Lisa Maxwell: Celebrity vendor on the loose
We challenged Loose Women chatterbox Lisa Maxwell to find out what life is like for Big Issue vendors working in London. She says being ignored on her pitch in Covent Garden was just the first hurdle. But would she manage to make a sale? Read on and find out…
When I start selling the magazine in Covent Garden at 2.40pm, some people are downright rude. I’m not sure whether or not to keep saying ‘Big Issue! Big Issue?’ Especially when people are looking at me like I just asked if they wanted to have sex with me or something. From down the street I see people getting ready to blank me; they spot the red jacket and look away.
I find myself looking for people I can connect with. People who will understand me: not tourists, but ladies who might recognise me from Loose Women. I try to twinkle at various gentlemen but I get blanked by a couple of fit ones – that does wonders for my self-esteem. It also makes me think how I wouldn’t want to be a woman in her 40s, selling The Big Issue on the streets and twinkling at the wrong man.
Maybe it’s easier for me because I’m an actress and I can put on a brave face. I’m used to standing up in front of millions of people and performing. But I’m not used to offering myself up to strangers for validation and being ignored. To be eternally grateful for sales, to have eyes in the back of your head, looking out for who might like you and want to buy a magazine, it’s a hard way to make money.
Before I took up my pitch, I didn’t know anything about The Big Issue. Did you know that vendors buy the magazine for £1.25 and sell it for £2.50, that you can sell the magazine to prevent yourself becoming homeless and that there’s a strict code of conduct all vendors sign up to?
Vendors aren’t drunk, they aren’t off their heads. Of course, there are going to be some people who break the rules, but then there are always those people. If you see a body underneath a pile of clothes in a doorway, that’s a real person with a story. My mentor vendor Paul (pictured below) would rather make a little amount of money the right way than resort to begging.
It’s good, honest graft. Paul tells me about a friend who had someone set fire to him while he was in a sleeping bag on the streets overnight. With that kind of treatment, if someone just disengages or ignores you on the street, I suppose that’s really the best you can hope for.
On the other hand, it’s appalling someone as handsome, sweet, warm and compassionate as Paul can’t afford accommodation because of a lack of housing association properties and extortionate private rental rates. It’s more widespread than you probably realise.
About 10 years ago I took part in a fundraising sleepout with Centrepoint. A homeless girl, who recognised me from The Bill and was a fan, came up to the barricade and I spent the evening talking to her. Not once did she ask me for money or anything else. She was a Catholic girl whose father had abused her and forced her to make some terrible choices, including having her baby taken away from her.
I know we’re in austere times, but experiences like this make you realise that even just a ‘Hello!’ makes a difference. It doesn’t take much to prevent people feeling like they are the dirt on your shoe.
At least I know my shift on the street is going to end. I know when it starts raining that I am going home afterwards. I couldn’t do it for that much longer; I probably would end up being abusive.
So how did Lisa do? I sold 10 magazines! This included one of Paul’s regular customers who he (very kindly) sent my way: Jim Fletcher, development manager at the Royal Ballet School, which is just behind Paul’s pitch. Paul tells me Jim always offers him tickets for the shows and dress rehearsals at the school.
Lisa is an ambassador for youth homelessness charity Centrepoint. “About 10 years ago, Chris Tarrant rang me up and asked if my husband and I would sleep out with him and his wife. ‘Oh, it’s that kind of party!’ I joked. It turned out to be a fundraising sleepout for Centrepoint.” Lisa will be ‘sleeping out’ again on November 8
Photos: Tom Campbell