A couple who won the EuroMillions jackpot have given away more than half of their €127 million (£115 million) win to loved ones, charity and those in need during the coronavirus pandemic.
Frances and Patrick Connolly said their first priority was a list of about 50 friends and family to share their good fortune with following their big win on New Year’s Day 2019.
UK national lottery operator Camelot said it is one of the biggest giveaways it has seen.
Steering well clear of the stereotypical champagne lifestyle that might be expected of jackpot winners, the pair have set up two charitable foundations – the Kathleen Graham Trust in Northern Ireland, where they are both from, and the PFC Trust in Durham, where they now live.
Their good deeds have included buying 1,000 presents for patients who will be in hospital on Christmas Day and handing out hundreds of tablet computers for people who found themselves isolated during the coronavirus lockdown.
Mrs Connolly is originally from Glebe in Co Tyrone and businessman Mr Connolly is from Belfast. They have three daughters and three grandchildren.
Describing the past two years, Mrs Connolly said it had been an “absolutely manic whirlwind and a total, total joyride from start to finish”.
The low-key couple, who were living in Moira, Co Down, at the time of their online “lucky dip” win, famously told how they had celebrated with a hug and a cup of tea and vowed they would not become part of the “jet set”.
Mrs Connolly said she had wanted to speak out now at the end of 2020 to help draw attention to the good work being done by so many people for charity during the pandemic.
She said: “People need to be celebrated. Not me, not by any stretch of the imagination me, but by me talking I could draw attention to the fact that, actually, we’re a nation of heroes, here.”
Now living in a five-bedroom bungalow in Durham – albeit set in five acres of land with a tennis court and swimming pool – Mrs Connolly (54) said they had turned down options to move to a castle, as well as a 15-bed stately home which came with a village.
They also chose not to fly first class to New Zealand to visit their daughter, saying they could have helped a young couple pay off a mortgage with the ticket price – instead opting for the comforts of business class.
Mrs Connolly said: “Patrick joked for years that if we ever won the lottery, he’d take away my mobile phone and never let me use the computer again because I’d give away the lot. But I’ve taken real joy from helping other people out.”
She has just recently treated herself to a brand new car – an E-Pace Jaguar – after years of driving second-hand models and because she could not find a second-hand electric vehicle.
“We’ve no need for supercars and I’m so proud that our daughters also drive second-hand cars. It’s something that does the job and there’s no need to be flash,” she said.
‘Keep people working’
As well as running both charities, Mrs Connolly retired from a career in education and now helps her husband, who owns a number of plastics manufacturing factories.
Asked if the 56 year old was not tempted to retire after the win, Mrs Connolly said: “He wants to keep people working. We’re too young to jack it in yet.”
On their list of family and friends to help were their daughters, Mrs Connolly’s three sisters and two brothers and Mr Connolly’s three sisters.
They also gave all their nieces and nephews money to buy their own homes.
Away from looking after relatives, the couple both swung into action when the pandemic hit, helping with much-needed supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE).
Mrs Connolly bought new machines for a sewing group in Northern Ireland when she heard they were making PPE for health workers on the Covid-19 frontline.
Meanwhile, Mr Connolly arranged for supplies for a charity that was using 3D printers to make visors.
A chance remark from their gardener about care-home residents being discharged from hospitals without fresh clothes and toiletries – because families were not allowed to bring things from home – led Mrs Connolly to order hundreds of pairs of pyjamas and nightdresses online, as well as basics such as toothpaste and shampoos.
Back home in Northern Ireland during the pandemic, the couple funded hot-meal deliveries, £50 thank-you vouchers for 150 frontline workers, provided laptops for vulnerable secondary-school pupils to learn online, contributed to a befriending service for those living alone and helped with a teddy bear’s picnic for 400 families.
In a bid to bring Christmas cheer to patients in Hartlepool, the pair have bought and helped wrap gifts for people who will be in hospital over the festive season and they plan to do the same for Northern Ireland.
They have so far received more than 300 thank-you cards, kept in a folder at their home, from people who have benefited from their generosity.
Mrs Connolly said: “There are cards from a 14 year old and one from an 85 year old who both received tablets to keep in touch during the lockdown. The cards are each a reminder of the power of the lottery and how it has changed not only our lives but other people’s too.” – PA