Viv Nicholson: I’d still ‘spend, spend, spend’ 50 years on

Viv Nicholson 50th anniversary of her pools win.
Viv Nicholson 50th anniversary of her pools win.

I RING the bell of Breadalbane Care Home – now the residence of the Cas lass who in 1961 vowed to “spend, spend, spend” – and a tiny, shrewd-looking woman stands boldly in the doorway.

She strides toward me dressed in what I can only describe as a power suit and heels and says “are you taking me out then? I’ve got no money”. How ironic that a woman who won today’s equivalent of £5 million is asking me – a trainee reporter – to buy her a drink.

Viv Nicholson, who is by my reckoning more 75 than the 72 she admits to, dashes off from the Castleford care home and I have to break into a jog to keep up. I offer her the front seat of the car but she scrambles in the back and declares that she doesn’t want to go into town, she wants to go to a pub.

“Which pub?” I ask. She can’t remember but knows the way apparently. She doesn’t seem worried – she’s in the back talking about Castleford. “Castleford?” she spits, “Hate it.”

Finally we arrive at a Ledsham pub. Naturally, she leads the way, orders half a lager at the bar and takes a seat – a well-trained 60s celebrity used to the media spotlight.

Viv shot to fame alongside husband Keith on September 27 1961 when they won Littlewoods Pools. They were down to their last few pennies when they hit the jackpot and it was the first and last time they played – a move that netted them a cool £152,000 – a fortune for a miner and his wife.

Suddenly all eyes were on Viv and her frivolous frittering – when she was asked what she planned to do with the money she coined the phrase that would be forever associated with her: “I’m going to spend, spend, spend.”

“I regret those words. They sound awful, like labelling myself,” she grumbles, “When we first won the money all we did was drink. I was drunk every day of the week. I used to fall over, I was falling from one table of drinks to the next for the first month of two.”

Viv laughs – the raspy belly-shake of a Yorkshire girl born and bred on cigarettes.

“I had never tasted whisky or champagne. We had lived poorly. We got the money and did what we did and jolly well enjoyed it. The only thing I didn’t do was end up in prison.”

Viv recalls her first purchase – a green suit – the day after she was handed the cheque. The Nicholsons then bought a home in Garforth, ate, drank and splashed the cash.

“I’d lived in Castleford all my life and when I got some money I went to Leeds and it was another world,” said Viv, “I went in my new suit and I got my money out and said ‘keep the change darling’ and did all that swaggering about. I didn’t know how much it was. I just spent it. We had a fabulous time.”

She stops for a moment and waves her hands like she’s brushing the memories off her shoulders.

“All those memories are my favourites. We did it all together. We wanted this and got that. I bought two houses, clothes, three or four cars. It was horrible to drive,” she chuckles, remembering the ostentatious pink Cadillac that made her infamous.

The high life wasn’t to last for the happy couple and tragedy followed when Keith died at the wheel of his Jaguar just four years after they struck it lucky. The taxman swooped in and took what was left – a hard lesson which left the mum-of-three a fitting poster girl for The Smiths’ single, Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now.

“After Keith died I’d go driving my car screaming down the lane and wanting to die. I only ever loved him, having him was the real thing.

“Money couldn’t fix that. If you had walked in and said ‘Viv, here’s 100 grand’, I couldn’t have taken it. Money doesn’t fix everything, it just buys you what you want.”

I ask her whether she’s sick of the attention – of reporters asking her the same questions, hoping she has regrets.

“I don’t know why people are still interested. I just got used to it, reading of my ‘worthy news’. I quite liked being a bit famous. I can’t believe it’s been 50 years...where’s my money gone?” she jokes.

I ask whether the money changed her and she practically snorts with derision.

“I didn’t change. I am what I am,” she says shrugging her shoulders.

I ask the question everyone asks – if she had her time and money again, would she change anything? Again, she shakes her head and looks confused, as if to say, “why would I?”

“I wouldn’t change it,” she says. “People say ‘what have you bought Viv?’ and I say, ‘nothing.’ I did what I did and it was a marvellous life. I might not have money now but I don’t want any.”

She swigs at her half of lager and grimaces.

“First drink in five years that, tastes horrible. Yeurgh!”

As we leave, Viv declares she wants to buy a new lipstick to wear to Kingdom Hall – the Jehovah’s church she attends – so I take her to Superdrug.

We leave the shop and she picks the lipstick out of the bag and looks at it.

“I don’t like it,” she says. “You can have it.”

She pushes it into my hand and I look at the name: “004 indulgence”.

“If I won again today I would spend it. Money’s not for saving, it’s not been for all the years I’ve been on this earth. When you die, what you going to do with it?” says Viv in her parting shot.

“I know what I’m doing. If I have money I will go out and buy someone a drink and I won’t have one. That’s my life. I have no regrets.”