Three years ago, I made a VICE documentary about Melissa Ede, a trans woman who worked a 60-hour week as a taxi driver in Hull. The film followed her as she prepared to say goodbye to life on Earth and relocate to the planet Mars as part of the Mars One Project – a trip, unfortunately, that she didn't end up qualifying for. Mind you, the film wasn't just about that: it also showed Melissa to be funny, kind and hard-working, and demonstrated how making life better for trans people was really what drove her.
Last month, after buying a scratchcard at a petrol station before her shift, she won £4 million. The news made me cry and my heart fizz, and reminded me that, sometimes, good things happen to good people. This past weekend, I called Melissa up to see how her life has been since the win.
VICE: Mel! It's me, Daisy.
Melissa Ede: Hello, my lovely. How are you doing, stranger?
Can I just say, congratulations! I was so made up, Mel.
It’s unbelievable, really, isn’t it? Only in my world.
Has this made you believe in a higher power or anything? Is this divine intervention?
To be honest with you, I do truly, truly believe it is. If you believe in something enough, you can materialise it. Obviously there has been someone up there helping me. Who knows – none of us will know this until we leave our time on Earth.
It's not a small amount of money, either. I mean, if I won £100,000 I'm pretty sure I'd be swanning around like a big shot.
So far, in cash, I've only spent £20,000 since I won. I'm thinking, 'I've got another £80,000 before I've spent £100,000. Then I’ve got ten of those before I've spent one million, and then I've got four millions' – and it's like, hell, that is a lot of money! Me and my partner still go out shopping for bargains. We'll go into the supermarket and we'll go, 'Ah, we’re not having that, we can get it down the road for cheaper.' We laugh, 'cause we think, 'Why are we even doing this, we're millionaires!' But we might as well save money, mightn't we. The first thing people would normally do is go out and buy a big flash car. I bought a 2011. My friends say, 'Mel, this money hasn’t even changed you.' But why should it? I’m still the same person, but I've got £4 million in the bank – that's not going to change me. It's like, I can’t wait for summer to go round all the car-boots and that, like I normally do, looking for that ultimate bargain, because I enjoy that.
Can you describe the moment you realised you'd won?
I'd gone into the garage, was stood in the queue and I needed cigarettes for the night. I don’t know why, but this scratchcard kept catching the corner of my eye. When I got to the front of the queue, I had the decision to make: do I buy that scratchcard, or do I buy my cigarettes? I don’t know why, but I just said, "I'll have the number one scratchcard please, the £10 one." So I got it, walked out, sat in my car and started scratching away. I'm sat there thinking, 'Please, please be £100.' It was New Year's Eve and I was planning on going to my partner’s to see the new year in. In 25 years I haven't taken a New Year's Eve off because, as a taxi driver, you cant really afford to do it. So I was saying, "Please, please, please be a hundred pound to cover my loss of earnings."
So I scratched it, and I saw a number four with "mil", and I thought, 'No.' I looked at it again and thought, 'That's not real.' I held it up to the car light and I'm thinking, 'That does – that says four mil.' So I jumped out my car, ran back into the garage, cause I knew the woman who was serving, and I just said, "Coleen, you’re not going to believe this, but you’ve just given me £4 million." She said "fuck off" and "let me have a look", and then she tried to pull it off me. I said, "No, you’re not having it!" I ran out, and it's like, 'What do I do next? I need somebody else to see this.' I thought, 'I've got to verify this is real.' So I got the number for the National Lottery claim line, rang it, and that was that. I got through to my partner and said, "You're not going to believe this, but I’ve just won four million pound." She said, "Fuck off, dickhead." So I went to meet her and she saw it herself. We had a fabulous New Year's Eve!
I know it wasn't always easy, was it? What was your life like before you won?
It was survival, that's all it was. I survived. I got through day-to-day, sometimes just living off breakfast cereal. That was my life. Sixteen, 17 hours at work. Work, sleep, get back up and go to work. Just struggle and struggle to pay the bills. That's all it was. Survival. Honestly, how it was, I wouldn’t wish my life on anybody. Work did get very dangerous, because I was known. I’ve been attacked three times over the last few years. Two of them were charged with assault, but each time they got away with a police caution because they’d never been in trouble with the law before.
These were trans hate attacks you were subjected to?
They wouldn’t admit to that, because they knew that was an offence that could put you in prison, so they admitted to the assault only. They wouldn’t admit to the hate. That was hard. But it didn’t stop me being me.
You decided to go public with the win, didn't you, which is fairly rare.
I decided to go public, Daisy, because there was no way on this Earth that I was ever going to keep that quiet anyway. So I told National Lottery that I did want to go public on it. So they arranged the press conference. That was one of the most amazing moments of my life. I’ve never ever felt anything like that. All these people so interested in everything that I was doing. It was an amazing moment. Me being able to tell people my story. It was such a nice time.
Did you go straight to the shops to buy loads of stuff?
No, because at the time I didn’t have any money. The day before the press conference, the lottery people came down to verify everything was right with the scratchcard and check out who I was – background checks, etc. They bring down a private banker of your choice, who sets up the private bank for the £4 million to go into. But because it doesn’t go in immediately I still had absolutely no money. I said, "I haven’t even got anything to wear for the press conference tomorrow," so he said, "What about an overdraft?" I couldn't get an overdraft because my income is so irregular. Up until that day, it was a matter of pounds to get us food, even though I'd won the money. So the banker got me an overdraft. That was the moment, when I got that £800, that I was like, 'Woah, here we go!' We went shopping, got some clothes, then we got McDonald's on the way home.
Did loads of people from your past pop up again after you'd won?
They did, yeah. Sadly, both my parents died last year, so they didn’t see me win. But they’d never even spoken to me before they died. I didn’t even find out they died until after they’d gone, because it was in their wishes for me not to be at the funeral. Quite sad, really, but nothing I can do about that. Since it has been announced, my children have been back in touch. Is it because of the money, or is it because they’re trying to get back in touch? I have left all of them in my will. I made a will because, with that sort of money, if anything happened to me, it wouldn’t go to the places I want to. They have all been thought of. I'm going to take the financial burden off my friends and family, too. I think that’s the beauty of having this money, is being able to help the people that have supported you in their hard times.
So, the big question: are you going to use any of your money to get up to Mars?
Daisy, what I’ve realised since I applied for it is that trying to go to Mars is like trying to put a gerbil in a microwave. I’d just explode and burn up. I’m too young to do that and I enjoy life too much to do that now. Even NASA can’t land on Mars. I might have been a little bit oblivious to it all at that time, but not anymore. I’m not going to be that gerbil.
Plus, you're busy making your mark on Earth.
At the time, I would have done it. I would to have loved to have been the first trans person in space. I would have loved to be the first transgender person to set foot on Mars. Just for the help it could give others in a hateful world. That was my message. But I think my message can go a lot further by staying on Earth and sharing my life with people.