Spend, spend, spend: The fast and furious life of Viv Nicholson
Today’s celebrity entertainment industry lost one of its icons and pioneers this month. Viv (Vivian) Nicholson passed away in the UK, aged 79.
In 1961, Viv Nicholson was an unknown 25 year old, once-divorced mother of three children who packed liquorice cakes in a factory in West Yorkshire for £7 a week. From one day to the next, the sassy blonde became as famous, perhaps more famous than the Beatles, when she and her miner husband Keith won the football pools (lottery) jackpot of £152, 319 - about £3.5 million (CHF 5 million) at today’s values.
Overnight, Viv Nicholson was charged with living out the nation’s number one hypothetical fantasy: What would you do if you won the lottery?
At the cheque presentation she fainted in the arms of the celebrity presenter, a young Bruce Forsyth (Strictly Come Dancing). The photos below capture it all in its gob-stopping and eye-popping glory.
Her 15 minutes of fame became a lifetime of media exposure when, asked by a journalist what she would do with the money, she famously declared: “I am going to spend, spend, spend.”
This became her weighty mantra. She spent and drank, and with such vigour and determination that within four years, she was literally penniless, husbandless (he died after he lost control of his new Jaguar) and she had a major drinking problem.
At the time she claimed she took champagne baths, but in a later interview she recalled:
When we first won the money all we did was drink. I had never tasted whisky or champagne. We had lived poorly. Back then, even a few pennies meant something.
She came from working class origins in the north of England. Her mother suffered from severe asthma attacks and young Vivian raised almost singlehandedly her six brothers and sisters. Her father was a gruff, hard-drinking miner. At 16 she was pregnant, but left her husband when she fell in love with the boy next door Keith Nicholson. He was to be the second of her five husbands.
It was in his trouser pockets she retrieved the winning ticket. She borrowed her sister’s shoes and stockings and with her husband went off to London to collect their winnings. When the couple got off the train to London to collect their cheque, she was astonished to see so many people at King’s Cross station rushing towards her carriage.
I didn’t realise there were so many people who wanted to catch a train. That is how naive I was. They were reporters.
When the Beatles released their 1964 hit Can’t Buy me Love, Viv Nicholson had gone from being the most envied to a much despised and sad figure.
She was the Kim K, Paris H of her day. The media fed off her every excess: the silver Chevrolet, the pink Cadillac, the luxury home Ponderosa named after the TV series Bonanza, the exotic holidays, the failed businesses, the terrible investments, the hairstyles, the massive parties at the local pub to appease her jealous and alienated friends, the furs and jewellery…
It was rags to riches and back to rags again. She took a job as a £50-a-night stripper in a night club. She bared herself to the Shirley Bassey tune Big Spender. In an interview she recalled:
I hate that record. It used to hurt me to sing it. The club managers said to me, 'Drop your dress when you get to the end of the song.' And I said, 'Only if I can leave my bra and knickers on.' They refused, but I wouldn't do it. I was frogmarched into the back and told, 'You'll do it properly tomorrow or you're sacked.' But the next night I got the sack. I couldn't do it; I just wasn't a stripper.
She moved to Malta, but was deported after she hit a police officer. She returned to the UK and another storm of publicity. She put herself into a mental home to escape from her third husband, who abused her during the four days they lived together.
In the 1980s she was befriended by Morrissey, singer of the group The Smiths and appeared on several of their album covers including Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now and Barbarism begins at Home.
After several failed suicide attempts she became a Jehovah’s Witness.
The award winning musical Spend Spend Spend, based on her best-selling autobiography ran for a year in the London West End. She also inspired a popular BBC TV drama.
Before dementia set in, she said she had few regrets. She died surrounded by her children whose private education was protected by a trust fund set up immediately after the pools win.
Vivian Nicholson, pools winner/media celebrity, born 3 April 1936; died 11 April 2015