The Secret Millionaire


Aug 9, 2006
The Sunday Times UK :

If I were a poor man

The millionaire Charan Gill took up a television challenge to survive with just £10 in his pocket — and change the lives of less wealthy people he met. He found more than he bargained for

I had never heard of Thetford. It turned out it was a small rural town in East Anglia. But that was no help to me — I wasn’t even sure where East Anglia was. Yet here I was, Thetford-bound on a train from Glasgow with £10 in my pocket and no idea what was waiting for me.

The deal was this. I had agreed to take part in a TV documentary called The Secret Millionaire.

The rules were simple. In a strange town I had to survive on £10 until I got myself a job. I had to pay my way — rent, electricity, council tax and food. I would also have to last 10 days, meeting people as I went and learning what I could about their lives.

The aim was to find a few people who, given a little financial help from me, could change the direction of their lives with the proviso they had to deserve and earn it.

For me it was a journey that would allow me to meet some remarkable people, including a man called Morgan who taught me lessons about the value of money and of friendship.

As I headed south I found myself wondering about all the people who are uprooted, especially children leaving home for the first time, and find themselves on a train to somewhere they don’t know. I felt a touch of that when I stepped out of the station at Thetford, a stranger in a strange town carrying a wee bit of paper with the address of where I was meant to stay. At least I had that.

My first instinct when I arrived was to jump in a taxi. It’s what you do, isn’t it? But the driver told me it was £3 to the town centre. That meant I’d have only £7 left and I had to eat, get to work in the morning and have lunch.

There was no option: I lugged my suitcase the half mile into town, where I’d been told I’d find a job agency willing to help me find work.

Thetford turned out to be a pleasant surprise — an archetypal little English town with lots of flower-filled hanging baskets. But there were no black people, no Chinese, no Asians. It was white. I thought to myself: this is strange.

But the next day I was sitting on a bench watching the world go by and listening to the voices of people who passed. I realised how many were not speaking English. The place was full of Russians, Lithuanians, Poles and Portuguese — people who had travelled a long way to better themselves.

In the interview at the job agency I knew exactly what their first question would be: what was I willing to do? I had my answer ready: “Anything.” The next day the agency had a job for me in a small factory and I signed up on the understanding I would be paid at the end of my shift.

Work sorted, I set off to find where home was going to be for the next 10 days. I wasn’t worried that I had become too comfortable in my life to do something like this. I live in a very nice house in Pollokshields, but I don’t forget where I’m from — a wee village in the Punjab — and what things were like for me when I was a young man in Glasgow.

The flat I had been assigned was not as bad as it might have been. It was in a council estate called Abbey Farm, known locally as The Abbey, which reminded me of Easterhouse or Drumchapel. I was on the first floor of a walk-up and it was basic: a couch, table and single bed.

Getting used to the bed was one of the worst things. I hadn’t slept in a single bed for a long time and to add to my difficulties it was on wheels and the floor was covered in lino. Every time I turned over, the bed skidded across the floor.

That first evening I found a small shop run by Asians and I bought Pot Noodle, cold meat, bread and some milk. It left me with £2.60, but it meant I could eat that night, in the morning and make something for lunch.

Making my sandwiches I felt like I did in my twenties when I worked at Yarrow’s shipyard on the Clyde, where I was a turner fitter. In those days I lived on Spam.

The bus to work left at 7.10am and cost £2.50. I had 10p to my name.

My workplace was a packing plant for nuts and dried fruit and I spent the day shifting 25kg bags of raisins and peanuts. It was hard work that used muscles I didn’t know I had.

The workforce was all women. There was a granny, the wee girl who was just about to go on honeymoon and a girl whose husband had just left her.

I found something was different about the way I was talking to them. Because my focus was getting to know people, I was actually paying attention for a change.

We don’t do that in life. You ask people how they are and you don’t really care.

Still, I didn’t get the feeling these people needed my help. They had the wee problems that people everywhere have, but they were getting along fine.

I started to get a bit disillusioned about why I was there. Did these people really need my money? Was this going to be just another reality TV show rather than a programme that said something about the nature of charity?

That night in my flat I had plenty of time to think about it. There was no telly, so I sat there, read The Sun and had an early night.

With my £40 wage packet after the first day I allowed myself one luxury: a can of Stella Artois. In my normal life in Glasgow, if I’d had a good day, I’d go home and have a bottle of champagne. That can of lager, though, was better than any champagne: it hit the spot.

My second day was at a scrap merchant’s and the workers were blokes.

There was the young boy whom I helped brush the yard and two Lithuanian brothers who could pick up fridges like they weighed nothing. I had to help them separate the junk into piles of plastic, metal and so on.

Then there was Morgan, who was about to become a friend. He was operating a machine that crushed metal into a small cube. He asked me about my life and I told him I was down from Glasgow and didn’t know how things would pan out.

He asked about my family and I told him my wife and kids were in Glasgow and I wasn’t sure if she was going to join me. He nodded and told me he wouldn’t ask any more.

Then I learnt something about his life. His name was Morgan Lennox and he was 43 years old. He’d been married, but his wife had left him 10 years ago and moved with their three children to Thetford. He had given up everything to move close to them.

I realised he had done in real life what I was pretending to do.

He took me under his wing and his kindness was boundless. He asked if I had a radio at my flat. When I said no he said he had a spare he’d let me have and he promised me some books.

This was an intelligent guy who was well read, and he was worried about me. He said he knew how hard it was to come home at night and sit alone. This was touching — but he was just another guy to me. I couldn’t really see how I could make a difference in his life.

Despite his kindness I had an unkind view of him. Morgan seemed like a classic loser — he had lost his wife and kids and had followed them around the country, did a dead-end job and worked part-time in a charity bookshop. You would walk past him in the street and not notice him.

This was a proud man, but he went through life expecting nothing would ever happen to him. That was his lot and he had to deal with it.

Then I went to his home. It was a tiny council flat with a loft, and a different side to him opened up to me. He had thousands of books. They were everywhere — under the beds and in the kitchen cupboards.


Aug 9, 2006
He had been buying them for years in the hope of starting a second-hand book shop on the internet. On a desk there was a computer, but it must have been the first one ever made and it had long since stopped working. Once a month his three children — Nathan, 13, Mark, 11, and Ashleigh, 9 — stayed with him in the cramped flat. Their father had only once taken them on holiday — to nearby Bury St Edmunds. He felt he had let them down.

The house was a shrine to the children. He would give them putty as a present and they would make little animals and figurines for him. As he showed me all this I was in tears.

That night we went down to a kebab shop and he said he would buy mine because he had a tenner in his pocket. I argued, saying I could buy my own kebab.

“No,” he said. “You’ve got your rent to pay.” I was moved. All I’d done was take the time to get to know someone — something we usually forget to do.

My cover held throughout my 10 days, although Morgan had his suspicions. He said to me: “You’re an intelligent guy, are you sure you’re a waiter?” So I told him no, I was an assistant manager. That satisfied him.

On the last day it was time to reveal who I really was, and I was nervous. You can’t just walk up to someone and say: “I’ve been lying to you.” You don’t know how they will take that.

I went to Morgan’s house in my suit and told him how Thetford had affected me, how pleased I’d been to meet him and how through him I had learnt many things. That included how fortunate I was to have a family around me and had the ability to provide for them.

I explained how grateful I was he had looked after me and I wanted to thank him. I told him I wanted to help him with his internet business. I added that I was a businessman and, for the sake of

the programme, I had to use the word I don’t like to use: millionaire. It’s not a comfortable word, but nothing else would do. I couldn’t just say I’d done well in life, because an assistant manager can have done well in life.

I held out a cheque for £1,000 and told him it would buy him a laptop, scanner and digital camera. He said no, he wouldn’t take it. He was upset.

I said to him: “Morgan, remember when you took me to that kebab shop and bought me dinner and I accepted it from you?” I told him this wasn’t charity, I was helping him in the same way he had helped me, giving him an opportunity to start something in his life.

Morgan thought about it and to my relief said: “Well, when you put it like that . . . £1,000 for you must be like a few quid for me.”

In reality the kebab he bought me cost almost half his spare cash for that week. He had given me more than I was giving him.

The situation with his children and the fact he had never been away with them on holiday made me realise how fortunate I was to have been able to take my kids on holiday.

I told him I was going to give him £1,000 for each of them — £4,000 in all — to have a great holiday. His reaction was of bafflement. How could he spend four grand on a holiday? With that kind of money, he said, he could go all over Norfolk.

No, Morgan, I told him. You don’t want to go to Norfolk, you want to go somewhere abroad.

There were other people I helped as well. A wonderful foster mother called Christine was trying to get a childcare business off the ground. I paid her £10,000 to look after the children of two local single mums so they could fulfil their dream of going out to work.

Then there was Maria and Paolo, a Portuguese couple who owned a coffee shop and restaurant where I washed dishes. I gave them £15,000 to extend their restaurant.

I knew this programme could be controversial. Some people might think we were playing God. I suppose any kind of philanthropy is going to take that risk, because you are changing people’s lives. But it is also quite a humbling experience.

I’ve kept in contact with Morgan. He’s getting a bank account set up and a modem is being delivered next week for his laptop. I want to stay in touch and do what I can to help his internet business.

Recently I asked him, what about the holiday? “Well,” he said, “we’ve been thinking about that and we’re maybe going to Holland.”

Holland! Why not take them to Disney World, I suggested, they will absolutely love it and they’ll remember it for ever.

Morgan said he had never thought of that and promised to go away and discuss it with his children. He might even go. We’ll see.

As told to Kenny Farquharson

The Secret Millionaire will start on Channel 4 on November 29, 9pm. Gill’s episode will be shown on December 13

Beach Bum

Feb 17, 2006
WOW! This looks AMAZING!!!!!!!!!..I love how this guy learned from others and helped them


in the untamed rabbit hole
May 25, 2006
has anyone seen the first episode with the father/son and then the baton rouge couple? i know the show tries to pull at your heartstrings, but if it can make anyone open their eyes and see that life is not all about material things and that there are still decent people out there that help others in need, then i'm watchin'


Quite contrary
Jan 3, 2007
I've seen a few of these and it does go quite close to being complete patronising BS. It can be a life changing experience for everyone involved but this particular scenario doesn't sound like that which is a shame as I quite like the programme.


Ibu to 3 Lovely Nurs
Apr 14, 2006
Midwest USA
I have been watching it since it first showed last week..It is a good reality show. I have been wondering how much are these millionaires worth now in this current economy since this show was taped in March 08?

Ashleigh Lennox

New Member
Aug 28, 2010
Hi every body, I found this website when I searched my dads name out of curiosity, I'm Ashleigh Lennox and I thought i'd tell all those interested that we did end up going to Holland and it was absolutely fabulous, I also thought i'd mention that my brothers name is Marcus not Mark.