Newsmaker: Lottery upstart - Craig Freeman, Managing director,Chariot

Helen Barrett

With the first draw of the new charities lottery, monday, less than a week away, Craig Freeman is suffering from sleep deprivation.

The Australian has enjoyed a remarkable rise from door-to-door encyclopaedia salesman in Australia to managing director of Chariot, organiser of the new lottery.

Chariot wants to raise £150m a year for charities by paying 30 per cent of ticket sales directly to 70 partner charities within weeks of the draw.

If monday reaches its target, it will raise more money than the annual voluntary income of the UK's second biggest charity, the National Trust.

Door-to-door selling may seem like an unlikely training ground for running a lottery, but Freeman insists it was a useful grounding. "I would recommend it to anyone as a first job," he says. "You learn so much so quickly about what people want."

He discovered his zeal for social enterprise when he and his brother set up a company called Neighbourhood Cable, which took television and telephone cables to rural towns in Australia. "The infrastructure we found was 75 years old," he says. "Once we got the infrastructure going, we were able to change people's lives."

The brothers ran the company for seven years before it succumbed to the dotcom bust in 2000. Two years later, Freeman moved to the UK, where he teamed up with a friend called Suzie Counsell, a former charity fundraiser.

It was Counsell, now a non-executive director of Chariot, who came up with the idea for monday. In 2003, Freeman began trying to persuade charities to become partners.

"It was hard to motivate them when they had seen so many other initiatives come and go," he says. "Charities have been burnt in the past with fundraising ideas that have failed."

Freeman eventually cultivated interest from about 300 charities, and signed up the most enthusiastic 70.

Early attempts to raise capital for the venture were difficult. "There was a reluctance to invest in the gaming industry," he says. "Gaming was seen as an investment for fly-by-nights."

The breakthrough came in 2005, when the success of online gambling sites such as Party Gaming whetted investors' appetites.

At the same time, Freeman approached Tim Holley, who was chief executive of Camelot from 1993 to 2001, and coaxed him out of retirement to become Chariot's chairman.

Holley had supervised Camelot's successful bid to launch the National Lottery in 1994. "Tim didn't take much persuading," says Freeman. "Offering lottery players the option to choose which cause their money goes to was something Camelot had examined in the early days. It was something Tim had wanted to do, so he was very interested in our model."

Freeman is fascinated by the public's relationship with the National Lottery. "There was no lottery here until 1994, so there was all this pent-up demand," he says. "There was concern about morality, so the justification was the 'good causes' element - it was almost a way of assuaging guilt."

He says that although he admires the National Lottery it has invited criticism with some of its "questionable" grants. "You'd have to have been sleeping under a rock to think that ordinary people are happy with every grant it makes," he says. "It's our job to capitalise on that dissatisfaction.

We aim to take lottery playing back to how the National Lottery was originally sold to the public."

Monday's success will depend on sales, but Freeman is keeping the figures close to his chest. He prefers to talk about how Chariot has brought its charity partners together. "It's great to see the enthusiasm," he says.

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