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WHOLE LOTTO LOVE.

Byline: By Marc Baker Wales on Sunday

Wales' first lottery winner last night told how he plans to tie the knot after finding the love of his life on an on-line dating website.

Robert Deakin made headlines when he scooped a pounds 1.8m jackpot in 1996.

But this week, the divorced and retired company director was preparing for one of the most nervous moments of his life as he gets ready to wed his fiancee Rhoda Tyrell.

When Robert - dad to Nichola, Jonathan and Laura - found himself suddenly single following the break-up of his marriage in March last year he took the unusual decision not to tell his new girlfriend that he had struck it lucky some nine years earlier.

But next month, the pair will walk down the aisle following an extraordinary love story which saw them meet via a computer screen.

Robert, 60, who lives in a mansion in Porthcawl, took the decision to find love on the net when his wife Marcia suddenly walked out on him after 34 years together.

Although the pair had just won pounds 1.8m - which bought them a home of their dreams and a passport to sun-kissed holidays around the world - Robert soon realised that money couldn't buy him happiness.

'I looked around at the house that the Lottery win had bought - the beautiful interior, the impressive staircase, the electronic gateway - and had never felt so alone,' said Robert, who recently underwent a kidney transplant.

'I knew in 2004 that things were going seriously wrong with the marriage. Then in August of that year, Marcia left without warning.

'We had been married for 37 years. That night I sat alone and thought hard about my future. I hated the idea of being on my own. But I also had a terrifying vision of a young dollybird hanging off my arm, with a shower of shopping bags over her shoulder.'

Refusing to sit at home, Robert logged onto the website www.directdating.com and entered a description of himself - without mentioning the tiny matter of him being a millionaire.

Then, while at home one day, he received a phone call from 59-year-old, Cardiff mum-of-three Rhoda who nervously told him how she worked as a physiotherapist helping cancer patients.

And the chance call, which later spiralled into romantic dinner dates, could not have come at a better time for Rhoda who was left at 'rock bottom' in 2004 after her husband left her after 34 years of marriage.

'I didn't plan to tell her about my lottery win, but as we were having dinner together Rhoda announced that it was her turn to pay,' said Robert.

'I said I was happy to buy her dinner but she insisted. Perhaps it was then that I realised this woman was not going to be swayed by money.'

And only when the conversation turned to houses did Robert confess that he had bought his semi-detached home with his Lotto loot. But to his surprise, Rhoda didn't ask how much he had won, adding: 'She stayed calm and carried on chatting.'

Next month, the pair will seal their love with a humble wedding ceremony at the fairytale Castell Coch near Cardiff.

Despite his riches, Robert insists the ceremony will be low-key, attended only by a handful of family and friends, before the pair jet off on honeymoon to New England in the US.

'We are having a blessing in church followed by a small family lunch. I am a bit nervous. I don't want a fuss,' said Robert.

'There will only be about 26 people at Castell Coch. It's not in our character to have a big wedding.

'I can't wait to get married. I was very lucky to meet Rhoda as I went on a few disastrous dates before meeting her.'

Today, the Lottery is no longer the most talked about thing in Robert's life as he looks forward to a comfortable life with Rhoda.

And with the experience of winning the Lottery well and truly behind him, he has wise words for Cardiff couple Emma Cox, 28, and Luke Pittard, 23, who have vowed to keep flipping burgers at McDonald's despite scooping a pounds 1.3m Lotto jackpot.

The pair, who met at McDonald's in Pontprennau four years ago, hit the headlines last week after saying they will not give up their jobs for all the money in the world.

'I think it's great for them. My advice would be just enjoy it. You have got to learn by your own mistakes,' said Robert.

'I've managed to keep my feet on the ground. I'm sorry I won as I used to like getting up for work in the morning.

'I only have about half of the pounds 1.8m left now as my ex-wife took the other half, but it means that I don't have to worry and it will allow Rhoda and I to travel a bit more.'

Robert added: 'Rhoda is a very understanding woman and never left my side following my kidney transplant. She visited me every day and is obviously the woman I want to spend the rest of my life with.

'I always thought winning the Lottery was the best thing that happened to me, but I was wrong. Meeting Rhoda changed my whole life.'

marc.baker@wme.co.uk
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Publication:Wales On Sunday (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 23, 2006
Words:891
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