The winner of a £114.9million Euromillions jackpot in 2019 has revealed she has already given away half of her winnings to help those in need.
Frances Connolly, 54, and her husband Patrick, 56, who live in the north-east of England, won their enormous prize on New Year’s Day in 2019.
The first thing Frances did after her win was to create a list of the 50 friends and family that she wanted to help thanks to her new-found wealth.
However, their charity extends beyond those they hold dearest, with the pair having set up two charities as well as helping some of the most vulnerable and in-need people in their area.
‘I didn’t set out to give half away, that’s just what happened,’ said Frances, speaking exclusively to FEMAIL. ‘We sat down and looked and the list and kind of figured out what we thought would make a difference in people’s lives.’
Frances’s comments comes ahead of the largest ever EuroMillions jackpot draw tonight.
No one scooped-up the top prize worth an estimated £175million in Friday night’s draw meaning it is still up for grabs today.
Frances and Patrick have been so generous that a scrapbook can be found in their home full of 300 thank you cards from grateful people that Frances has never met, but whose lives she has helped change for the better.
She 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.’
Describing the past two years, Frances 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’.
‘I have had more joy from changing lives than buying jewellery,’ she explained. ‘I knew from the start that I’d never become part of the jet set.’
‘I set my heart on buying a bungalow after our win. But the estate agent turned up with a brochure of a castle. I couldn’t believe it.’
‘The second house he showed us was so huge it came with an entire village. But we didn’t want to be lord and lady of the manor – we just wanted a comfortable home.’
‘In the end, we went to see just two houses. This was the second, and it felt like home immediately.’
Their new five-bedroom bungalow in County Durham, set in five acres of land, includes a tennis court and swimming pool in the grounds.
Frances said that she couldn’t comprehend quite how much money she and Patrick had won at the time.
‘You can’t conceive of it,’ she said. ‘A normal person has no idea what that is, I don’t care what you say.
‘It’s just, it doesn’t mean anything at that moment when you realise that you could’ve actually won.’
The news of their win was broken very quickly, with Frances saying she panicked at one point about how quickly people were finding out about the lottery win after she had told her father.
‘By the time I got from my dad and phoned my five brothers and sisters, everybody tells somebody,’ she explained. ‘My dad told his sister. His sister told her husband and her husband put it on the internet. That is how fast it got out.’
Frances said that her husband had joked he would have to take her mobile phone away from her if they ever won the lottery to stop her giving all their winnings away.
‘But I’ve taken real joy from helping other people out,’ she added.
Despite winning such a large amount, Frances said that she had always planned to give some money to good causes, regardless of the size of her win.
The couple have so far given away £60million of their lottery win to friends, family and good causes in what National Lottery operator Camelot said is one of the biggest ever giveaways.
In the months following the lottery win, Frances said she and Patrick were sent letters from strangers asking for their help, including one request from a man who wanted them to replace his teeth.
Her most recent act of charity was to donate 1,000 gifts to patients who will be spending Christmas at her local hospitals.
She also treated young carers at Easter Ravens Trust to 40 computers, 20 laptops and Wifi dongles to give them internet access.
The couple 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.
The couple, who were living in Moira, Northern Ireland, at the time of their win, had been playing the lottery for years, but it was a random lucky dip ticket that bagged them their jackpot.
Patrick went onto his laptop to check the results when he turned to Frances and said: ‘I think I’ve got some good news for you’.
Unable to comprehend quite what her husband was telling her, Frances needed confirmation from the computer screen to tell her they had won the ultimate prize – but she joked: ‘With our luck there will be 114million winners!’
Within hours of having won, Frances had worked out who she wanted to help out with the prize money, with her list including her three daughters, her three sisters, two brothers and Patrick’s three sisters.
Using her lottery winnings she was able to prevent her sister from selling her home and was able to buy her mother’s old home to give to her other sister.
The couple did spend a small amount of their prize money on themselves, with Patrick gifting Frances a £2,000 Jaguar which was the same model as one she had owned more than a decade earlier.
Frances and Patrick’s down-to-earth approach extends beyond buying things for themselves, as their Christmas celebrations look set to be similar to previous years.
‘I was always the one to go mad with presents at Christmas,’ said Frances. ‘I love to give gifts but within our means, and the Lottery win hasn’t changed that. My grandchildren will be getting bigger boxes of Lego than before – but it’s still Lego.
‘Our same decorations are going on the tree albeit joined by a few new ones. We’re going to spend our usual quiet Christmas at home.’
Once Frances and Patrick had made sure their family and friends were financially secure, they turned their attention to helping those less fortunate than themselves.
Frances said she is most proud of having gifted education to a 13-year-old refugee who she paid the bus fare for to ensure he could get to school every day.
The couple also set up two charitable trusts, the Kathleen Graham Trust in County Tyrone, where Frances was raised, and the PFC Trust in Hartlepool, where they now live, to help local people.
Frances is originally from Glebe in Co Tyrone and businessman Patrick is from Belfast. They have three daughters and three grandchildren.
Frances said: ‘In Ireland, where we both grew up, we formed the Kathleen Graham Trust, in memory of my mother. 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.
‘We formed The PFC Trust to help local people, but we were determined from the start that we wouldn’t be throwing money away. We wanted to help people to help themselves and for lives to actually change.
‘We’d been given a gift with the lottery money – and we wanted to share our good fortune with others.’
Through their trusts, Frances and Patrick were able to help one man take his young daughter on countryside walks again after he had been left in a wheelchair following an accident.
The PFC Trust has also funded sports equipment for multiple teams in Hartlepool, including the town’s first dodgeball side.
When a local soup kitchen run by volunteers at St Aiden’s Church ran low on supplies, the trust provided a grant – and then paid for Christmas lunch to ensure their guests received a hot meal.
Local charity The Poolie Time Exchange received a grant to help them continue helping with trial job interviews, CV advice, energy advice, help with money management, mindfulness workshops and the exchange of skills and knowledge.
The coronavirus pandemic provided another opportunity for Frances and Patrick to use their resources to help those in need.
They provided 300 electronic tablets for care homes in Teesside, Hartlepool and Northern Ireland as well as 4G internet dongles to young carers.
They also purchased computers for children stuck at home who had no way of accessing online education materials.
Additionally, the pair also helped secure and produce PPE for frontline healthcare workers during the height of the pandemic when there were shortages.
Frances bought new machines for a sewing group in Northern Ireland when she heard they were making PPE.
Meanwhile Patrick 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 Frances to order hundreds of pairs of pyjamas and night dresses online, as well as basics like toothpaste and shampoos for the North Tees and James Cook hospitals.
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 distance learn, contributed to a befriending service for those living alone and helped with a teddy bear’s picnic for 400 families.
Frances 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 added: ‘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.’
Ahead of Christmas, Frances and Patrick purchased toiletries for patients stuck in hospitals on December 25th, with Frances even volunteering to wrap them, with help from Hartlepool Wadokai Karate Club members.
The couple plan to do the same for Northern Ireland.
Frances also rented two rooms from charitable foundation HartlePower to set up a shop called JAM (Jumpers and More) which invites homeless and disadvantaged people to select clothing that is cleaned and nicely folded or hung up, rather than leaving them to rifle through piles of donated clothes.
Frances said she is also proud of the way her daughters have behaved since she and Patrick won their prize.
She said: ‘Just as we’ve not thrown our money away, our three girls haven’t spent indulgently. They have nice homes, but they’re sensible and they haven’t gone daft.
‘When we won the lottery, Natalie already had an economy ticket to fly home from New Zealand. I asked her if she wanted us to pay for an upgrade – but she refused. We had won £114 million, but she was happy to fly economy.’
Frances said that so far she has only really splashed the cash once, on a pair of earrings.
Despite this, she has also said that she has set herself a budget to stick to next year and even admitted she still checks how much she pays for her gas and electricity bills.
Only recently did Frances treat herself to a brand new car – an E-Pace Jaguar – after years of driving second-hand models, and only 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.
As well as running both charities, Frances, retired from a career in education, 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, Frances 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, Frances’s three sisters and two brothers, and Patrick’s three sisters.
They also gave all their nieces and nephews money to buy their own homes.
One lucky Briton could follow in the couple’s footsteps as the largest ever EuroMillions jackpot, worth an estimated £175million, is up for grabs tonight.
The jackpot has now reached its cap, meaning any prizes in the next winning tier will be boosted for the draw on Tuesday.
If one player takes home the entire £175million they will set a new National Lottery record and become the UK’s biggest ever winner.
The total would surpass that of the previous, anonymous, top winner by £5million.