My EXCLUSIVE interview with big-winning, record-setting game show LEGEND David Poltorak – Part 9

After his amazing Sale of the Century win, David made arrangements to watch his last episode with some friends at a pub in Taylor Square, and it turned into quite the occasion! He had, however, neglected to invite his parents….

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SH: They were living in Sydney? They could have gone?

DP: Well, they were divorced. They could have gone, but they just weren’t pub people. And I’d never done anything with them socially. My father at that stage had a second wife who was basically a Polish mail-order bride who I did not get on with. I mean, the big drama in my life with my father – because I was raised by my father – was leaving home. When I left home, my father was shattered. I left home in 1974 when my father returned to Poland, for his first trip back since coming here in 1950. And I did it then because I feared for my life if I tried to leave while he was here, because he had threatened to kill me if I tried to leave home.

SH: Really?

DP: Yeah, bit of backstory: my dad was a single father, raised my two sisters and I from when we were quite young, no mean feat back then. He was loving and a good provider but he had a violent temper and was very controlling. And when he came home in 1974, and found out I wasn’t there, and that I’d dropped out of uni at the same time… well, it was traumatic for him as well as for me. I remember the first time I saw him after this all happened – he just suddenly seemed much older. It was like my leaving home just knocked the stuffing out of him. And he was bitter and angry. He burned everything of mine that was at home. I had lots of books and all my schoolwork, my university work, you know, model aeroplanes. I had this vision of him making a bonfire and just burning everything. It was kind of like, I was gone.

SH: Jeez.

DP: It was all very sad. We had a very troubled relationship. And so, when the show went to air, I went to my father’s place one night to watch an episode, and I went to my mother’s place one night to watch an episode. And I think I told him at that stage that I was going to watch the last episode in a pub with some friends. And that’s all it was; it wasn’t like some big event. And everybody seemed fine about that. But, you know, I was thoughtless with my father. When I went around to his place, I didn’t even take anything to drink. I mean, he wasn’t a drinker, but I should have taken a bottle of champagne. And I didn’t. And then when I got there, his wife had made a banquet! Like a celebratory banquet…

SH: Just for you.

DP: Just for the fact that I was coming to watch the show with them. And it was like, “Oh, f***.” I didn’t realize what impact this was going to have on them. And I learnt later they were really hurt that I hadn’t bought a bottle of champagne. But I just thought I was going over there for chops!

SH: Right.

DP: And then after the win, I was being rung up by radio stations. The morning after my winning show went to air, I was woken by Alan Jones ringing me! (I hardly got a word in, though; it was just Alan Jones going on about how I demonstrated what you could do if you pulled yourself up by your bootstraps, blah, blah, blah…)

SH: While we’re on the subject of publicity after your big win… I also found this magazine cover, from a magazine called Express!

SH: You’re the “star of the century,” apparently! Can you talk us through this?

DP: Well, that was a little arts magazine that the wife of some wealthy businessman had poured money into. And they said, “We’d like to do a story on you.” I said, “Fine, great. You know, let’s, let’s do it.” But this was another source of tension; my new girlfriend was really miffed that they wouldn’t put her on the cover with me. She was very attractive, well I thought so. But they chose this model. And she was just some Norwegian woman who was very dour and hardly spoke any English… or at least she didn’t speak any English to me! But once the camera was on, she just suddenly came alive. It was like, wow, she was made to be photographed.

SH: Yeah.

DP: So, the little bits of publicity that I had, like that magazine cover and newspaper articles, all fed back into the idea in my father’s mind that the fame was going to my head.

“First page of an article I wrote for ‘Good Weekend’, shortly after my win.” (Photo: supplied).

“From a ‘Woman’s Day’ article on quiz show winners.” (Photo: supplied).

SH: Right.

DP: He went from being elated for my win to being depressed about it. It was very odd.

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There’s no doubt that a big win like this is life-changing; not just for the person who wins it, but for their family, too. It’s a fraught and delicate time, mixing family, money and fame… and David and I explore this in a bit more detail as our discussion continues in next week’s instalment.

Until then, then! 

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