Viv Nicholson

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Viv Nicholson
Born Vivian Asprey
3 April 1936 (1936-04-03)
Castleford, Yorkshire, England, UK
Died 11 April 2015(2015-04-11) (aged 79)
Wakefield, Yorkshire, England, UK
Spouse(s) Matthew Johnson (1952–1954)
Keith Nicholson (1954–1965)
Brian Wright (1972–1976)
Graham Ellison (1979)
Gary Shaw (1985–1990)
Children 4

Vivian Nicholson (3 April 1936 – 11 April 2015) was a British woman who became famous when she told the media she would "spend, spend, spend" after her husband Keith won £152,319 (equivalent to £3,167,827.29 adjusted for inflation) on the football pools in 1961.[1][2] Nicholson became the subject of tabloid news stories for many years due to her and Keith's subsequent rapid spending of their fortune and her later chaotic life.

Early life[edit]

Nicholson was born Vivian Asprey on 3 April 1936 in Castleford near Leeds. Her father was a coal miner, but suffered from epilepsy, and so was often unable to work. Her mother was asthmatic. As the oldest child, she was expected to help with taking care of her younger brothers and sisters and scavenge for coal. Growing up in extreme poverty, she was not allowed to take up a scholarship she had won to art school.[3] Having left school at age 14, she took work at the local liquorice factory making pontefract cakes.[3]

She became pregnant at age 16 and was married to Matthew Johnson, but her first marriage did not last. She was soon having an affair with her neighbour, miner Keith Nicholson. She divorced her first husband and married Nicholson. By 1961 she had four children.[3]


Keith won the pools on 30 September 1961. Nicholson and her husband's constant and lavish spending sprees (involving purchases of expensive and lavish sports cars, fur coats, clothing, home appliances, jewellery, vacation trips around Great Britain and abroad, etc.) over the next few years quickly depleted their fortune.[4] By her own admission, she found it hard to cope with the psychological effects of the money Keith had won. Having no concept at how to manage and save money, Viv Nicholson admitted to becoming so consumed by spending money that she related to it at one point like an addiction to narcotics. Due to her out of control spending, she came to feel distanced from the people she had lived among, who in turn could no longer relate to her, and developed an ever greater longing for a much more affluent lifestyle.

After her husband Keith died in a car accident on 30 October 1965,[5] Viv Nicholson's fortune rapidly dwindled to nothing: banks and tax creditors deemed her bankrupt and declared that all the money, and everything she had acquired with it, belonged not to her but to Keith's estate.

In 1968, Nicholson won a three-year legal battle to gain £34,000 from her husband's estate,[6] but rapidly lost it all through more out of control spending as well as taxes, legal fees, unpaid bills, and bad investments.


In 1970, she relocated to Malta, but on the following year, after she was arrested for assaulting a policeman, the Maltese authorities deported her back to Britain amid a storm of tabloid publicity.[5] She also remarried, but the marriage did not last. Her new husband, Brian Wright, later died in a car crash just like Keith. She entered a mental home to escape from her next husband, a man named Graham Ellison, who abused her during the four days they lived together; the marriage lasted only thirteen weeks. Her fifth and last husband, Gary Shaw, died of a drug overdose.[3]

Her main problem was her alcoholism, which became serious during her wealthy years, but which continued for many years after she lost all her money. She said later in the 1990s in a radio interview:

I was falling down stairs, screaming at people, throwing bottles. It was dreadful. It cost me money I had not got. I might struggle to meet household bills, but when it came to booze I always found the money. Eventually, my weight was down to four stone and I could hardly walk. I had a serious fall and instead of taking it as a warning, I simply drank more to mask the pain. I was a total mess. It was horrible and, most of the time, I didn't know what day it was. I got to like the whisky too much and I needed a bottle of wine to get me to sleep. Then I would get up at 2:00am and drink another one.[5]

She eventually became sober when her eldest daughter found her unconscious, and took her to hospital, at which time she nearly died from alcohol poisoning.[5]

She made many attempts to regain both her public profile and her lost wealth, such as recording a single (entitled "Spend Spend Spend", written by her brother) and appearing in a strip club singing "Big Spender". None of these efforts proved successful. After opening a short-lived boutique, she ended up penniless and, by 1976, claimed that she could not even afford to bury her fourth husband (with whom she had broken up three years earlier)[citation needed] when he died.

In 1976, after joining the Jehovah's Witnesses,[7] Nicholson co-wrote an autobiography with Stephen Smith, entitled Spend, Spend, Spend which was dramatised for the BBC's Play for Today series by Jack Rosenthal. Spend, Spend, Spend (1977) was directed by John Goldschmidt (who won a BAFTA award for the filmed play) and stars Susan Littler and John Duttine.[8]

Nicholson died at Pinderfields hospital, Wakefield, aged 79, on 11 April 2015, after having had a stroke and was suffering from dementia.[4]

In culture[edit]

A photograph of Nicholson was used on the sleeve of The Smiths' single "Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now". Previously Morrissey had borrowed a line from Nicholson's autobiography for the song "Still Ill" ("Under the iron bridge we kissed, and although I ended up with sore lips..."). Another picture of Nicholson taken at Castleford pit was used on the German release of "Barbarism Begins At Home" and on the programme for the Meat Is Murder tour. A photo of Nicholson painting at an easel was used for the cover of a 1987 re-release of "The Headmaster Ritual". However, having become a Jehovah's Witness in 1979,[9] she objected to her image being used for the single's cover due to the use of an expletive in the song's lyrics ("Spineless bastards all...").[10]

A successful musical based on Nicholson's life – Spend Spend Spend – debuted in 1998 and subsequently ran on the West End.[11]


  1. ^ Pendlebury, Richard (22 April 2007). "Spent, spent, spent - pools winner now living on £87 a week". Mail Online. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  2. ^ Bulent Yusuf "What Happened Next?" The Observer, 6 July 2003
  3. ^ a b c d Viv Nicholson, pools winner - obituary
  4. ^ a b "'Spend, spend, spend' Pools winner Viv Nicholson dies". BBC News. BBC. 12 April 2015. Retrieved 12 April 2015. 
  5. ^ a b c d Richard Pendlebury "Spent, spent, spent - pools winner now living on £87 a week", Daily Mail, 22 April 2007
  6. ^ Sheena Hastings "Spend spend spend Viv Nicholson: Older and wiser now", Yorkshire Post, 22 August 2008.
  7. ^ [ Viv Nicholson obituary, The Guardian, 14 April 2015
  8. ^ "Spend Spend Spend (15 Mar. 1977)",; accessed 12 April 2015.
  9. ^ Yusuf, Bulent (6 July 2003). "What happened next?". Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  10. ^ Barton, Laura (13 April 2015). "This charming woman: why Morrissey and the Smiths loved Viv Nicholson". Retrieved 13 April 2015. 
  11. ^ Jonathon Green "She had it all - and spent it", The Guardian, 9 October 1999.