£10 million? I'd honestly, seriously give it all away

Spend, spend, spend? Not Hunter Davies - he has a brilliant plan for his jackpot winnings

If you won the Lottery, what would you do? Whatever you say now, or have said every week since it began, is probably complete codswallop, not to say a downright lie. Most people, standing in the queue on Saturdays or Wednesdays, do have a quiet little fantasy about what they will do. That's part of the attraction, in fact almost all of the attraction, knowing there's not the slightest, remotest chance of it ever happening. It's a bonding mechanism.

"Help people." That's the first thing most of us say. We'll do good, so we vow, be awfully kind to others. "You won't see me for dust" - that's the second fantasy. We boast that we'll be off like a shot to some Caribbean island. Don't you worry, I'll be out of here, sharpish.

Camelot's own research indicates that these fantasies, these promises, are rarely fulfilled. Only 5 per cent of people's winnings go to charity. I interviewed 24 major Lottery winners for a book in 1996, following their progress over the first year of their wins, and only two of them had given away any money altruistically - that is, to any charitable organisation. They had given away to their nearest and dearest, parents or children: on average about 20 per cent of their winnings. In the future, they said, they might, just might, be more generous, but they felt charity began at home.

As for fleeing to a paradise island, not one was living abroad even a year after his win, and only one out of the 24 had even bought a foreign holiday home. Most were still living within five miles of where they had originally lived.

So what would I do, given that I'm likely not to do whatever I say I will do?

I honestly, seriously would give it all away. No, really. I don't believe in inherited wealth and at my age and stage in life I am still earning enough or have saved enough to see me out, as long as I stick to only one bottle of wine a day and Spurs don't put up their season-ticket prices any more.

If I won £10 million, I would give away one million each to ten people at random. Not totally at random - though they would be strangers, picked out of the blue. I'd balance them by region, age, sex, ethnic and social background and needs. I'd find them by stopping them in their local high street, ringing them on the telephone, or perhaps putting adverts in local papers. They'd have to tell me a few facts about themselves, what they would do with the money and also - and this is the vital bit - they'd have to agree to my writing their story.

I'd probably have a film crew as well, recording their first responses, observing the reactions of those who tell me to fuck off, what sort of trick is this. If I'm going to be kind and awfully altruistic, I'd want to get something out of it, some project to keep me occupied for the next few years.

If it happened to you, what would you do? You'll probably have your own pet scheme ready, one you've kept polished for years, which will soon crumble and fade away once the miracle occurs. All the same, here are some basic things you should know and should be aware of, in case it really, really happens.

First, should you go public? That's what Camelot's winners' adviser will want to discuss with you when he or she arrives at your front door - unless you have already been down the pub and shot your mouth off and at that very moment a gentleman from the Sun is climbing over your back fence.

Assuming you've kept it secret so far, you have a choice. These days, 80 per cent of big winners keep it secret - partly because of the hounding of several winners in the early years.

The advantage of coming out is that you get it all over with at once, so everyone knows. You can then move away and get on with your life. Some of my winners who came out enjoyed their moment of glory, doing the press conference, the TV interviews, being famous for 15 minutes.

The disadvantage is that you are in the cuttings, you will be tracked down and asked the same old boring questions for ever and any failure in your life or relationships will be seen as news. You will get begging letters and arouse envy and hostility from strangers. If you have young children, still at school, their lives could be made very uncomfortable.

The advantage of staying secret is lack of attention and the chance for life to go on as normal. The disadvantage is that it is hard to carry on as normal with £10 million in the bank. Relatives and friends will notice when you start spending, which often leads to lies and pretences, which causes unpleasantness if and when the truth comes out. It pays to be already well off when you win, so people won't twig. There are about 750 secret Lottery millionaires, many of them well-heeled professional middle-classers, keeping it jolly quiet.

"Who needs to know?" That's the first decision you have to make. Personally, if I did not have children of school age and felt I had the temperament to cope with publicity, I would come out.

Next, what to do with the money. Don't get carried away by the nice people from the Royal Bank of Scotland, the bank from which the cheque comes. I spoke to several winners who had allowed it to invest the money for them when they could have got much better rates elsewhere.

Camelot offers jackpot winners, for free, a first session with a lawyer and with an accountant, so don't miss either of these. Then pay for second opinions, with other experts, before committing yourself. Don't invest in anything you don't understand or sign anything you are not clear about. Always ask any financial advisers what their commission is. If you are not interested in investments, and genuinely want to do something meaningful with your £10 million, then give me a ring. I've got this brilliant idea . . .

"Living on the Lottery" by Hunter Davies is published by Little, Brown, in paperback, at £4.99

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 November 1999 issue of the New Statesman, The New Statesman Essay - To uplift the souls of the people