Friday 28 October 2016

Obituary: Vivian Nicholson

Woman who vowed to 'spend, spend, spend' after husband's pools win - and did

Published 19/04/2015 | 02:30

FORTUNE WON AND LOST: Viv Nicholson after a shopping spree
FORTUNE WON AND LOST: Viv Nicholson after a shopping spree

Viv Nicholson, who died last weekend aged 79, was the factory packer from Yorkshire in the UK whose husband won a record pools jackpot of £152,319 in 1961; she disastrously fulfilled her much-vaunted promise to "spend, spend, spend", and blew the lot on a life of luxury and excess that lasted less than five years.

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She and her husband won the money when she was 25. But by the time she was 30, Vivian Nicholson (universally known as Viv Nich) had not only spent it all, but had also buried her husband, Keith, and returned to her humble roots, reflecting ruefully on her fate as one of the first media celebrities of the pre-Beatles 1960s.

She certainly struggled with the culture shock of winning such a stupendous amount of money - the equivalent of more than £5m (€7m) today - and felt alienated from people of her own sort who, in turn, could no longer relate to her.

It was scarcely surprising. Two months after her win, she estimated that she was spending money at the rate of £1,400 a week. After the £4,000 luxury bungalow came the cars, a silver Chevrolet and a pink Cadillac, in which (once she had learnt to drive) she would roar up the gravel drive and over the manicured lawns of her children's private school, having dyed her hair pink-champagne blonde, then green, then yellow, then blue. With the cars came the clothes, furs, frocks, shoes - she once bought 14 pairs at one go - jewellery, watches and exotic holidays.

But her chief excess was drink. After the open house at their local pub near Leeds, the Miners' Arms, to celebrate their win, there were lavish parties at the new home they had named the Ponderosa, with its own corner cocktail bar literally awash with alcohol, and so much champagne that Viv claimed to bathe in it. But four years after hitting the jackpot, Keith Nicholson was killed at the wheel of his new Jaguar, leaving an estate of just £42,000. At first Viv, who wore her funeral suit for three months, was denied access to his money.

By the time a dispute over his will had eventually been settled in her favour, she had been forced to work in a strip club to cover her children's school fees. As she divorced or mourned a further three husbands in rapid succession, she lost heavily on bad investments, what little money was left simply haemorrhaged away, and she sank into debt.

The fancy house and cars sold, the last of the money scraped together to buy a tiny terrace house in the shadow of a grimy factory and where she stored her collection of 1960s haute couture in five wardrobes.

But this was not the end of her cautionary tale: her memoirs, Spend, Spend, Spend, published in the 1970s, earned her £60,000 and a West End musical of the same title about her life a further £100,000. This money, too, seemed to trickle through her fingers; she lost £12,000 in a failed boutique venture because - out of guilt - she gave the clothes away.

She was born Vivian Asprey on April 3, 1936, at Castleford, a working-class satellite of Leeds. The eldest child of an epileptic miner who drank often and worked seldom, Viv won a scholarship to art school when she was 13, but was forbidden to go by her father, who sent her instead to scavenge for coal at the local pithead.

Because her mother was asthmatic, she found herself having to look after her six siblings, and although considered bright at school, Viv was forced to leave at 14 to take a job at a local liquorice factory.

By 16 she was married and pregnant, but became infatuated with her neighbour, a trainee miner called Keith Nicholson, whom she married as soon as her divorce came through.

In 1961, now with four children, Viv and Keith Nicholson were, between them, earning £9 a week. On September 30, a Saturday night, Keith was checking his pools coupon against the football results on television when he realised he had eight score draws.

Viv ran to the nearby post office to send a telegram claim to Littlewoods. Within days Viv and her family had moved out of their council house and into a detached chalet-style bungalow in the middle-class suburb of Garforth.

But while her husband seemed content with his new wealth, using the freedom it bought to become a horse- racing expert and a crack shot with sporting guns, Viv often moped alone at home with little to do but watch television and read the begging letters.

"All I want," she sighed, "is for someone to walk in the door and smile at me and really mean it - and say I haven't changed."

After her husband's death, she lived in the thick of chaos. Finding the money had run out, she drank to excess and had at least one drug overdose. Two suicide attempts took her to the edge of a nervous breakdown. But in 1979 she became a Jehovah's Witness, renounced drink, and became an energetic proselytizer. She was enormously proud of her children, whose expensive education had been protected by a £20,000 trust fund set up immediately after the pools win.

Vivian Nicholson was married five times. Having divorced her first husband, Matthew Johnson, she married Keith Nicholson, who was killed in 1965; her third husband, Brian Wright, also died in a car crash. Her fourth, Graham Ellison, divorced her within weeks of their marriage, and her fifth, Gary Shaw, died of a drug overdose.

Her children survive her.

Sunday Independent

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