<i>Million Dollar Minute</i> ... Pierre Sutcliffe (aka Voltaire of The Models) can afford to buy a few coffee-makers with his $500,000 cash win.

Million Dollar Minute ... Pierre Sutcliffe (aka Voltaire of The Models) can afford to buy a few coffee-makers with his $500,000 cash win.

A two-time high school dropout and founding member of The Models – who quit the rock group before it became famous – has won a record $500,000 on Channel Seven's Million Dollar Minute.

Pierre Sutcliffe, formerly known as "Pierre Voltaire", credits his daily newspaper habit with what is believed to be the biggest cash win on an afternoon quiz show in Australia.

"When I was a little kid, I'd come home from school, watch The Monkees on TV, then grab my mother's copy of The Herald," says the 55-year-old grandfather. "I've never had a day in my life where I haven't read a couple of newspapers and I'm of course a long-time subscriber to The Age."

Dinner is on me ... Pierre Sutcliffe, his wife Jacqueline Gray (left) and their daughters.

Dinner is on me ... Pierre Sutcliffe, his wife Jacqueline Gray (left) and their daughters.

Sutcliffe quit his oppressively strict Catholic boys school when he was 14 to work in a blind factory, earning barely 50 cents an hour. Disillusioned, he tried the local state school but quit a couple of years later "to go and be a rock star".

He helped form The Models and gave the group its name, but quit due to creative differences. The Models went on to have Top 10 hits with Out of Mind, Out of Sight and Barbados.

A figure in Melbourne's post-punk scene in the early 1980s, he was immortalised as a character in the cult film Dogs in Space, starring the late Michael Hutchence. His character, also named Pierre, was played by rock musician Hugo Race.

Sutcliffe now runs a sporting business, having spent years in the music industry.

"Even if you have a No. 1 hit in Australia, the money doesn't last long," he says. "We make a living [with the sports business] and get by but the super finds are very sparse. Now my family's future looking a million times better – well, half a million times better – than it was a couple of months ago."

Sutcliffe took home the tax-free $500,000 windfall after correctly answering five multiple choice questions on tonight's episode of Million Dollar Minute – his 10th episode.

Only one question threw him: Which word describes political action supported by two groups usually opposed to each other?

"I usually read the questions faster than [host Simon Reeve] is talking because by the time he's finished, you have to pick an answer," he says. "I started reading and I got 'Super PAC' in my head. When it wasn't an option, it completely threw me. My brain just short-circuited under the pressure."

Fortunately, he correctly answered "bipartisan".

To celebrate, Sutcliffe and his wife Jacqueline Gray took their children and their partners out to dinner.

"We went to the pop-up Stokehouse restaurant and for the first time in their lives, nobody had to share an entree," Sutcliffe says. "Not once did Dad have to grab the menu to check the prices and approve everything. That's a milestone in our family's history. Jacqui even ordered French champagne."

He admits that while he was nervous during the taping of the first episode, he soon relaxed, which gave him an edge.

"I just got in the zone, I wasn't aware of the lights or the cameras, and then there are fresh competitors every night and they're nervous, so it was a huge advantage."

Gray, it appears, fretted on his behalf.

"She was far more nervous than I was during filming, but I honestly couldn't have done this without the support of my gorgeous wife. She's been amazing."

As the title of the program makes clear, the ultimate cash jackpot is $1 million. Sutcliffe had the option of playing on for that prize – but would have walked home with $75,000 if he'd lost.

"F---, that would kill me," he says. "You pay off a few credit cards, buy a cup of coffee and it's gone. That's why I pulled the pin."

But even though he now has more than half a million in the bank (his total winnings come to $503,000), he hasn't yet figured out what to do with it.

"We'll probably get a new coffee machine. We're not getting any of the cars gold-plated or diamonds inserted into anything."

Million Dollar Minute airs 5.30pm weeknights on Channel Seven.

mlallo@fairfaxmedia.com.au