Money isn’t everything. Roger and Lara Griffiths learned this lesson the hard way. From college sweethearts to a happily married couple, they lived a stable and loving life. Once Roger won the lottery, everything turned upside-down. Their lives changed, for better or worse, when they became wealthy. Suddenly, the couple had more choices to attend to—and more designer clothes, botox, tattoos and cars to purchase. With a fortune to their name, the couple lived what many would consider a dream. They upgraded their family home and sent their daughters to competitive private schools. However, Roger and Lana didn’t know when—or how—to stop. This is their cautionary tale.
Most people would think that winning the lottery would make their lives a dream come true. For a while, Roger and Lara thought the same. As time went on with their newfound fortune, though, it became clear that their lives were much better off before they possessed so much wealth. Lara met Roger when they were studying at Lancaster University. The couple married in 1997. Lara said, “I married Roger because he was a very kind and thoughtful man. He looked after me and worshipped our girls — he was a brilliant dad.” The newlyweds took out a mortgage on a four-bedroom house in Boston Spa, slowly and surely paying it off.
To celebrate their lottery victory, the couple paired modest takeout curry with extravagant Camelot champagne. Once the reality of their wealth settled in, they began a seemingly endless spending spree. Roger bought a soft-top Audi with the price-tag of £18,000, and Lara booked an exotic getaway at a five-star hotel in Dubai.
Despite the endless celebrating, and the fact that the couple wouldn’t have to worry about money anymore, Roger and Lara often argued about how they should spend their fortune. Lara said, “The money caused a lot of contention from the start. Roger’s idea was that we would both give up our jobs and live off the money, spending very little of it, but I’ve always been a worker and didn’t want to give that up.” Despite the argument about whether or not they should keep jobs, they didn’t have trouble living it up. Roger said, “We must have spent £15,000 in ten days.”
Both agreed that, despite their differing ideas, they shouldn’t spend it all. Lara hoped to invest. She described their plan, saying, “My plan was to enjoy some of it and carefully invest the rest. I thought we should put some aside just to spend on stuff you don’t need, stuff you don’t really want, because whoever gets the chance to do that?” Allowing herself the opportunity to buy nice things was a nice reprieve from reality, but Lara intended on being responsible.
More or less practical, Lara and Roger decided to buy their dream house, at a whopping £795,000, so that they could raise their two daughters comfortably. Lara said, “We were absolutely thrilled to be able to buy something like this. Who wouldn’t be? It’s lovely.”
While the house made sense for the entire family, Lara didn’t necessarily need to buy a Mulberry purse. The couple went on many vacations to New York, London, Monaco and Rome, always being sure to stay in five-star hotel suites. Much to the benefit of their two daughters, Ruby and Kitty, they sent them to a private girls’ school. The school cost the couple over £20,000 a year.
Lara intended to invest, and as she accumulated money, she decided that fashion purchases would work well as investments. Roger bought a handful of £300-a pair jeans, as well as a wardrobe of £500 suits. He and Lara both became more interested in their appearances, investing in expensive dental procedures and botox. Lara collected fancy jewelry, state-of-the-art furniture, and a boutique’s worth of fashion and accessories. Roger decided to work as a property manager and developer. The couple bought a beauty salon, but it was woefully unprofitable. They had to dip into their savings to pay bills for the salon, and had a hard time curbing their unnecessary expenses.
Lara said that while their lifestyle was fabulous, the couple was rather anxious. She said, “Actually, it didn’t feel so fabulous to be able to pay for whatever we wanted. We felt scared. You are constantly thinking “Is this wrong? Will we lose it? Is this the right decision to make? How long will it last?” We were always stressed.” She went on to describe how she had a hard time trusting others to have her best interest at heart. She said, “We were so desperate not to mess it up, and it’s very difficult when you have advisers coming to you in their shiny suits and flash cars saying “I’ll look after you, trust me”. Who do you trust?”
While the couple never answered that question, they turned toward more ambitious spending. Roger always had dreams of being a rock star. So, with his new fortune, he gathered his college band to record a single in London. He spent £25,000 on recording the single, £1,000 each month for a publicist, and £240 each night he stayed the celebrity-frequented Sanderson Hotel. Roger’s music proved to be a terrible investment; the single only sold 600 copies. This flop wasn’t a source of contention, though. Lara was supportive. Roger recalled, “She was proud. I remember when we got the first cut of the record and we listened to it. She didn’t mind at all.”
The beauty expenses kept tallying up. Roger got at least £500 in tattoos, even tattooing Lara’s name on his bicep in a romantic tribute. He wanted “to look cooler” to fit into the rock star lifestyle. If his music career wasn’t going to take off as he hoped it might, he might as well look as good as possible. Much of Roger and Lara’s life became that of an illusion.
If the couple spent their earnings on their house and school for their daughters, and saved the rest, they would have had enough money to live quite a long time. Before they started spending so much, they even made £340 a day in interest. However, once they sped up, they couldn’t slow down.
Roger and Lara were out to recreate their lives. They drove their daughters to school in either Roger’s £28,000 Porsche convertible or Lara’s Lexus. Everything they surrounded themselves with had to exude luxury. The couple were addicted to the glamor.
Despite the excesses, Roger and Lara thought they would always be wealthy. Roger said, “Both of us wanted to try to turn our win into more. I thought I was doing the right thing. I was the one who won that money, so I took responsibility. It didn’t cross my mind that I’d end up here — the one thing I didn’t want to do was waste that money.” Unfortunately, he would plummet into a bad dream.
After the recession kicked in, and the inside of their house was destroyed by a freak fire, Roger and Lara’s dream took a turn for the worse. Little did they know, these two omens would only signal what was to come.
Roger had very bad news to share with Lara. They lost every bit of their fortune. The hundreds and thousands were gone—out the door. Lara said, “We had no idea the recession was coming. I was working all hours, up to 9 or 10pm at night trying to make a success of the spa, but it was haemorrhaging money.” Between keeping the spa afloat and maintaining their image, the couple didn’t have much of a safety net.
As the recession worsened, Roger was a stay-at-home dad to take care of the girls. Lara was over-worked and over-stressed. She said, “Roger had given up his job and I’d come home, exhausted, to find the children still up, usually watching videos of their dad playing guitar or bashing some drums and I’d say “Why the hell aren’t they in bed?” The recession brought out a bad dynamic between the couple. Everything about their lifestyle was strained, and both were exhausted. Lara said, “Roger was brilliant with the children, but I resented him being at home and kept on at him to get a job, especially as I was so busy at work I didn’t even have time for a lunch break.”
Lara went on to describe how clueless she and Roger were before the recession. “I admit I wasn’t the easiest person to live with, but Roger could be selfish, too. He’d get annoyed if I bought a bottle of perfume as a treat after working a 60-hour week, but I had no idea how bad things were financially until it was too late,” she said. In retrospect, maybe she wouldn’t have made so many purchases.
While Lara had no idea how bad things were financially, she certainly had no idea how bad things were in her marriage. Six years after accepting their lottery victory, Roger vanished with his Porsche. Lara suspected that Roger was having an affair, and he grew increasingly argumentative.
Lara and Roger never had a conversation about the other woman. She simply called Roger to tell him, “I’m reading your emails,” and Roger uttered a single swear word in reply. He never apologized or clarified. Lara said, “Within ten minutes he was back home. He walked straight past me into his office, and started packing his bags. He was shouting at me, telling me I was an idiot and pathetic, then he just left.” Lara was devastated. “I tried calling him, but his phone was dead, and when I tried to contact him on Facebook he had blocked me. I don’t know if he was having an affair or not because he wouldn’t tell me,” she said.
Roger left Lara and the girls behind without another word. Lara lamented, “now I’m forced to live with the consequences of his decisions. It’s not just that he left me; it’s what he left me with that I find so upsetting and exhausting.” Suddenly, Lara had even more responsibilities. Single parenting, especially during heartbreak and financial strain, was no easy task.
To cope with the financial strain, Lara put their dream house up for sale. She never imagined the family would reach this point. When Lara listed the house, she didn’t know if anyone would buy it; her backup plan was moving back in with her elderly mother. Lara said that during the first year and a half after Roger’s departure, selling her designer handbags supported her daughters.
Karma certainly came around for Roger. He had just £7 to his name, and depended on his parents’ money to survive. He lamented, “I had it all, but it’s gone. I feel ashamed to say this, but I haven’t been smart enough to make it work.” He blamed the recession, not their spending habits, on the separated couple’s financial wellbeing.
The separated couple have many words to share with those who dream of making it big. Money isn’t everything. While Roger never said whether or not he had an affair, he did say, “Lara is a brilliant mother and was a wonderful partner to me. The emails did not end our marriage, but were a catalyst. Our marriage had been going wrong for some time and the strain of our financial situation did not help.” He also described the effect of the lottery victory, saying, “It’s true to say the lottery win affected our relationship for the worse. Before, we were a team, treading parallel paths, and after, we started pulling in completely different directions.”
Roger and Lara are now humbled by the breakdown of their marriage, and their life transformation from working class to wealthy—and into poverty. They said, “Ours is really a cautionary tale. We’re both well-educated people who worked hard to make our businesses a success. If this can happen to us, it can happen to anyone.”
Lara has no regrets about winning the lottery—as the couple said, anyone could have had the same luck. It’s how the couple handled their luck that she regrets. While Roger noted the recession as the real problem, Lara was quick to note that they had issues and Roger did a poor job being her husband. She said, “He just walked out, leaving me to deal with the mess. I feel like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz when she pulls the curtain away and discovers the world isn’t magical at all, and that the Wizard is just some stupid bloke.”
Roger is heartbroken to be separated from his daughters. He said, “It crucifies me that I’m not with my daughters. But if I’d stayed, I would have gone mad.” Clearly the strains of wealth brought out many underlying issues in their marriage. What once was a dream turned into reality and upended the once-married Roger and Lara’s lives—as individuals and as a couple. From now on, they live with the reality of their surprise fortune and how they squandered it. Their daughters were traumatized by the experience, and now have to live with the consequences of their parents’ actions. Money isn’t everything, but it makes a mark.