The man who lost £2m in an afternoon

Harry Findlay © Getty images
Findlay: backing the wrong horse can be a very painful experience

As someone who’s had the occasional flutter, I’ve known the pain of big losses – including one that ran into four figures. However, I’m not in the same league as professional gambler Harry “The Dog” Findlay. He has enjoyed wins of £20m while gambling on games and races that “enthralled him” and he has met his sporting heroes – from Roger Federer and Martina Navratilova to Lester Piggott and Jimmy White, says Donald McRae in The Guardian. Findlay, who has recently published his memoirs, will however be most remembered for losing a multi-million-pound bet on the result of the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

Having put £2.5m on the All Blacks to win, “he booked a box at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff to watch them romp home in a quarter-final”. Initially it looked like they were going to win and, by half time, “Findlay called for more champagne” believing he was one step closer to a windfall “that would look after [wife] Kay, himself and their daughters for years”. However, while stepping out to have a cigarette, he had a moment of self-doubt, realising he had better cover himeself. So he bet £18,000 on a French victory, cutting his liability to £1.9m.

Sadly, this wasn’t enough, as a late French comeback and a dubious refereeing decision ensured that “two million pounds were torched”. Worse, Findlay wasn’t the only one to end up out of pocket. “Having listened to Findlay for weeks”, his gardener, who wasn’t normally a gambler, “left an ice-cream tub on the gambler’s desk”. Findlay opened it “and found £28,000 in ice-cold cash” – the money saved from a lifetime’s work tending plants and cutting lawns. Amazingly, the gardener “was really philosophical” about the result, helped by the fact that he made some of it back by betting on eventual winners South Africa.

A lesser man – or one with more common sense – would have quit gambling then and there. But four years later Findlay had recovered enough to be able to bet £230,000 on New Zealand to beat France in the final. This time the All Blacks managed to hang on – by a single point. Findlay admits that, in retrospect, this probably wasn’t the wisest approach to risk management. Indeed, instead of celebrating his victory, “I sat for 40 minutes in the steam thinking: one penalty and I’d have lost 200 grand and a big chunk of my wealth”, he admits.

His most painful loss was yet to come. In an attempt to move away from gambling, he decided to become an impressario, buying Coventry’s famous greyhound racing track. Despite putting on “sensational” races, he was unable to turn a profit. By the time he decided to throw in the towel, he’d “lost the family everything and put £1.7m down the drain”. Indeed, at one point, the former multi-millionaire admits he “didn’t have the train fare to see my mum”.

Despite these problems, “the battered old gambler is still working” and Findlay boasts that he has “won over £250,000 in the last two years betting on small stakes”. Where Findlay is concerned, small is relative: he recently staked more than £30,000 on the result of the Mayweather vs McGregor fight.

Tabloid money… the dress that plunges lower than The X-Factor’s ratings

• “Like all rational people, I feel very sad when I see fully grown men and women cycling to work,” says Jeremy Clarkson in The Sun. “It’s unfair that these people have been reduced to commuting on children’s toys. But I have no sympathy for those who choose to ride on folding Brompton bicycles, because they are not children’s toys”. They cost up to £1,700, and for that sort of money you could have “a very nice Ford Fiesta”. The only reason why people take Bromptons into the office is to make a point: “I am mad”.

• “Congratulations to 52-year-old Dame Natalie Massenet on the safe arrival of her baby boy, Jet Everest,” says Rachel Johnson in The Mail on Sunday. The founder of designer website Net-a-Porter, who has a self-made £100m fortune, credits, in her words, the “most generous help” of a surrogate for her latest delivery (“proving the best things in life are not always free”). “Blessings on them all”, but Johnson is just grateful that her youngest child finally turned 21 last week.
“I am looking forward to long rambles, growing veg… and grandchildren. I wouldn’t (and couldn’t) have a new baby, not for all the tea in China.”

• The most controversial thing on telly this year, according to Ofcom, was the dress that panel judge Amanda Holden wore on the semi-final of Britain’s Got Talent. The watchdog received 879 complaints, “making the saucy excuse for a frock” (yours from Julien Macdonald for just £11,250) even more controversial than Vic Reeves waving his fake penis before the nine o’clock watershed and Russell Brand’s potty mouth on Comic Relief, says Tony Parsons in The Sun on Sunday. “I thought Amanda looked lovely. Mind you, the last time [Britain’s Got Talent judge] Simon Cowell saw anything plunge like that, he was looking at the ratings for The X Factor.”