Monday 16 September 2019

'Don't ask me to do it - you don't know the trauma of it' - 'We Won the Lotto' director reveals reasons why Irish winners won't go public

We Won the Lotto - Irish Lottery Millionaire Gabriel Casananeau from Romania
We Won the Lotto - Irish Lottery Millionaire Gabriel Casananeau from Romania
We Won the Lotto - Stefan Klincewicz Serial Lottery Winner
We Won the Lotto - Paddy Toibin and Pat Power close friends and advisors to Euromillions Winner Dolores McNamara
We Won the Lotto - Lottery Millionaire Jim Hume from Donegal
We Won the Lotto - Suspected Lottery Millionaire Adele King
Aoife Kelly

Aoife Kelly

Since the National Lottery launched in 1998 there have been over 800 Jackpot wins of one million or more, but fewer than ten per cent of the millionaires go public.

And most of that ten per cent opt not to give interviews, which makes filming a documentary like 'We Won the Lotto' a pretty challenging endeavour.

RTE's two part-documentary series (available on RTE Player) explores the stories of eight winners, some of whom managed to make their windfall work for them, some of whom who lost it all.

For director Marion Cullen, getting Irish people to talk on camera about their money was "very hard" indeed.

"Because why would you?" she laughs.  "Suddenly you've got all this money and the last thing you want to do is start broadcasting it.

"One of the things the Lottery people told us is that Irish people are very reticent to talk about money anyway.  We're not the kind of society where you ask other people what they earn.  Go to America and question number two, after they ask your name, is what salary level you are at.  That whole sense of how much money you've got in the bank is such a private thing and suddenly you win the lottery and people know you've got €1.2m or €1.5m or €3.5m.  So you want to keep it quiet."

Research for the doc started last summer and Marion reveals she had a "lovely long, juicy list" of great stories.  However, that list soon whittled down to very few.

"There was a couple in Offaly who bought the town a swimming pool with their win.  The town had no pool so they bought one," she reveals.  "I thought it was such a great story they'd be dying to talk.  No, they didn't want to talk.

"There was another big win for a very ordinary couple down in Cork who had children.  They won €6.5m, a joint win, and they were the very first people I rang.  I got the number for the wife of the family.  I thought I was ringing with a good news story. 

"I asked did she want to recall this great thing that had happened and I remember her voice quivering when she answered the phone and she said, 'I know what you're going to ask me.  I can't do it.  Don't ask me to do it.  You don't know the trauma of it.' 

"I remember putting the phone down after I made that call and knowing I had upset somebody.  I realised I'd been very naive thinking everyone would be happy to talk about their win."

Last week's episode mainly featured people who had lost their money through bad investments and Marion found them more willing to talk as they had nothing left to lose.

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Billy Comer on We Won the Lotto, RTE

The first episode featured Billy Comer, a man who bought three pubs with his win, but was badly affected by the recession, and depression.

"Billy was very much interested in getting the message out there; 'don't do what I did'.  So he spoke for philanthropic reasons," says Marion.

WATCH: 'I checked the Teletext and I could not believe it' - Irish man describes moment he found out he won the Lotto

"You think [if you win] this money is going to insulate you forever.  If you're the kind of person who spends your life in the service of making money, and you make money, you're fine, but most people don't have that," she says.

"Most people have a salary and live week to week or month to month or year to year.  They're not used to dealing with or handling a lot of money. Having a lot of money is a job in itself. You have to be savvy at money management, investment."

A real worry for people with money is keeping that money.  Marion interviewed Dr Bryan Roche, Professor of Psychology at NUI Maynooth about how the psychology of having a lot of money.

He referenced a Harvard study of 4,000 millionaires and "the overriding thing they found was that people were afraid of their own money.  They lived in fear of losing it."

There was more to this Lotto show than met the viewer's eye...

Another reason why Irish people are reluctant to talk about their Lottery wins is security and fears for their family and children, and the fear of being targeted by criminals, which is what happened to Limerick woman Dolores McNamara in the wake of her €115m Euromillions win.

"She bought that house in Killaloo for her son Gary and he was taking his time moving in, doing renovations, and somebody broke into that house and stripped every piece of period detail out of that house when they weren't there," says Marion.  "Going public is a green light for people to know there's going to be expensive stuff there."

Although Dolores was approached to speak on the programme, she declined, as she has said she will never speak to the press.  However, she did sanction her friends and financial advisors (for the first three years of her win), Paddy Toibin and Pat Power, to talk about her win and the aftermath.

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We Won the Lotto - Paddy Toibin and Pat Power close friends and advisors to Euromillions Winner Dolores McNamara

"They were the people who were closest to her in the first few years of her win," says Marion.  " It's the first time they've ever talked.  Also her solicitor talks tonight for the first time.  They recall the whole euphoria of the win."

As well as the euphoria they reveal the stress on the night of the win when they panicked over where to hide the winning ticket, which Dolores had yet to bring to the National Lottery offices.

"They went to Henry Street Garda Station in Limerick but they wouldn't take it," reveals Marion.  "The bank manager wouldn't let them put it in the night save because he said if somebody put a lit match in the safe it would be gone!  In the end the bank manager in Limerick got up out of his bed and locked it in the safe. 

"What do you do with that ticket?  There's no other record of you having that ticket.  It's all you have.  If it's gone it's gone.  You have to sign it and you have to hand it over."

The second episode also tells Jim Hume's story.  He is the brother of Nobel Peace Prize winner John Hume and he won €1.2m. 

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We Won the Lotto - Lottery Millionaire Jim Hume from Donegal

"Jim said he put the ticket in a mass card from Lourdes, which is so Irish, and probably the safest place in the world," laughs Marion.

While most of last week's participants had lost some of, if not all, their winnings, this week's bunch have been luckier.

Romanian Gabriel Cazanaenu came to Ireland in 1997 on the back of a truck from Le Harve in France.  He had no papers and thought he was going to London.  Two years later he was a millionaire thanks to the Lotto.

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We Won the Lotto - Irish Lottery Millionaire Gabriel Casananeau from Romania

"He was already a savvy kid at 20 and he knew he wanted to make something of his life," reveals Marion.

"He went back to Romania around 2003 and a million here was worth ten times that in Romania.  He had seen the Bill Cullen style car dealerships around the Naas Road and Liffey Valley where his sister lived and he wanted to create that style of massive car dealership in Romania.  So he did, in Bacau and it's thriving.  It's one of the foremost businesses in the town."

Gabriel was not initially interested in talking for the documentary but said he still enjoys remembering winning so would like to share that with people again.

The programme will also reveal the fortunes of Stefan Klincivitz who won the lottery as part of a syndicate from Scruffy Murphys pub.

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We Won the Lotto - Stefan Klincewicz Serial Lottery Winner

"He recalls the story of how he sat down and used a mathematical formula to ensure that he won the lottery and he did," says Marion.

"Over the years he's had a number of wins.  Because the lottery felt scammed by this he was the reason why the numbers went from 36 to 47.  Your chance of winning went from one in 2 million to one in 10 million because of Stefan!"

We Won the Lotto is available on the RTE Player.

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