19 November 1994: The first National Lottery draw

Twenty years ago today, 22 million people watched in hopeful anticipation as the National Lottery made its first draw.

“Release the balls!” On this day in 1994, in a one-hour TV extravaganza hosted by Saturday evening TV institution Noel Edmonds, 18-year-old Deborah Walsh pressed the button that inaugurated the UK's National Lottery. 22 million people watched as the numbers were called: in ascending order, they were 3, 5, 14, 22, 30, 44, and the bonus ball was number 10.

The frequency of draws was doubled in February 1997 when a Wednesday draw was added. The use of the same range of numbers 1-49 was controversial, as it encouraged people to play who might otherwise not have, in case “their” numbers came up. Some wanted numbers 51-99 to be used instead.

The odds of winning are, famously, 14 million to one (actually 13,983,816 to one). But in that first week, seven people shared the jackpot, scooping £839,254 each. 

However, this was not England's first National Lottery. That took place on 11 January 1569. In 1566 Queen Elizabeth instructed Sir John Spencer to set up a lottery to raise funds to be "employed to good and public acts and beneficially for our realm and our subjects". 400,000 tickets were sold at ten shillings a pop for the chance of a £5,000 jackpot. Other prizes included immunity from arrest for a week, and free entry to libraries. Collectors got sixpence a ticket.

And in 1694, the English State Lottery was launched. Also called the “Million Lottery”, 100,000 tickets were sold at £10 each, partly to fund war against France (who else?).

Recommended

1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain
This day in history

1 April 1999: The minimum wage is introduced in Britain

On this day in 1999, the national minimum wage was introduced in Britain, bringing an instant pay rise to 1.9 million low-paid workers.
1 Apr 2021
27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party
This day in history

27 February 1900: The launch of the Labour Party

Responding to the need for a single political party to represent the trade unions, the Labour Party was formed on this day in 1900.
27 Feb 2021
24 February 1981: Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announce their engagement
This day in history

24 February 1981: Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer announce their engagement

On this day in 1981, Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer made their engagement official in front of the world's press at Buckingham Palace.
24 Feb 2021
24 February 1809: Drury Lane theatre burns down
This day in history

24 February 1809: Drury Lane theatre burns down

On this day in 1809, celebrated playwright Richard Sheridan was effectively ruined when the Drury Lane theatre went up in smoke.
24 Feb 2021

Most Popular

Inflation is taking off in the US and markets really don’t like it
Inflation

Inflation is taking off in the US and markets really don’t like it

US inflation is at its highest for 25 years. Stockmarkets – and tech stocks in particular – have taken the news badly. John Stepek explains why, and w…
13 May 2021
Inheritance tax planning: the rules around gifting
Inheritance tax

Inheritance tax planning: the rules around gifting

There are plenty of legal ways to minimise an inheritance tax bill. Perhaps the simplest is to give away assets to reduce the size of your estate. Dav…
11 May 2021
Is it time to top up on gold? Or should you wait for a better opportunity?
Gold

Is it time to top up on gold? Or should you wait for a better opportunity?

Fears of inflation, money-printing and a global pandemic are all conditions that should drive the gold price higher. But it has been struggling. Domin…
12 May 2021