A EuroMillions jackpot winner has described giving away more than half of the £115m fortune to help others as “like winning the lottery every day”.
Frances Connolly (54) from Co Tyrone told how within days of scooping the massive prize last year, she and her husband began “spreading love and joy on a permanent basis”.
“Everyone says how do you cope with that kind of money and I say, we didn’t cope with that kind of money because I started getting rid of it within a week of it being in the bank.”
Mrs Connolly, originally from Glebe, and her husband Patrick from Belfast, scooped the EuroMillions jackpot on New Year’s Day 2019.
Speaking for the first time about its impact, she said “we are absolutely living a great life… but it doesn’t change who you are”.
Their first priority was a list of around 50 friends and family to share their good fortune with.
Two years on, they have extended their generosity to the tune of around £60m, including setting up two charitable foundations, helping several businesses and assisting those in need during the coronavirus pandemic.
Their good deeds have included buying 1,000 presents for patients who will be in hospital on Christmas Day and handing out hundreds of tablets for people isolated during the lockdown.
“I always have got a buzz out of helping others. Obviously I’m able to do it now on a much bigger scale and the buzz is bigger because you are actually making a massive difference to people’s lives,” Mrs Connolly said.
Steering clear of the champagne lifestyle usually associated with jackpot winners, they have set up the Kathleen Graham Trust in Northern Ireland and the PFC Trust in Co Durham in the north-east of England, where they now live.
“In Ireland, where we both grew up, we formed the Kathleen Graham Trust in memory of my mother,” the Co Tyrone woman said.
“She died the year before we won, but she was the most generous person I knew, and would give away her last penny to help others.”
When the Covid-19 pandemic hit, the trust helped a project in Sion Mills delivering 9,6000 meals and contributed to a befriending service for those living alone in the Castlederg area.
The couple helped with supplies of PPE, bought new machines for a Co Derry sewing group to make the equipment, and donated to the Strabane Community Project and a Portrush charity to deliver food parcels.
Toiletries and clothing have also been donated to the Mater and Altnagelvin hospitals.
And the couple have funded £50 thank-you vouchers for 150 frontline workers, provided laptops for vulnerable secondary school pupils and the Shankill Women’s Centre in Belfast and helped with a teddy bear’s picnic in Strabane for 400 families.
“The number of times I have cried my eyes out… it’s the response you get from people,” said Mrs Connolly.
“To be fair sometimes it’s just embarrassing, you kind of just want to get it over and done with and you don’t want to talk about it again.”
She said she wants to speak out to help draw attention to the good work being done by so many people during the pandemic.
“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.”
She told how she is “involved in every single decision” about the money.
“I keep telling Paddy to stop getting me involved in these businesses because I’m knackered, but apart from that, it’s just love and joy on a permanent basis – how could this be a burden.
“It’s like winning the lottery every day.”
Now living in a five-bedroom bungalow, set in five acres of land with a tennis court and swimming pool, Mrs Connolly said they had turned down options to move to a castle and a 15-bed stately home which came with a village.
“I found this house. It’s a very nice house, it’s a five-bedroom, brick-built house, the rooms are all a good size but it’s not a stately home, it’s not a mansion,” she said.
“We got a house with a room that has an office downstairs that I can change into a bedroom when I can’t get up the stairs any more as I am disabled with my leg.”
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.
Asked about online scams using the couple’s name, with one recently offering a coronavirus relief donation, Mrs Connolly said: “I sort of take it personally.”
“Why in God’s name would you use my name and me trying to do as much good as I can with that money – it does hurt, it really does,” she said.
“While I am being very generous with my money I am being very generous to people that I know, to people I care about and to people they care about and to people recommended to me.
“I have never ever turned my back where there was a need that I came across my entire life.
“I always said that if I get to the gates of St Peter’s I will be able to put my hand on my heart and say ‘I did as little bad as I could and I did as much good as I could’ and that was long before I won the lottery.”