Viv Nicholson: The Original Lotto Celebrity
Winning the lottery is many people’s ultimate daydream, which likely accounts for the reason why we are so curious about those lucky individuals who win. Nowadays, it’s common for the media to go into a frenzy whenever an interesting character wins big, turning many winners into tabloid regulars. However, lottery winner Viv Nicholson may actually have been the first tabloid darling to come from winning the lottery—and this is her story.
Who Is Viv Nicholson?
Viv Nicholson had a difficult childhood. Born in Castleford near Leeds in 1936, she was the oldest child in her family. Though her father worked as a coal miner, he was often unable to work because suffered from epilepsy. Viv’s mother also suffered from illness, leaving the family in extreme poverty.
As the oldest, Viv had to take on a lot of responsibility at a very young age, often having to scavenge for coal. By 14, she had left school to work at a liquorice factory, despite being offered a scholarship to art school. Viv became pregnant at the age of 16 and married the father of the child. Two years later, she left her husband to marry her neighbour, Keith Nicholson, a coal miner. By the time she was 25, Viv had four children.
Why Was Viv Nicholson Famous?
In September 1961, Viv’s life finally looked like it was turning around when Keith won the football pools lottery. The couple took home £152,000, which is the equivalent of over £3.5 million today. Viv immediately caught the media’s attention when she claimed she would “spend, spend, spend” the money she and her husband had won. True to her word, that is exactly what Viv and Keith did, and the tabloids loved reporting on what purchases they made. As a result, she became one of the first lotto celebrities—paving the way for other famous winners, like Curtis Sharp, over the years that followed.
Newspapers followed Viv shortly after her win as she embarked on a three-hour spending spree, spending an extravagant £130. That spree was nothing compared to some of the luxury items Viv and Keith bought, including sports cars, jewellery, fur coats, and multiple trips around Great Britain and abroad. Just three years after their big win, the Nicholsons had spent all their money—paving the way for the many lottery losers that came after her.
What Happened to Viv Nicholson After Her Lottery Win?
Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for misfortune to find Viv Nicholson again. Keith died in a car accident in 1965, and the family’s already strained finances suffered even more. After Keith’s death, the bank declared Viv bankrupt and decided that all of the leftover money from the win, along with all of the items purchased with it, belonged not to Viv, but to Keith’s estate.
Viv went to court to fight the decision, and in 1968, after three years of battling in the courts, Viv was granted £34,000 from the estate. However, Viv continued to spend lavishly, and her purchases—in combination with taxes, legal fees, bad investments, and unpaid bills—saw her rapidly losing the money she had won in court.
All of the events surrounding the win and the rapid change in lifestyle took a toll on Viv. She struggled with alcohol and depression, and even got into some legal trouble when she moved to Malta. She was deported from the country after an altercation with a police officer. After Keith’s death, Viv remarried three more times. One husband died in another car accident, and another died from an overdose. If Viv’s story isn’t an example of someone being a victim of the lottery curse, then we don’t know what is.
Where Is Viv Nicholson Now?
Viv’s story first captured the media’s attention in 1961, and that fascination endured. In 1999, a West End musical opened that was inspired by Viv’s life. It was called Spend, Spend, Spend, after the catchphrase that made her famous. Unfortunately, Viv Nicholson passed away in April 2015 at the age of 79 after battling dementia for many years and, on top of that, eventually suffering a stroke.
In reflecting upon her life, Viv said that she suffered many negative psychological effects from her big win and the instant change in her lifestyle. She compared her out-of-control spending to an addiction and admitted she had no idea how to manage such a large sum of money. She also felt alienated from former friends and neighbours, who she felt she could no longer relate to due to their difference in lifestyles. However, when speaking to the BBC in 2011, Viv said she had no regrets about her “spend, spend, spend” comment and the philosophy behind it.
It is well known that many lottery winners have difficulty adjusting to their rapid change of fortune, resulting in many stories about those who had less-than-happy endings. However, few winners pursue their lavish lifestyle with as much public bravado as Viv Nicholson. After her death, she was described as a “one-off,” and the phrase and philosophy that made her famous are certainly a testament to that. Though Viv undoubtedly struggled as a result of her lottery win, she certainly seemed to have fun when she could.