Film

Former Big Issue vendor-turned film star Earl Charlton describes a day in his life

Aside from starring in Someone's Daughter, Someone's Son, Newcastle-based ex-Big Issue vendor Earl played an integral role in getting the film out there. Here, he describes how life has changed since he was sleeping rough

Newcastle-based ex-Big Issue vendor Earl John Charlton

As soon as I open my eyes in the morning, my staffie rescue Paige (below) looks at me. We get up, we go down the Fish Quay. We have a little run and she tells the world her problems.  

I did have beds now and again [when I was homeless], but it wasn’t security. I always thought about the life I’d have to face the next day; whether I’d wake up in a bin shed, or on the streets. It’s nice now, I can wake up in my own bed. It’s great to have my own key, and my own responsibilities, as well – you know, bills. It took a bit of time for me to get adjusted to that. 

I’ve got two jobs. I live above the Quay Taphouse. Every morning I clean the bar for an hour, which pays my rent at the end of the month. I think if you can work an hour a day to put a roof over your head, it’s not a bad call. 

Then I get ready for the day. I head up to North Shields, to YMCA North Tyneside. I support 28 residents, aged 16 to 25. I’ve been in those places so I get them, where other people don’t. For instance, yesterday I could see one of them was agitated. So, I made a roll-up, tapped him on the shoulder and said, let’s go for a walk. By the time we came back, he was laughing. A lot of people can’t do that because they haven’t got the understanding of what they may be going through.  

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It’s great to give the support back. But sometimes I think, what the hell is this? I always was on the outside looking into society. Now I have a nine-to-five. Is this what they call the real world? 

I always saw The Big Issue as employment. I bought the magazines, went out and worked until I sold my magazines. But then to get a bit of structure and stability, a guaranteed wage, you know? Not having to worry what you’re going to make each day was a big step for me. The Big Issue was a stepping stone to freedom to take the leap into that big wide world. 

Earl surrounded by his closest friends

Every Wednesday from four to six, we have the community meal at the YMCA. Families and pensioners come. They can get a hot meal, company and be warm for a little while. Homeless friends come in too. I’m in a position where I can give my experience to those who end up on the streets. It’s getting worse in the north-east, like the rest of the UK.   

I’ve got a new woman in my life. She is so good for me. At the end of my day I go over to hers and chill, and I plan what I’ll be doing for the next week or two. I’ve got a lot going on. Every second Saturday I have my own open mic night called Voice Notes. I’ve got two men’s walk-and-talk groups that I started. To talk about anything, really, as a man is very hard. It’s a safe space for people to say what they want to say without being judged. 

With film producer Claire in matching promo jackets

On 8 February, I’ll be at the global premiere [of Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Son] at the Tyneside Cinema. There’s going to be a lot of Kleenex tissues going about. I can’t believe we’ve sold out two screenings already and added a third, but that’s just the love of the people I have wrapped round me. I’d like to say a big thank you to the North Tyneside and north-east family, we would not have got this distributed without them. Then I’m touring around the UK with the film. In London, Bryan Adams and Colin Firth are supposed to be turning up for the VIP screening.  

When I come back to my place and chill out, if I’m honest, I just put on my Xbox. I’m Division Two in the world now in FIFA. This is a kid who never had a console in his life till 2017. Then I open the skylight and I’ve got the Tyne with the fishing boats. Watching the river go up and down is just lush.   

Someone’s Daughter, Someone’s Son is in cinemas from 16 February. For tickets and screenings, click here

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

To support our work buy a copy! If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.

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