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UK lottery winner recounts downsides of winning

Dec 27, 2013, 11:53 am

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After the Big Win

Over the past 20 years Mark Gardiner has accumulated pretty much all the paraphernalia one might associate with a lottery winner.

There's the sprawling listed mansion with manicured grounds and kidney-shaped swimming pool, the gleaming Aston Martin in the garage, and the exotic holidays when he fancies them.

As he puts it: "People write a list of what they'd do when they win the lottery, don't they? New house, flash car, lovely holidays, private jets. Well, I've ticked them all off."

But his riches have brought with them a deal of trouble, too: bitter ex-wives, estranged daughters and a slew of court cases launched by friends and acquaintances anxious to avail themselves of the Gardiner good fortune.

Such is the toxic legacy of his windfall that, today, 51-year-old Mark can count on one hand the number of people he remains in touch with from his pre-lottery days — and that includes his family.

"Everyone who plays the lottery has their lists and plans. But the reality is you actually have no idea how you are going to feel about the money until you actually win — and what you don't know is how it is going to make everyone feel about you.

"It brings out a lot of jealousy and resentment. It can end some of your problems but start a whole lot of new ones."

Sobering words at a time when we are increasingly obsessed with the pursuit of easy wealth, yet simultaneously reminded of its mixed blessings.

Recently, it seems barely a day has passed without the story of a lottery winner who has suffered huge emotional misfortune after accumulating enormous wealth.

Last month, EuroMillions winners Adrian and Gillian Bayford, of Haverhill, Suffolk, who scooped £148 million in August 2012, announced they were divorcing after nine years of marriage, blaming the "stress" of becoming overnight multi-millionaires.

Then, last weekend, Graham and Amanda Nield from Yorkshire, who pocketed £6 million in August, declared that being rich was a "headache" and spoke of their struggle to shake off their thrifty ways.

They said they intended to stick to a £50 limit for Christmas gifts and were clearly uncomfortable with their newfound fortune.

Mrs Nield, 48, said: "My friend took me to Harvey Nichols in Leeds and I nearly passed out at the prices."

These stories and others like them present no surprises to Mark, a cheerful figure who has had plenty of time to reflect on the vicissitudes of sudden fortune after pocketing £11 million nearly 20 years ago.

Speaking from the comfort of his £2 million manor house in Hastings, Mark speaks candidly to me — over a round of sausage sandwiches.

"People think it's all champagne and caviar, but I bet even the Queen likes a sandwich for her tea from time to time," he says defensively.

He tells me that such were his experiences, that Camelot — the UK National Lottery operator — now asks him to advise winners on the good and bad which lays ahead of them.

"I'm like the Lottery Godfather," he chuckles. "Although they don't always like me telling the truth, but it needs to be said. One woman asked me recently whether she would fall out with friends and family. I said: 'Do you want me to lie or do you want me to tell you the truth?'"

Mark was 32 when he and Paul Maddison, his business partner in a struggling double glazing firm, became the sole winners of a £22.6 million jackpot in June 1995.

"Like everyone, we'd drawn up a list of what we'd need when we decided to play the lottery. It was a house each, clear off the overdraft from the business, get a new van. I think we got to about £500,000. We would have been very happy with that," he recalls.

"Then the Camelot guy took out his laptop and said 'you've won £22.59 million'.

"We were speechless. I remember we walked to the bar and ordered two large brandies, which we had to get Paul's wife to pay for as we didn't have any cash."

At the time, the National Lottery was in its infancy, meaning winners were big news.

Despite his relative youth, Mark had two ex-wives, was divorcing his third, and about to marry his fourth. He is the first to admit that his romantic life was chaotic to say the least. "I was a bit of a troubled young man," he says.

While Paul quietly set his affairs in order and retired to Scotland, Mark's colorful romantic CV led to a flurry of headlines as old flames scurried from the woodwork.

Some claimed to have borne Gardiner's lovechildren, while others said they had been cheated on. Even his adoptive mother Irene — with whom Mark had fallen out just weeks before his lottery win when he told her he was getting divorced again — weighed in, dubbing him "Nasty Mark".

Those first few days would only set the tone for what followed.

"It felt like every letter I received had the opening sentence: 'we act on behalf of'. There were letters from everyone, from ex-wives to guys who I went to school with.

"It was ludicrous. I got six numbers in the right order and all of a sudden I'm worth something. I would have had some respect for them if their grievance had come up before — if there's a principle, there's a principle.

"Then there were the people who hung around sucking up until they got what they wanted — money for this, money for that. I even had people saying: 'Buy me a house'.

The thing is, he did: in the first year after his win, Mark bought four of his friends neighboring houses in a cul-de-sac nearby, costing half a million each. Yet his altruism backfired catastrophically.

Within five years he was no longer on speaking terms with any of them. Mark jokes that relating what happened in each case would take hours, but can best summarize it thus: "I thought I was doing a nice thing, but that's not how it was seen.

"I suppose they thought I was flashing my money around, although they were happy enough to take it. Everyone had their own issues, although a lot of them weren't to do with them, but the people they were surrounded with who had problems with them being bankrolled by me.

"Put it down to greed, jealousy ... all those nasty words, but they went through all that. And I think they felt that by cutting themselves off from me, it would save them further grief."

What Mark found, he says, is that while he hadn't changed, people's perceptions of him had.

"You can't win — if you buy a round for everyone in the bar you're a Flash Harry, and if you don't you're tight. It's the same with the bigger stuff — if you get the nice car you're splashing your money around. If you don't, people resent you for holding onto it.

"I've had people come up to me accusingly saying: 'it's a miracle you've got any money left with what you've bought.' And I say to them: 'yeah, I've done this terrible thing, I've spent some of it'. Not that it's any of their business."

And spend he did — not that he regrets it.

"I bought a house and a couple of cars — a Ford Escort and a Ford Maverick, so hardly flash. But I also made the decision pretty quickly that I wasn't going to retire, and I put £2 million straight into the business."

His business partner, meanwhile, sold up, leaving Mark in sole charge. He remains proud of the double-glazing company to this day.

"It's a good business and it does well. Ideally I'd like to sell it to someone, not because I need the money but to show I did something for myself."

In time there would be more spending — a £500,000 holiday home in Barbados, later sold as part of a divorce settlement, a string of Aston Martins and a £750,000 motorboat which he moored in Eastbourne.

Then there was an ill-fated £250,000 investment in Hastings football club, which left him with little to show for it. "Bad idea" he says now with a grin.

Then there were the wives. Mark was one week away from signing the decree absolute with wife number three, Kim Cresswell — now 49, mother of his now 21-year-old daughter Jessica — when he won the lottery.

Mark's second marriage had ended just three years earlier: "Sue, my second wife, wanted me in the pipe and slippers. It wasn't me.

"Finally the penny dropped that I wasn't that kind of guy and she left. With Kim it was different — we fought like cat and dog and I felt life was too short. At least Sue didn't come after the money."

Under the terms of the settlement to Kim, however, he is unable to say what he paid, although he concedes that he begrudges it. "I was always going to put together a trust fund for Jessica. But Kim? I regret every penny."

Then came Brenda, the woman he married four months after the lottery win, and mother to his other daughter Katie, now 18. They met when he heckled her at a karaoke club and were happy enough at first he says, but then the money came between them, too.

"She was a council estate girl, a woman of simple tastes, and that's why I liked her. When I won the money she was a fish out of water.

"I bought her an Aston Martin and had to swap it for a Ford Escort because she didn't feel comfortable driving it. She still shopped at Poundland. In the end she just couldn't cope. I remember we went to Barbados and she was shouting and screaming about wanting to go home."

When they finally split in 2004, after ten years of marriage, it was to prove another expensive divorce, the details of which he again can't reveal.

"What I can say is that she wasn't a big spender until we got divorced."

Unhappily, he is estranged from both his daughters, a situation his money can do little to improve. In both cases, he believes, their mothers have turned them against him. "I spent thousands on solicitors and barristers trying to get contact with both girls, but it got to the point where it felt like every time we broke a wall down there would be another one behind it.

"I just made a decision to stop fighting my ex-wives. It was tearing me apart.

"All I can say is that I have a room with legal files, one marked Jessica and one marked Katie, and one day I hope they will look through them and make up their own minds."

At one point, he admits, he was so overwrought that he sought treatment for depression and consulted a psychotherapist.

"There are only so many legal letters you can open without it getting to you. I was in court so many times I used to joke that I should have my own suite. It all got on top of me. I wasn't going nuts, but it was tough."

He's since got over it, but some soured relationships will never be saved: Irene, the mother who adopted him when he was a baby, died seven years ago without them ever reconciling.

Of his immediate family, he is only in touch with one cousin and a de facto uncle, Uncle Jim, a close friend of his mother's. "It's just the way it is," he shrugs. "At the end of the day I tried my best." There have, at least, been better times of late: in 2004, Mark reconciled with Bridget Baker, 49, his first wife (they were married for a year at the tender ages of, respectively, 23 and 21).

Their reunion accelerated the decline of his marriage to Brenda, but he says he has no regrets. They have been together ever since, remarried in 2009 and have an eight-year-old son James.

"Bridget finally made me feel contented, settled. In some ways I spent 21 years making my way back to her," he says.

It is hard to argue: a calm presence, Bridget, a former travel agent, has her own take on proceedings. "Whatever is going on in your life when you win, it will magnify by ten times," she says.

Little wonder Camelot now like Mark to dispense his wisdom. "They nearly all say they're going to jack in work. And two years later they're working again. Why? Because they're bored," he says.

"I say to all of them: 'It's all very well talking about going fishing all the time. But if you're not careful, the thing you love becomes the thing you hate.' For me working has been my secret formula for keeping sane."

He still goes into his company, Croft Glass, seven days a week, tootling round Hastings in the company van. "I enjoy it," he says.

"Although what the money does is allow me, on a sunny day, to say 'I'm off to play golf' and I like that too.

"I am pleased to say I will be okay until my death and so will my son unless he's an idiot. And that is a very nice position to be in."

But as Mark can testify, the money can put you in other, less enviable positions, too. Something it is wise for us all to be reminded of the next time we buy that lottery ticket.

News story photo(Click to display full-size in gallery)

News story photo(Click to display full-size in gallery)

Thanks to truesee for the tip.

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