She’s hit the jackpot! Think Lottery winners all retire to lives of luxury? Not Elaine, the utterly inspiring millionaire mum so keen to set an example for her children she still stacks shelves all night at M&S… and adores it
- Elaine Thompson won £2.75million 25 years ago but is still an M&S shelf stacker
- After winning the money she immediately gave £1million to her brother Ian
- She also made her two children buy houses very early on for money security
Elaine Thompson is a recent convert to the delights of Lidl. She ventured in because she likes to park in the supermarket’s car park when she makes her weekly trip to Slimming World, and ‘it’s only free if you buy something’, she says.
‘I would recommend its flavoured water, four for £1,’ Elaine, 64, adds, keen to share details of a bargain. She is certainly canny.
She does her main shop in Morrisons, being careful to stay within her budget, and as she works in M&S (on the night shift, stacking shelves), she also takes advantage of the 25 per cent staff discount.
‘I will pick up the things my husband Derek likes — pies and curries — and piccolini tomatoes,’ she says.
Elaine Thompson won £2.75million 25 years ago but is still an M&S shelf stacker
This considered approach to spending isn’t confined to housekeeping. She and Derek, 62, love holidaying in Las Vegas, and they stay in a five-star hotel, but they wouldn’t dream of paying the brochure price.
‘I get the flights myself, on sale, and then phone the hotel to see what it can offer. Why would you pay £4,000 if you can pay £1,000?’ she says. Once there, the pair will share a muffin at breakfast and a sandwich at lunch, which keeps costs in check.
Why should we be interested in Elaine’s spending habits? Well, because she isn’t just any careful shopper, but a millionaire Lottery-winning careful shopper.
She and Derek won £2.75 million 25 years ago (equivalent to around £5 million today), but it’s what happened since that makes them a source of fascination.
After winning the money she immediately gave £1million to her brother Ian (right)
Last week Elaine was back in the headlines when it emerged she was not only still working, but working gruelling night shifts as a shelf stacker. Four days a week, she clocks in for the graveyard shift at the shop near her home in Killingworth, Tyne and Wear. She starts at 2am and works through until the store opens.
You would imagine (wrongly, it turns out) that it’s not a job anyone would do out of choice.
‘People probably do think I’m bonkers,’ this grandmother-of-two says cheerfully. ‘But before I got this job I was going nuts. I was washing the windows twice a day.
If Derek set down a shirt, I’d have it whipped away and in the wash. Eventually he said, ‘Elaine, love, you’ve got to do something to get out of the house’.’ So she did — and she couldn’t be happier.
An hour in her company makes you realise why Camelot call on Elaine to offer advice to new winners. She is a glorious example of how to win the Lottery and stay sane, enjoying the freedom it brings (rather than the well-publicised alternative which involves ending up divorced, fleeced by grasping family members and/or with your children in rehab).
Hairdresser Richard Davies, 44, runs Chop And Change, in Talgarth, Breconshire, where he lives with wife Faye, 38, (both pictured) and their four children. Richard won £1 million on EuroMillions in June 2018
Her secret can be summed up in two words: work ethic. Since her win, it sounds like she’s worked harder than ever. For a while she kept the book-keeping job she had at the time (‘I was doing the wages for a small company and Christmas was coming up. I had to make sure everyone got paid’).
She has since run a holiday business and a restaurant (their own businesses, yes, but she was at the coalface). She has worked day and night, poring over the books and even cleaning toilets. Then she has gone home and done the same there. ‘What would I do with a cleaner?’ she says. ‘I’d be cleaning up for her to come.’
She’s a grafter. Mostly, though, she’s a mother, determined her children should grow up knowing the value of money. ‘How better to teach that than showing them you have to work to get on?’ she says.
Mother-of-two Julie Jeffrey, 59, lives with retired kitchen planner husband Chris, 64, in Watford, Herts. She won £1,038,997 in June 2002, but is still a cook at Garston fire station
Elaine became a lottery winner on a cold December night in 1995. She and Derek were celebrating their 17th wedding anniversary, and living in Basingstoke, Hampshire, where Derek, an accountant, had a good management job working for Motorola. Their children, Karen and Gary, were ten and five.
Elaine jokes that Derek had stood her up that night, to watch a football match in London. He reminded her to put a line on the Lottery before he left. She recorded the results, to watch after Blind Date. Before the children went to bed, Elaine checked the numbers. She checked once, then twice. ‘I knew we’d won something. I screamed. I thought we’d won £10 — then I screamed again.’
Eventually the kids ran to get the neighbours. ‘They checked the numbers and said they thought it called for us opening some of Derek’s whisky — he collected it. I got a bottle — not the best stuff, mind. I even had a glass myself, and I don’t drink.’
Pig farmer Susan Herdman, 52, lives in North Yorkshire with partner Andrew Hornshaw, 53, and son Jake, 28. She won £1,182,714 in January 2010
Derek came home at 2am, and they eventually went to bed at 4am, only for Elaine to get up at 4.30am, sick with shock. The ticket was stashed under the mattress. They ticked the ‘Yes to publicity’ box because they didn’t think there was any reason to be secretive. Also, the neighbours already knew.
From the start they were determined their win wouldn’t ‘turn the kids’ heads’. Or, crucially, lead to friends accusing them of going ‘posh’.
‘It was Christmas soon after, so we bought a selection box for every single child at their school. Every adult who worked there — teacher, janitor, whoever — got a present too,’ Elaine says.
One of the first phone calls she made was to her brother Ian, who was staying in a hotel in Canada and going through a messy divorce. ‘I told him he needed to get on a plane because I had a cheque for a million pounds for him.’
From farmers to hairdressers: The other winning grafters
Pig farmer Susan Herdman, 52, lives in North Yorkshire with partner Andrew Hornshaw, 53, and son Jake, 28. She won £1,182,714 in January 2010. She says:
I had just bought my first house as a single parent when I won the Lottery and I paid my mortgage off instantly.
I didn’t work for months. My motivation went. I’d wake up thinking I’d clean, then put it off. It was no life.
When I met Andrew, he was already a pig farmer. The idea of being outdoors all day sounded inviting so, when my son left sixth form, I joined Andrew.
This morning, I got up at 4.40am to feed our 7,000 pigs and muck them out. I’ve broken fingers twice — one crushed by a gate, another snapped by a feed bin.
It’s physically exhausting work. But you can only shop or go on holiday for so long. My hard life on the farm is my anchor.
Mother-of-two Julie Jeffrey, 59, lives with retired kitchen planner husband Chris, 64, in Watford, Herts. She won £1,038,997 in June 2002, but is still a cook at Garston fire station. She says:
I was having a cup of tea and reading the Daily Mail in bed before work when I saw my Lottery numbers and realised I’d won. I had to go into work, because the firemen needed feeding.
Despite knowing everything was about to change, I needed my routine. Chris continued working, and I worked Monday to Friday, cooking breakfast, lunch, and sometimes an advance dinner for six firemen at a time.
With our Lottery money, we bought a holiday home and gave money to family.
During lockdown, I was furloughed for eight weeks and volunteered to deliver up to ten prescriptions a day. When I returned to work on July 3, it was like coming home. My boys still needed feeding. I’ve no plans to give up the job I love.
Hairdresser Richard Davies, 44, runs Chop And Change, in Talgarth, Breconshire, where he lives with wife Faye, 38, (both pictured) and their four children. Richard, who won £1 million on EuroMillions in June 2018, says:
I never thought of giving up work. Since training to be a hairdresser at 16, it’s the only thing I’ve wanted to do. I could never drop my customers.
A million is a huge chunk. ‘I could never repay Ian for the brother he had been to me,’ she explains. Their father had walked out on the family when she was five, leaving them in a precarious financial position. ‘He disappeared. My mum never got a penny from him. I saw her struggle, and a child never forgets that.
‘I was there when she tried to get a washing machine on hire purchase and couldn’t, as she needed her husband’s signature. She went out to work at 8am and didn’t come home till 7.30pm. I had to let myself in after school, under strict instructions to lock the door and not open it until she came home.’
They only survived, she says, because of Ian, who joined the RAF ‘and sent home all his wages’.
‘He stepped in to do all the things our father should have done. When he got leave, he came home and looked after me and taught me to be a sensible adult. He was the first person to buy me perfume. One of the best things about our win is we were able to share it with him. He came to live with us for a bit.’
She was devastated when Ian died in 2002, of a heart attack. ‘But at least I know he was happy for that last part of his life.’
What of their father? Elaine had tracked him down before her win. ‘He didn’t really want to know. He’d had three wives, and his third wife was younger than me. I didn’t feel anything. I didn’t feel he was a dad to me, but I did get closure.’
After the Lottery win, he got back in touch. ‘He wanted money for new windows,’ she says. ‘I refused. His wife sent me an email saying, ‘I think you are being cruel’. I took no pleasure in it.’
Both of her parents are now dead, but she spoiled her mum in her final years. ‘We told both my mum and Derek’s mum to go shopping. Go to M&S, spend £200 if you want. We’ll pay.’
Elaine headed for M&S, too. ‘I loved their cotton jumpers but only had a couple. I remember looking at all the colours, unable to decide. Then I thought, ‘Silly girl, you can have them all’. I bought 12.’
She felt giddy, and even does now upon remembering it. ‘I haven’t done it since. I threw away the receipt so Derek couldn’t make me take them back.’
Ditto the car she bought: a new maroon Fiesta. ‘First — and last — new car I’ve ever bought. They lose thousands in value as soon as you drive off the forecourt.’
To this day, she has never bought an item of designer clothing, though she loves Radley handbags, which generally cost between £100-£150. How many do you have in total, I ask? ‘Three,’ she says.
From the off, she and Derek agonised about making all the right choices for their children. ‘We set up trust funds so they would get the money at 25, but we had the option to postpone that to 30 if they went off the rails.
‘If there was a new computer game, we had a rule they couldn’t be the first in their class to get it. If others had it then we’d consider it. We wouldn’t buy it for them outright, though. They’d have to earn, say, 10 per cent of the cost.
Karen and Gary got second-hand cars when they passed their driving tests, too. ‘The budget was £2,000,’ Elaine says.
There was also a rule that the children would buy property early. ‘Gary got his house kicking and screaming. He said he was too young, but he’s 30 now and glad he has it, because he’s made a bit on it already. We did make them get a mortgage, too, as they have to learn nothing comes on a plate.’
A quarter century and a few trips to Vegas on, how much is left? ‘Not the sums we had, but still enough. And obviously we have property.’ And a family to be proud of.
She is thrilled at how her children have turned out. The first in her family to go to university, Karen did a degree in computer science, and has two children. Gary works as an engineer. Neither developed lavish tastes. ‘Gary saves and saves now,’ Elaine says, pointedly.
The family work ethic runs deep. Derek kept working at Motorola in the early years, then, two years after their win, they bought a holiday cottage resort in Dorset.
‘It was a two-star resort. I said to Derek, ‘I bet we could get it to five-star’. We did, in six months.’
Six years later they moved to Lyme Regis, having bought a restaurant. ‘That was a big undertaking — a 200-cover restaurant, with a chip shop and ice-cream parlour. But you know what was wonderful? Being able to give the kids’ friends jobs in the ice-cream parlour. We could give people a bit of an opportunity.’
They have also been very involved with charitable work, linking up with other Lottery winners and taking disadvantaged children to Lapland.
Nine years ago, Elaine told Derek she wanted to return to her native North-East.
When she got the M&S job, she didn’t tell her colleagues about her win. ‘You don’t say, ‘Hello, I’m Elaine, I’m a millionaire’. They’d say, ‘Get you!’.’
She did tell them eventually, though. ‘They were talking about what they’d do if they won the Lottery. I thought, ‘I’m going to have to say something’.’
She insists it hasn’t changed the dynamics at work. ‘I think people only treat you differently if you act different. I don’t. I’m just someone who had a bit of luck.’
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