August 20, 2001 12:00 PM

Ray Wragg thinks of it as his Julia Roberts moment. Not long after he and his wife, Barbara, won a tidy £7.6 million—about $10.8 million—in Britain’s national lottery last year, the 63-year-old roofing contractor walked into a Sheffield car dealership with his son and announced he wanted to buy a Range Rover. “Me son had been fishing and had fish slime on his trousers,” says Wragg. “You could see the salespeople turn up their noses. It was like in Pretty Woman,” he adds, recalling the scene in the movie where a badly dressed Roberts is pointedly ignored in a Beverly Hills boutique.

It was also enough to make a guy go out and shop till he dropped, just to prove that he could. But Wragg—who did drive off with a $72,000 Rover after a call to his bank verified “that I have a few quid”—has better things to do with his money. In the 19 months since their lucky numbers came up, he and Barbara, 60, a retired nursing assistant, have given away the bulk of their fortune. The Sheffield Children’s Hospital got $14,000. Underprivileged kids at the city’s Park Hill Primary School got a trip to Disney on Ice, chaperoned by the couple themselves. (“Barbara and Ray have brought color into these children’s lives,” says headmaster Andrew Machell.) A dozen Wragg relations got enough cash to retire early. In all, $7.8 million of the couple’s winnings (which came to them tax free, per British law) has gone toward causes they deemed worthy. “And we’re not done yet,” says Barbara, flashing Ray a grin.

The alacrity with which this pair have divvied up their riches has won them plenty of press in Britain, including a BBC documentary that aired in June. Says Hunter Davies, author of Living on the Lottery, a book about previous British winners: “It is quite normal if you win £7 million to give, say, £2 million away—but only to your nearest and dearest. They are unusual.”

And that fact confounds the Wraggs. After all, it isn’t as if they have deprived themselves. “We aren’t daft,” says Barbara, who along with Ray quit her job shortly after getting the good news. They traded the $46,000 house where they raised their three children for a $586,000 spread in a wealthy Sheffield suburb and have enjoyed three cruises. They’ve also invested $1.4 million.

“But you can’t spend £7 million,” Barbara says. “To me, giving it away is natural.” Adds Ray: “We used to see big winners come on the telly saying how it made them miserable. I’d say, ‘I’ll show you what to do with it. Just give me a chance.’ ”

That chance arrived on Jan. 22, 2000, five years after Ray and Barbara first started shelling out $7 a week on lottery tickets. When they heard their numbers called on the TV drawing, “we went berserk,” says Barbara. They invited their nearby relatives—20 in all—to their house, where the giving started immediately. About $6.4 million went that first night. Recalls their son Shaun, 31, who has since quit his jobs as a roofer and a security guard: “I asked me dad to pinch me, and it hurt for a week.”

The Wraggs, after all, are more familiar with scraping by. Ray and Barbara met in 1955, when she was an intern at a tool-manufacturing company and Ray was repairing the company’s roof. Married in 1961, they labored long hours, Ray at a roofing firm and Barbara on a hospital night shift.

In some ways the couple’s lives haven’t changed. “We could have bought a plane, we could have bought a yacht-but we’ve made people happy, and that’s much better,” Ray says. He and Barbara still cherish time with kids Amanda, 27 (a full-time mom), Mark, 37 (a carpenter turned pro fisherman), and Shaun, along with their five grandchildren. They still drop in at the Norton Country Club near their old home. “Money can spoil people,” says Joan Harrison, a fellow member. “But they are exactly the same.”

Well, not exactly. On Wednesdays and Sundays, when they play the lottery, they now “put down £10 ($14) a session,” says Ray. “We’ve upped the stakes. I like a gamble.”

Kim Hubbard

Eileen Finan and Esther Leach in Sheffield

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