On October 20, 2000, Phyllis Porter got a knock on the door that would change her life. She answered the door to find two Mirror reporters who had come to tell her that she had just won a million pounds.
Known as Phyll, the 71-year-old widow with two sons and four grandchildren, had hit the jackpot in the Mirror’s famous scratchcard game.
The news left Phyll speechless, wobbly legged, and shaking so much it took her five attempts to call her sons to tell them the news.
But when the fanfare was over, she started enjoying her fortune, using her winnings to live life to the full.
Phyll sadly died earlier this month, aged 92, but in the two decades after her win she splashed her cash on hairdos, beauty treatments and luxury cruises all over the world.
She refused to move out of the tiny end-of-terrace house in Southampton where she had raised her sons Kevin and Ray and lived with her beloved husband, also Ray, who had died 12 years before her win, aged just 58.
Phyll’s son Kevin, 59, says the Mirror jackpot gave his mum “a new lease of life”. He says: “Until that day mum was just ticking along really.
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“She missed her husband so much. It had always been just the pair of them. They had both been ballroom dancers, but after dad died of a heart attack a month before their 30th wedding anniversary, she had sort of given up.
“Winning the money really renewed her vigour and gave her a reason to carry on. We tried to convinced her to use it to buy a bigger house, move to a nicer area, but she didn’t want to know. She kept everything the way it was when dad was alive, she didn’t upgrade anything, even their old sofa. But she was determined to have fun.”
Kevin also believes winning the competition saved his mum’s life.
He says: “After she won the money, the bank advised her to take out a life insurance policy to pay the inheritance tax.
“They insisted she had a full medical, and when she did they found she had an aortic aneurysm. She had an operation to have it repaired, paying for private medical care to get it sorted quickly. The doctor said it would definitely have killed her.
“I really think that if she hadn’t won the money she wouldn’t have had a thorough enough medical.
“I’ve always credited the Daily Mirror with saving her life.”
Kevin, who works for a lift company, remembers how his solitary mum suddenly became a globe-trotter, taking at least three cruises a year, preferring to go alone.
He says: “We were constantly taking her down to the docks in Southampton so she could board. We used to joke that we were the Porter family, but it was as if we really were porters, always carrying her bags for her.
“She would put on a posh voice just as she was about to get on, and it would last for a few weeks after she got back, which always made us giggle. I think she liked to live the life when she was away, but she was soon the normal down-to-earth Phyll when she got back.
“She sailed everywhere – Monte Carlo, Norway, the Mediterranean dozens of times, and even one time went on a Christmas cruise in the Caribbean.
“She went on a number of maiden cruises too, like the Artemis, the Aurora, and came back with the certificate showing she had sailed on the very first trip. She was never lonely, she just enjoyed going off on her own.
“Every morning, she would run around the cruise ship deck, then spend the day sunbathing before getting herself dolled up for a posh dinner in the evening.
“She didn’t send us postcards, but she would keep all the restaurant menus and show us all the posh food she had eaten, and pictures of her having dinner with the captain.”
Back home, there was barely a sign of Phyll’s new-found riches, although she did eventually swap her Ford Fiesta for a new Ka.
But she did join an upmarket leisure club so she could pamper herself, and would often be seen in the ladies clothes section of John Lewis.
Kevin says: “The Westquay Shopping Centre opened in Southampton shortly after her win, and my mum would act like they had built it just for her. She was always down there, she liked her expensive clothes.
“She wanted to keep herself in shape so would go to the leisure club regularly, but it was also where she would have a posh haircut, manicure and massage. She liked to be pampered.”
She also gave £100,000 to both sons.
Kevin bought his dream MGF car and paid off his mortgage while Ray, now 61, father of Phyll’s four grandchildren, had a loft conversion and extension done on his house. Kevin still remembers the day Phyll won the Mirror Millionaire game. Readers would find out if they were finalists by checking daily numbers with a scratchcard.
Phyll was among 55 finalists whose ball was then chosen at random by Craig Phillips, who had won the first series of Big Brother that year.
Kevin says: “My mum kept her scratchcard by the side of her chair.
“She kept getting the right numbers and realised she was in the final draw. She was convinced she was going to win. We had to keep telling her to not get her hopes up as there were so many other people in it.
“It was still a complete shock when she found out she had won. It was absolutely amazing.
“She phoned me and Ray straight away and we couldn’t believe it.”
Phyll’s win made the front page of the Daily Mirror, when she told our reporters, who had arrived to deliver the good news: “I’ve never really had anything, but I’ve never really wanted for anything either.
“You just get used to budgeting for birthdays and Christmas.
“This year, I was going to have to cut back because money’s been a bit tight. All I could think about being a millionaire finalist was that I might be able to afford nice presents this year.”
When Phyll’s health deteriorated three years ago, she moved to a care home in Southampton.
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Kevin says: “Thanks to the money, we were able to put her in a good care home. They took care of her well, although she didn’t really like being there and mostly stayed in her room and didn’t make many friends.
“Even so, I don’t think she ever really understood how much she’d won.
“She was always fretting about whether she had enough to keep paying the care home costs, and we’d have to keep telling her, ‘Don’t worry, mum, there’s more than enough.”
But he says his mum, whose funeral is on September 2, remained a devoted Mirror reader for the rest of her life.
He says: “She insisted on having the newspaper delivered to her room right up to the day she died. The whole family read the Mirror too, we’re lifelong converts now. My mum loved the Daily Mirror and never forgot how the paper changed her life.”