It’s November 1986, and David Poltorak has just set a Guinness World Record, by winning $376,200 worth of cash and prizes on Sale of The Century. Some friends were there to witness his incredible victory, and one of them suggested he book the plush Robert Menzies Suite at Melbourne’s 5-star Windsor Hotel that night…
============================================================== SH: The Robert Menzies Suite?!
DP: Yeah. But he wasn’t in.
DP: And we had this wild party that night, with everything being put on other people’s credit cards. (I made good when I got the money). But it felt like money suddenly didn’t matter anymore, which of course is easy to say when you’ve got more than you need. I called my parents to let them know. And they were just overwhelmed and stunned at the news. My father, in typical fashion, thought I was calling to tell him that someone had died.
SH: Okay. No, it was much better news than that! Did you have a partner at the time, someone who you could share all this with?
DP: I’d been single for ’86, for most of that year. I’d broken up with a girlfriend the year before that. And I’d had a long-term girlfriend before that. So, I was sort of footloose and fancy-free.
SH: Cool. And so then you’re in limbo because it’s about two weeks between the recording of the show and the show going to air, isn’t it?
DP: It was a month.
SH: Wow. And you’re sworn to secrecy, so how did you handle that limbo period of a month?
DP: Well, they said ‘look, you’ve got media connections; just make sure it doesn’t get into the media. You can tell your friends and family, but just don’t broadcast it beyond that’. But I remember going into my local cafe the next day, and everybody suddenly giving me a rousing round of applause! This was like, eight or nine o’clock the next morning. The word was well and truly out!
SH: Haha! And obviously, you don’t get the cash until the show goes to air. So, in that month, did you go back to work? Did you go window shopping? Did you fantasize about all the stuff you’re going to buy?
DP: Yes, I needed to borrow money from friends for that period because I didn’t feel like doing any actual work. My head was just not in that space; my feet were off the ground! So, I borrowed some money but I assured everybody I was good for it. My big concern was – I just thought ‘I hope Channel Nine doesn’t burn down!’
DP: Because if the show doesn’t go to air, you don’t get your winnings. But in that month, the suppliers of all the prizes I won along the way started delivering them. My unit became crammed with boxes of stuff. And one of my prizes, for instance, was Nikon camera gear. Four cameras, including an underwater camera, tripod, slide projector lenses… and there was a coffee machine, I won a luxury watch from the gift shop, I got a lounge suite, which was great. And the cars! I had to make decisions about the cars. I live in King’s Cross (a high density, urban part of Sydney) and I had two cars on the street that I just didn’t need. And I rang my father and said, “Dad, I’ve got a car which I don’t need. Would you like a Camira? And he said “What do I need with another car? I’ve already got my car. Thanks anyway.” So, I advertised it. And contractually, you weren’t allowed to say that you’d won it on a particular show; the public can’t know that you’re offloading something you won on Sale of the Century. So I sold it privately for 10 grand, although it was probably worth 18 or 20 at that stage. Then the next week, I get a call from my dad; “Ah, son, you know that car you offered me? Mine has just been stolen.”
SH: Oh no!
DP: One of the painful things about it was my father’s response in the months after my win. Initially, he was elated. Because I was no longer (his favourite catchphrase) “My son the bum”. Delightful, thank you, dad. But in the days after I won, my dad’s calling me; “Son, this is incredible, I can’t sleep!”
SH: Oh, that’s nice.
DP: Yeah, he was so excited by it all. But then I think the reality set in that it didn’t actually mean anything to him, you know, and he then went the polar opposite and became really embittered. And very, very negative.
SH: Why? Did he think that “you hadn’t worked hard for it”? Or that “you hadn’t earned it,” somehow?
DP: Well, I think he felt that my life had changed. And, although we never sat down to discuss it, I think he felt the difference it made to me would somehow make a difference to him.
DP: I was a university dropout. So I had been a disappointment. And I think the fact that I was on TV kind of turned his head a bit. You know, it was…
SH: A big deal.
DP: I did some silly things. I mean, I had a party in a pub for the last episode.
SH: Is that Deborah Conway in the background?
DP: Deborah Conway, Martin Armiger next to her, and out of shot the Japanese pop band Sandii & the Sunsetz, who happened to be in town. I’m wearing the clothes I wore on the final episode. That’s at a pub at Taylor Square. A friend had said “You should have a party in a pub so we can watch it on the big screen.” And I said, “Yeah, that’s a good idea.” So, this friend organized it all. And I really didn’t have any concept of how big it would be. I thought I’ll just have a bunch of friends. It just did not occur to me to invite my parents….
… which I’m sure you’ll agree is understandable…
but next week, we’ll see the consequences of that decision.
(Spoiler alert: they may not turn out to be entirely 100% positive.)