I roll my eyes whenever I read about people who've won big on Lotto vowing that nothing will change, that they'll stay in their modest home and keep their high-mileage vehicle despite their vastly changed financial situation. As if.
It must be part of the human condition. We kid ourselves that the choices we make in life are driven by our fine taste and discernment. We tell ourselves that we love this house, we love this car, we love staying at dingy motels, we love buying home brand cheese and we love clipping supermarket coupons. But who are we fooling? The depressing truth is that our purchases and lifestyle choices are driven largely by the size of our bank balance. We wish it wasn't true.
Sure enough, down the track when it's reported that the freshly minted multi-millionaires have bought a mansion, a couple of fancy cars and a first class around-the-world airfare, I'm like, 'I-told-you-so'. You see, they mistook their contentment with their standard of living as a sign that they're people of simple tastes unaffected by rampant consumerism, salt-of-the-earth folk unimpressed by the baubles of great wealth. They thought they were satisfied with their lot in life but discovered they were in fact resigned to their circumstances.
So while I like to think I have most winners pegged, our $26-million man had me fooled when I saw him interviewed by John Campbell. Trevor (like Madonna and Beyoncé, known only by his first name) from Te Kauwhata (population 1200) vowed he would start his 5am shift at a supermarket checkout just like normal despite the fact he could now earn a conservative $750,000 annually just from interest.
I probably believed him because Trevor was perfect and his story was perfect. Rags-to-riches narratives have long fuelled fairytales, literature, theatre and film. And this was our very own story. Of course we were fascinated. Nora Ephron couldn't have scripted it better.
And Trevor said all the right things. If he'd shown the slightest hint of cockiness or arrogance we'd have taken an instant dislike to this upstart with his undeserved windfall. But he was charming and unassuming. He's been described as an "ordinary bloke", a "good bugger" and "great dude". He delivered punchy sound bites: "That number's bigger than my phone number." It couldn't have gone to a nicer guy.
I can see how initially he might have thought that in going public he could control the story and perhaps shut it down. But he reckoned without the hungry media machine that thrives on just such stories. "It's just another day tomorrow," said Trevor, forgetting it was also just another day for the legions of reporters who'd be waiting to ambush him at his place of work.
Note to the New Zealand Lotteries Commission: Perhaps ahead of psychologists and financial advisers, a PR specialist should be sent to assist winners. Because many people are saying that Trevor made a huge mistake in outing himself, that maybe he should have paused to consider his position for a few weeks, kept his head down and gone about his usual business while he took a longer term view of his future.
On the other hand, Trevor could have simply outsmarted everyone. Saying he'd be at work at 5am gave him a few precious hours in which to flee the country. It would be nice to think that Te Kauwhata Trev is sunning himself in Monte Carlo or the Cayman Islands where no one will bat an eyelid at such wealth.
What would you do if you won $26-million? Who would you tell? And when, if ever, would you want to make it public?