A tiler whose first purchase after winning £2.4 million on the National Lottery was a pool table is now set to experience his “proudest moment” as he prepares to represent his country at the European Pool Championships in Malta.
Neil Jones, 59, had just £13 in his pocket when he and partner Julie Kirkham won the life-changing cash just before Christmas 2010.
The couple, from Stoke-on-Trent, decided to finish the year with their “old life” before starting a new one on January 1 2011.
Little did Mr Jones know, one of his first purchases as a National Lottery millionaire – a pool table, having played snooker as a junior – would be his cue to international sporting honours.
With more free time after his lottery win allowed him to retire, and the onset of Covid meaning he was able to hone his skills at home, Mr Jones rose up through the ranks to become a regular county player, before his first England trial back in 2021.
After narrowly missing out back then, he continued playing and practising until he was asked to trial again in early 2023.
This time he was successful – and was awarded his England colours during a Home Nations tournament.
After a solid debut performance, Mr Jones has not only been chosen to represent England in the European Pool Championships, being held in Malta in early November, but he has also been asked to captain the England B1 team.
While he has had the support of partner Julie and his family, Mr Jones, who plays at The Plaza club in Fenton, says he wishes his late father was here to see his success.
He said: “My dad was so supportive of me. He was so proud.
“When he was in hospital, I used to tell him the county results every month and he’d say ‘you really want this don’t you? It will come’ and it did – it was really emotional.
“I try to motivate the other boys [on the team], so when I was asked if I wanted to be captain for England, I couldn’t say no to that.
“I was sobbing, I couldn’t talk. If my dad had been here now, he would be in Malta with me.”
Explaining how he got into playing pool, he said: “Not long after we won, I went to the local pool hall and there was a friend of mine who I used to do karaoke and watch the football with.
“I picked a cue up, had a knock, and then I came back home and measured up our dining room so I could buy a decent pool table.
“I was getting better, and as you get better, you can’t be practising on something that isn’t very good.
“I went out and bought a new pool table, so now when Coronation Street is on, I’m in here – so I get lots of practice.”
Mr Jones said “thousands of hours” of training has helped him to get to where he is today – something he says would not have been possible if he had not won the Lottery.
He said: “Winning the lottery allowed me to put those hours in. If I didn’t win, I wouldn’t have been able to buy the table, I wouldn’t have had the time – I’d still be on my hands and knees tiling.
“When lockdown happened, I was in a local singles league and obviously everyone was locked down, but I could still keep practising, so my game never dropped.
“When we went back to pick the singles league up, I was ringing everyone up straight away ‘do you want to play a match?’ – because I knew I’d had the practice.”
Mr Jones, who was also a part-time singer in pubs and clubs as well as a tiler, told the PA news agency it took 18 months for the news of his Lottery win to sink in.
He said: “Whenever we got a chance, we would pop into the local Bargain Booze and we always bought a £3 lucky dip, that’s all we ever did.
“We would win the odd tenner, I suppose. I used to joke with [the shop owner] that he was selling duds because we hardly won – but when we got the big one, I said to him ‘you’re not selling duds anymore’.
“Before we won, we’d got enough money sorted out for Christmas but then December 8, our big numbers came up.
“We didn’t spend a penny until the new year. I stuck to my plan of everyone getting £100 for Christmas – I wanted to get our old life out of the way.
“January 1, we started a new life. I didn’t tell anyone at first, not until we went public.
“There were no words. I was checking the ticket for 45 minutes. It was all on Ceefax back then. Julie rang Camelot and they said, ‘are you sitting down? You’re the only winner and it’s £2.4 million’.
“It took about 18 months to sink in. It was absolutely amazing, fantastic. It’s a cushion – when a bill comes through the door, you know you can pay it.”
Mr Jones says his millionaire status has not changed the way his friends at the pool club see him, saying they respect him for his talents, not his money.
He said: “It’s a completely different life, but anyone who knows me knows I’m grounded. Down the pool club, it’s not a big deal, no one mentions it.
“It’s about what you can achieve, because money can’t buy you an England place.
“I respect money – if you’ve never grafted for money I think it can slip through your fingers, but we’ve never been those kind of people, we’ve always worked.”
Mr Jones is now looking forward to jetting out to Malta and says he wants to “do the country proud”.
He said: “Playing for my country is one of the proudest moments. This game can be so unforgiving.
“You will have a spell where it just hates you and you feel like you’ve never picked a cue up in your life, but you have to play through those times.
“If it wasn’t for my National Lottery win, I wouldn’t be telling this story.
“I didn’t have that much money left in the world when I won, and now I’m captaining my country.
“I can’t wait to fly out to Malta, put on that England shirt and lead the team out.”