Dermot O’Leary interviews UK’s biggest lottery winners
A lottery winner who blew his £10million jackpot on houses, cars and alcohol says he could have died had he not stopped his feverish spending.
Peter Lavery was a bus driver when he got a call in May 1996 telling him that he’d won millions but dismissed it as a prank.
He even went to bed without bothering to check his numbers, thinking that his friends had orchestrated what was in fact a life-changing phone call, he said speaking exclusively to Mirror Online.
It wasn’t until the next morning when he checked his numbers that he realised he was the only person in the country to have selected to right six numbers.
Days later the 34-year-old had quit his job and was seunning himself at a five-star resort in St Lucia with his loved ones.
“I always talked about what I’d do if I won the lottery, but I never dreamed it would actually happen,” says Peter, still incredulous nearly 30 years later.
The 61-year-old, who grew up in working class Belfast, says: “We’d have those conversations all the time, thinking about what you’d do if you won the lottery. The night I won £10,248,233 there were 33.3 million people playing and I had it. Just unbelievable. It shows how quickly your life can change.”
Peter, who had picked a few birthday numbers for his ticket, remembers that night vividly. He says: “I was having a few drinks at the bus drivers’ club and a friend who knew my weekly Lottery numbers called the club to say I’d won. I thought it was a wind up. I didn’t check my numbers until Sunday morning. I put the TV on and saw the six numbers, but I didn’t have the ticket, my sister did. So I had to wait to get it and check the numbers.
“I thought ‘Is this true?’ I went out working on the bus. I had a ticket in my pocket all day worth £10million quid, but I worked all day for £50. I asked for a day off the next day so that I could collect the money. I wrote on the form ‘personal, one day only’. But then the news was all round Belfast that I’d won. In the end I said I wouldn’t be coming back to work.”
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Peter, who had been a bus driver on £200 a week for 11 years, became one of the richest people in Northern Ireland overnight. And at first there was plenty of excess, with eating, drinking and partying that took a toll on his health. Peter says: “It was the biggest upheaval of my whole life. Sunday morning I’m driving a bus round Belfast, then by Wednesday I was in St Lucia in a top resort.
“I took 10 people on that first holiday, a load of friends and family. We were there for two weeks. Then I took 22 people, including my brothers, friends and ex colleagues, to New York for St Patrick’s Day. We just partied for four or five days. It was a nice feeling to be able to do that for them.”
Back in Belfast, Peter bought his family home for his siblings, though sadly his mother and father had died, and bought himself a big house for £300,000 in the upmarket ‘Golden Triangle’ area, beloved by multi-millionaire footballers. Peter still lives there with his 52-year-old wife Vikki, a former nurse, and their three dogs, though it has been extended three times.
He also splurged on cars, spending half a million in the first couple of years – Jaguars, Bentleys and a couple of four wheel drives, though cars are not a big love anymore and these days they’re all sold except for his Mercedes. There have been many first class flights and around 20 years ago, he treated his two sisters and younger brother to a trip on Concorde.
He says: “We stayed at the Waldorf Astoria in New York then flew back to Belfast in two hours and 57 minutes. That was a lovely trip.” He and Vikki go on holiday three times a year. They love cruises – they’ve been on at least 80 so far – and particularly enjoy shopping in Miami.
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Their house boasts a gym and steam room, a garden full of ornaments, a full blown bar and en-suite bathrooms with jacuzzis. He also owns a collection of more than 300 Swarovski crystal pieces, including various animals and figurines. “I had to stop buying them as I haven’t got anywhere to put them,” he laughs.
He adds: “I’m still living in the same house I bought 27 years ago and I’m very happy. We have five bedrooms, three sitting rooms, a big double garage and a bar for 160 people – though I cried my eyes out because I don’t drink anymore.” It was just before his 40th birthday that Peter’s health reached crisis point and he realised if he didn’t stop drinking he wasn’t going to be around.
He was diagnosed with Type-2 diabetes and the doctor told him to quit his party animal lifestyle. Peter says: “I didn’t drink every day but once I got a drink in me I just didn’t want to go home so I would be out in Belfast until four or five in the morning. It’s nothing to be proud of.
“I didn’t have liver or heart problems but my sugar levels were going in the wrong direction and my doctor, who’s a good friend of mine, told me to change my lifestyle or I’d be injecting insulin forever. I’m scared of needles, so I thought about it and I decided that I would have one big birthday party on my 40th and then knock the drink on the head.
“I had a party in the house with about 100 people. I told the man who was running the bar for me to give me a double whiskey and then I said ‘That’s me off the drink’. And that was it. I’ve had the occasional drink since but I don’t need it.” Ironic then that businessman Peter’s biggest project has been the ambitious conversion of the historic Titanic Pumphouse into the first whiskey distillery in Belfast for 87 years, which opened in April this year and created 40 jobs.
It was not long after the lottery win that Peter began investing in his local community and the distillery is just the tip of the iceberg. A natural entrepreneur, Peter, who left school with no qualifications, bought properties across Belfast and set up a charitable trust in his parents’ names, The Rita Charles Trust.
Peter says: “I set up that trust in the first year and within five years I gave nearly £2m to different charities and raised thousands more through fundraisers.” Peter has been especially keen to raise money for the Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke charity after his father died of a heart attack just 14 months before his win. His mother had died very young at 44.
Peter, who grew up in a close-knit family, finds it tough that he lost his parents before they could see what he made of himself. He says: “It’s a hard pill to swallow that they aren’t here. We had a very happy family life. Money was tight but we never wanted for anything. A lot of people within our community lost family during the Troubles. We were very fortunate that we didn’t, but people who were close to us lost brothers and fathers.”
Determined to give back, Peter once took 20 kids affected by the Troubles and their parents to Disney World in Florida, all expenses paid. His goal is to create jobs and opportunities in Belfast, particularly for those who grew up where he did, in the Short Strand inner-city working class part of town.
Peter says: “It’s nice to give something back, especially to give an opportunity to the young kids who have come from where I grew up. I got an opportunity that was so unbelievable. Young people need a future. I can see what’s happened to working class people, a lot of people are struggling. Unfortunately I just can’t help everyone.”
The scale of Peter’s projects has grown over the decades. A BBC film to be screened on Friday follows Peter as he works to deliver two tourism enterprises for his beloved city – the distillery with visitor centre, housing his own Titanic Whiskey brand, and a refurbished licensed tour boat for the River Lagan.
Working with his youngest brother Sean Lavery, alongside partners Richard Irwin and Steven Symington, with help also from Vikki, he’s keen to impress that it’s a team effort. “It’s been a journey and I’m not a one-man band,” he says. “To be the first whiskey distillery in Belfast in 87 years is all I need. The second one is coming soon but I beat them to it and that’s the most important thing.”
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