THEY were three simple words that will forever define Viv Nicholson in the eyes of the British public.
Her extravagant promise to “spend, spend, spend” a £152,000 football pools jackpot back in 1961 made her one of the most talked-about people in the country.
Now Mrs Nicholson has died at the age of 79, following a five-year battle with dementia.
But, her grieving family said, there was much more to her than the story of a woman who had it all and – true to her word – spent it as well.
In a statement, her son, Howard, said: “We are saddened to announce the death of our much loved mum, Viv Nicholson.
“After suffering with dementia for five years, she died on 11 April 2015 at [Wakefield’s] Pinderfields Hospital with her sons at her side.
“Viv was a one-off in all ways – a loving and loved mother, a glamorous great grandmother and a friend to many. Our family is in shock and wish to be left alone today to grieve.”
Mrs Nicholson was a 25-year-old Castleford factory girl when she and her pit trainee husband Keith won today’s equivalent of £3.5m on the pools.
The couple were so hard-up that she had to put cardboard in her shoes for the trip to London to collect their cheque from showbusiness personality Bruce Forsyth.
Flashy cars, designer clothes, holidays and a sprawling ranch-style home would follow, only for tragedy to strike in 1965 when Mr Nicholson died in a car crash on the A1.
A huge tax bill swallowed up what was left of the windfall but Mrs Nicholson remained a regular presence in the headlines, performing on the cabaret club scene and battling alcohol addiction and depression.
She became a Jehovah’s Witness in the 1980s, a decade that also saw her status as a Northern cultural icon confirmed with an appearance on the cover of Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now, a single by Manchester indie band The Smiths.
There were three more marriages, with one husband also dying in a road smash and another from an overdose.
A musical based on her life – almost inevitably called Spend Spend Spend – premiered at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds in 1998.
Speaking in the same year about a visit to watch the production, Mrs Nicholson, by that time working in a Wakefield perfume shop, said: “It was just so strange seeing my life played out in front of me.
“When I walked into the theatre I didn’t see any faces, just silhouettes. It was like being drunk without the drink. But the parts I did see were excellent and my kids tell me the rest of it was equally as good. There was a lot of laughter and a lot of tears.”
Yesterday tributes to Mrs Nicholson were led by cast members of a current run of Spend Spend Spend at London’s Union Theatre. Christina Meehan tweeted: “RIP Viv Nicholson. Today’s poignant show will be in her memory. It has been a privilege to tell your story every night.”
Dee Marshall, head of communications at the Welcome To Yorkshire tourism agency, tweeted: “Had a ball making a documentary with the amazing spend, spend, spend pools winner Viv Nicholson. We laughed a lot. RIP Viv.”
Mrs Nicholson’s family has asked for donations to be made to Dementia UK.
Her son Howard last year told The Yorkshire Post how her dementia meant she struggled to recognise members of her family – but still retained enough of her rebellious spirit to cause occasional mischief at her care home.
He said: “Once the care home rang up and told me my mother was drunk. I asked how could that be?
“Apparently she had seen a bottle [of wine] in a hamper on a unit and she cracked it open. She was giving it to all the residents and getting them in the party spirit.
“She has even tried to get out of the care home a couple of times. Again, that spirit is still in there.”