Winning Big
Sometimes when you play for only £1, it is so small you don’t even notice it, but when you win big it’s like wow!”

There is no better feeling than winning big at the right time. Stella was lucky enough to win £1000 at the perfect time; just before her and her husband are due to retire.

65-year-old Stella McCarthy, who plays make a smile lottery every week to support the Colchester & Ipswich Hospitals Charity, was thrilled to learn the news of her big win. Once the exciting news had settled, we caught up with her to find out more about her and how she will be spending her winnings.

My Dog Ate my Cheque

As we sit down to speak with Stella, she beams a brilliant smile as her new Cocker Spaniel puppy greets us. Who she was initially worried would eat her winning cheque as it slid through the letter box.

She explains, “When I said I would have the winnings as I cheque, I always used to joke that the puppy would eat my cheque. I have always joked with the postman, asking him ‘have you got my big fat cheque?’ Of course, when this happened, I said ‘Oh Barry, this could be my cheque.’

The lady on the phone said we have already sent the cheque out; do you think this could have been in the mail that was chewed. Then it had just arrived as we were talking on the phone. That was lucky again. I think sometimes that was a good bit of luck, and is there any more to come?”

Working at the Hospital

She has spent her life working in a variety of different roles and is spending her final years working as a secretary for the neuro-rehab therapies department at Colchester Hospital.

She explains, “I work at the Colchester Hospital. I am 65, 66 next March, which is when I will be retiring. I am looking forward to it. I am only part time now, over the years I have reduced my hours, but I do love working at the Hospital. I love the department and I love the staff.”

Stella has worked in the NHS Trust for over 20 years and has been at Colchester Hospital since 2015. However, she is now slowing down ready for her retirement. She says, “I temped for the NHS, and it just went from there. I was asked to stay in various places. Now I am at the Hospital, and I will be finishing my career at the Hospital.

“It has been such a good job. I went from full time to 4 days to 3, and now I just do 1 day in the Hospital on a Wednesday, and I work from home on a Friday.”

Winning News

When the make a smile lottery team first called Stella to share the good news, she was ecstatic, exclaiming, “Oh my goodness that's amazing, I never win anything! I can't believe it! That's amazing.”

Having had time for the news to sink in she shares how it felt receiving the phone call. “It was amazing. I felt like skipping along the corridor. I was with someone else at the time, and she could see my smiley face and asked, ‘what’s happening?’

“So, she bent down to listen to my phone. We both initially thought, is this a scam?

“If you could have seen the smile on my face. I went back into the office and there was only 1 member of staff there. I said, ‘I’ve got to ring my husband and have it on loudspeaker, I’ve got some amazing news.’ The rest of the team came in, then and I rung my husband. They couldn’t believe it. It was just the sheer excitement.

The Winning Feeling

“If it had of been £250, I would have been just as happy because it’s just that, I don’t know, the lovely feeling to win something.

“I’d love it for everyone to win something. You always want people to have good news and treat themselves. You want people to be happy. I just think, happiness is a big thing for me, and I know that sounds cheesy. Everyone knows what I am like. I worry about everyone and want to help people. So yeah, I was really chuffed.”

To top things off, Stella and her husband have just celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. So, winning £1000 was the cherry on top of the cake.

The First Big Win

Winning with make a smile lottery was the first time Stella had won anything of significance.

She explains, “I have won £10 a couple of times on The National Lottery. I do set for life and The National Lottery once a week, and I haven’t won anything more than £10, so this is a big win. I thought the lady on the telephone was going to say £250, and when she said £1000, I thought wow, that’s a big amount of money to win.”

A Once in a Lifetime Trip

Due to the couples pending retirement, they have planned a big holiday to Nashville, Tennessee in May.

Stella explains, “My husband turned 66 a couple of weeks ago and he is looking forward to retiring with me. We are off on a big holiday. So, this bit of money will go towards that. It has come at a great time as we have booked to go to Nashville.

“We are going for 14 days. It just felt right that we should do something to celebrate. Winning the £1000 was a wonderful surprise. We had already booked the holiday, but it’s not paid for. So, this is so handy.”

Her daughter initially suggested that she spend her winnings on a designer handbag, but she wanted to make precious memories instead of buying things.

“I thought, how many bags do I need. As I am older, you don’t want loads of bags. It’s nice to have things but sometimes it’s better to think of the memories that you will make.”

Magical Music

We asked what they planned to do on this exciting trip and Stella said, “I haven’t looked at it too much yet. We just liked the idea of the music and the enjoyment. My main motivation to visit Nashville was the music. I like country music simply because, I think there is a lot of jolliness in the beat. I like rap, I like mo-town, I like Andre Bocelli. I’d love to be able to sing really.

“It’s the spring it puts in people’s steps. That’s why the holiday was booked with the intention of making something that is a memory. It will all be eyes open. We are lucky. Very lucky.”

Giving Back in More Ways than One

Stella, who not only gives back to her local community by working for the NHS, also decided to play make a smile lottery on a regular basis. 

She explains her main motivations for playing regularly, “I think it was a no-brainer actually. I was working at the Hospital, and I was going out as I had finished work, and a gentlemen spoke to me about the charity. I just listened to what he had to say, and I thought it’s going to a good cause, it’s not a lot of money. If I win great, and if I don’t it’s going towards somewhere where I work. Within the health service and surrounding areas. My husband also plays Your Hospice Lottery to support St Helena Hospice.”


Stella knows that we need to support our local NHS to help them improve services. You never know when someone you love will need their support.

She says, “We are all patients at the end of the day. I’ve been a patient at that Hospital and to be honest, I think they’re marvellous. My daughter had her baby there and she thinks the Hospital is fantastic.”

Why Play?

Stella has been playing make a smile lottery for over 4 years. She shares her thoughts on why she thinks others should join her in this selfless act of giving.

“I’d say give it a go. Not just for the winning side of it, give it a go if you feel like £4.34 isn’t a big amount out of your life. You may win something. Maybe not the first prize, but if you win something great, if you don’t, look at the fact that you are putting money into something that you are a service user of.

“Sometimes when you play for only £1, it is so small you don’t even notice it, but when you win big it’s like wow!

Hopefully my story will make people think that you can win, so give more will give it a go. It’s not a lot of money out of your monthly life. If everyone does £4.34 every month it makes a difference. I am pleased I do it, but I am also pleased I won.”

Since Stella's big win Colchester & Ipswich Hospitals Charity has had another big winner. Winning the £1000 prize!

To join Stella as part of the lottery community, sign up and play regularly today by clicking below. You never know you could win big too?

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