Viv Nicholson

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Viv Nicholson
Vivian Asprey

3 April 1936 (1936-04-03)
Castleford, Yorkshire, England, UK
Died11 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)

Vivian Nicholson (born Vivian Asprey; 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 £3,362,478.00 adjusted for inflation to 2019) on the football pools in 1961.[1] 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.[2] Her father was a coal miner, but suffered from epilepsy, and so often was 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 married Matthew Johnson, but left him to marry her neighbour, Keith Nicholson, two years later. By 1961, she had four children.[3]


Keith won the pools on 30 September 1961.[4] Nicholson and her husband's constant and lavish spending sprees (involving purchases of expensive 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.[5] By her own admission, she found it hard to cope with the psychological effects of the money Keith had won. Having no concept of how to manage and save money, Viv Nicholson admitted to becoming so consumed by spending money that she likened it at one point to an addiction to narcotics.[citation needed] 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,[6] and she developed an ever greater longing for a much more affluent lifestyle.

After her husband Keith died in a car accident, Viv Nicholson's fortune rapidly dwindled to nothing: Banks and tax creditors deemed her bankrupt,[7] and declared that all the money, and everything she had acquired with it, belonged not to her but to Keith's estate.[citation needed]

In 1968, Nicholson won a three-year legal battle to gain £34,000 from her husband's estate,[8] but rapidly lost it all through more uncontrolled spending, as well as taxes, legal fees, unpaid bills, and bad investments.


In 1970, she relocated to Malta, but the following year, after she was arrested for assaulting a policeman, the Maltese authorities deported her, and she returned to Britain. She also remarried, but the marriage did not last. Her new husband, Brian Wright, later died in a car crash. 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 13 weeks. Her fifth and last husband, Gary Shaw, died of a drug overdose.[3]

Her alcoholism became serious during her wealthy years, but continued for many years after she lost all her money. She eventually became sober.

She made many attempts to regain both her public profile and her lost wealth, such as recording a song (titled "Spend Spend Spend", written by her brother) and appearing in a strip club singing "Big Spender".[9] None of these efforts proved successful. After opening a short-lived boutique, she ended up penniless.[10] and by 1976, claimed that she could not even afford to bury her fourth husband (they had broken up three years earlier)[citation needed] when he died.

In 1978, Nicholson co-wrote an autobiography with Stephen Smith, titled Spend, Spend, Spend[11] 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.

Nicholson died at Pinderfields hospital, Wakefield, aged 79, on 11 April 2015, after having a stroke and suffering from dementia.[5]

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,[12] 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...").[13]

A successful musical based on Nicholson's life – Spend Spend Spend – debuted in 1998 and subsequently ran on the West End.[14]


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