrusions, Cassey and Matt’s lives have retained a sense of normality: their relationship remains solid, they own two businesses – a secure storage company and a farm park attraction – and have two sons. The only hallmarks of wealth are a cleaner and gardener. On an average day, the children wake Cassey at 6am, she gets them ready for nursery or school, does a supermarket run in her Fiat 500 (the Aston Martin is for special occasions) and cooks. In the afternoon, she plans events or hires staff for the farm. The businesses provide routine and are a useful foil when it comes to explaining to strangers what they do for work; tellingly, they’ve made few new friends since the win. “We try to keep things normal. Our friends and family wouldn’t allow us to be big-headed or extravagant. Matt cleans the car, I do our weekly shop.” Does she go to Iceland? “No,” she laughs. “Tesco or Asda.” These days, they splash the cash on holidays and cars. One does not become a “friend” of Aston Martin, I’m guessing, after a single purchase. She also loves Valentino bags and McQueen dresses. So, can money buy happiness? “It helps,” says Cassey. “It has allowed us to do things we’d never have dreamed of.”

It’s in the stars

“If a Pisces and a Taurus play the Lottery, they’ll win,” read Carly Wiggett’s horoscope in The Sun. Spurred on by the eerie coincidence, Carly (a Taurus) and her best friend and colleague Becky Witt (a Pisces) decided to take the advice. The two police officers quickly bought a ticket, 10 minutes before the deadline, one freezing Friday in March 2013. Four hours later they discovered they’d won a total of £336,277.60.

The money – which they split down the middle – arrived in their accounts four days later. They went to their local nightclub in Tunbridge Wells where they spent most of the evening jumping up and down in the toilets. “Winning with somebody was amazing,” Carly says.

As the National Lottery celebrates its 25th birthday, Cyan Turan speaks to winners to find out whether money really can buy happiness. ]]>