I hit the jackpot

2nd November 2007 at 00:00
What would you do if you won the Lottery? Madeleine Brettingham speaks to three teachers who changed their lives, but not in the ways you might imagine.When Jenny Cooper, a 50-year-old deputy head at Kemys Fawr Infants School in Pontypool, Wales, won more than pound;2 million on the Lottery last year she decided to carry on teaching. "I just love my job, I always have. It's part of my life and I'd be lost without it," she says.

While no one would expect a nun who won the pools to ditch the habit and flee to Las Vegas, the public is always surprised when teachers who come into money continue to do the job they love.

But Jenny wouldn't have it any other way. "It's what I was trained to do. I love children, especially their honesty. They tell it as it is," she says.

After discovering her pound;2.4 million win (thanks to one of the family's regular Lucky Dip tickets), Jenny took only one day off work to pick up the cheque and appear at a press conference.

Then she rejoined her class at Kemys Fawr. The children were celebrating her windfall with stories and pictures. "They knew how I should spend the money, all right. They wanted me to get flash cars, a swimming pool and a new pair of glasses. One of them even suggested I go to the moon," she says.

Eventually Jenny and her husband celebrated the win in a more modest fashion, getting the maximum amount out of the local cash machine just to feel the money in their hands. Then, once the cheque came through, they upgraded to a bigger house 10 minutes away from their old one, bought new cars and took a couple of holidays, including a week in London and two weeks in Majorca.

As a wife and a mother of one, Jenny found the responsibility of such a large sum intimidating. But she describes the support of her colleagues as fantastic.

"A lot of people thought I would give up teaching. But you've got to keep hold of your own viewpoint and stick to what you want to do. At the end of the day, I enjoy teaching the children. We are a small school in the suburbs and it's a very happy, friendly place," she says.

Jenny might seem selfless for a millionaire, but she is not the only one to put an extravagant lifestyle on hold for the sake of her pupils.

Mick Grindle, a 49-year-old former physics teacher at Trent College, a private school in Nottingham, taught for 15 months after winning pound;2.2 million on the Lottery in order to guide his pupils through their exams.

"We'd always said if we won the Lottery we'd put our resignations straight on the head's desk," confesses Mick, whose wife worked at the same school. "But I had been there for 25 years and felt I owed it to the kids to see them through."

Mick stayed until the end of the year, seeing his GCSE and A-level classes through the summer term, and remained for a further term while his head of department went on sick leave.

"I'd always enjoyed teaching, my children were at the same school, and I'd been a boarding house master for 14 years. It was a major part of our lives. The kids were happy and grateful I was staying on for them," he says.

Even now, while he lives a life of leisure thanks to his investments, which fund regular skiing trips and foreign holidays and give him and his wife an income commensurate with their earnings from teaching, Mick hasn't severed all ties with Trent College.

"I still do a bit of rugby coaching. I've got a big attachment to the place. It's a rewarding job and if it was possible to pick when you took lessons, I'd still teach. But if you're teaching Year 12 at 9am on a Monday and someone says, 'Do you want to play golf in London?' you can't just up and leave them," he says.

Christine Winter, 54, from London, took her passion for education one step further by training as a teacher after jointly winning pound;10 million as part of a lottery syndicate. With her pound;303,000 share she quit her managerial job at a local council and spent pound;8,000 taking an MBA degree and joining a graduate teaching programme.

"I had a choice between going into very well-paid consultancy work or doing what I had been wanting to do for a long time and taking a teaching qualification," she says.

"There is no way I could have made this decision without the win. My husband had just been made redundant and my daughter had started university. It was a difficult time and I couldn't have taken the initial drop in pay - I got pound;16,000 in my first year - without the financial backing."

Christine found the training tough. "I've never earned as little and worked such long hours," she recalls. "It was very scary walking into a classroom and knowing the pupils can spot all your weaknesses. You really had to do your homework."

Nowadays, in her job teaching business studies at a comprehensive in London, she regularly works from 7.30am to 5pm with several hours of marking at home on top of that. But she finds the rewards more than make up for it.

"As a vocational teacher, my pupils might not have done so well at GCSE, but I can give them a second chance at A-level and university. It's a fantastic feeling to see a teenager who would otherwise have dropped out get their life back on track."

One side-effect of winning the lottery is that she has become a local celebrity. "I get to see a lot more parents than most on parents' evening because they all want to come along and have a look at a lottery-winner," she says. "It's like - 'ooh a lottery-winner teaching my child.' They ask a lot of questions and some of them want to know why I'm teaching. But it's a bit of a distraction, as obviously I want to talk about the achievements of their child."

For this reason, she doesn't mention the win to colleagues and pupils. But she says it has helped her in the classroom. "I know lots of lottery millionaires through Camelot, some of whom have invested in businesses - so I know what works and what doesn't. And I've travelled to many places, including Australia and Burma, so I know about economies around the world," she says.

The win has enabled her to forget pension worries, take exotic holidays during the six-week summer break, and even invest in a British film (a production of An Ideal Husband - not the Minnie Driver version - which sadly sank without trace).

But her lifestyle choice reflects her passion for education.

"I have been teaching for six years and there are times when I think 'Oh my God!' but I never wish I hadn't bothered," she says. "Lots of people say to me, 'I don't know why you do it', but they don't understand how fulfilling it can be."


- March 2007: Marina Elliot, a primary teacher from East Lothian in Scotland, won pound;40,000 when her syndicate's numbers came up. She held a party for friends and family at the local bowling club, then went on holiday to Disneyland, Paris.

- March 2006: Mike Straddon, a former English teacher from Swansea, won pound;1.3 million on the mid-week draw. "Winning the jackpot is the sort of thing you talk about after a couple of pints in the pub, but it feels completely different when it actually happens," he said.

- February 2005: A 40-strong syndicate at Middleton Cheney Primary, Northants (pictured above), won pound;1.8 million. Each member received almost pound;45,000, which they spent on holidays, home improvements and paying off debts.

- June 2003: A Croatian ex-music teacher dubbed "the unluckiest man alive" after he survived seven major accidents including a train crash and falling from a plane, found his luck turned when he won pound;600,000 in his country's national lottery. "Life is just beginning," said Frane Selak.

- June 2001: Kate Temple, a teacher from Derby, won pound;2.2 million on the Lottery only for her long-term boyfriend to walk out on her within a year. She has now married a fellow teacher. "It isn't the lottery millions that make me happy. It's having someone to love," she told the Daily Mail last year.


- The first UK National Lottery took place in November 1994.

- Since then, it has created more than 2,000 millionaires.

- Roughly 70 per cent of adults play the Lottery on a regular basis.

- The biggest Lottery payout has been pound;22.6 million.

- There is a 1 in 13,983,816 chance of winning the jackpot.

- 65 per cent of lottery winners say they are happier since their win.

- You are more likely to be murdered than win the National Lottery, but less likely to die from bird flu.

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