Gogglebox’s Sandra Martin: How The Big Issue turned my life around

Gogglebox star Sandra Martin on how her life as a Big Issue vendor helped her to move on from a troubled past

Sandra Martin was not always the big personality who had the nation glued to their TVs to watch her tune in on her own box. The Gogglebox star, now 54, was left homeless after troubles with alcohol and a short stint in prison saw her lose her one-bedroom London flat. 

But her fortunes turned around in 2009 when Sandra landed at the doorstep of the Big Issue, taking up a pitch as a vendor at Green Park Station in the capital.

Sandra Martin puts on a Big Issue vendor's tabard
Sandra Martin throws on a vendor's tabard for old time's sake

Four years, later she made her debut on hit Channel Four show Gogglebox, embarking on a nine-season journey that would make her a household name across the UK until she left the show in July this year. Here she talks about her journey from the streets to national TV star…

I went to The Big Issue in 2009. I’d done a bit of shoplifting, went to jail and went to rehab for alcohol abuse. You know what I mean? Like people do. I was having a wild little life. My children were all right, by then they were all grown up.

The council came to me after my children left home, offering me money to downsize into a one-bedroom flat. I lost that place when I was in prison in 2007. I wasn’t living on the street when I began selling The Big Issue, but I was homeless and living in a hostel. It was Palace Road hostel for women only.

One day, I saw someone with a copy of The Big Issue in the hostel. I wanted an opportunity to get out there and do something positive instead of drinking, drinking, drinking.

I went to Vauxhall where the head office used to be and said, “Hello, I’m homeless”. I asked if I could sell the magazine. I took in all the requirements and ID, they gave me a badge. It was really quick.

I felt good to wear the badge and sell The Big Issue. That was the start of my luck turning around

When they told me how it worked, I thought it was a great idea. I felt good to wear the badge and sell The Big Issue. They put me on a pitch at Green Park Station in London. Just up the road from the Ritz!

That was the start of my luck turning around. Suddenly lots of good things started happening. I think The Big Issue brought me good luck. Because of The Big Issue I was able to change my life around. It really feels like that.

DID YOU KNOW…

The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.

I never hit rock bottom – I was always hustling, never broke. I was always working. It gave me something to do with my life. I used to dress up in all my best clothes – because my character was the same as it is now. I always dressed up to sell The Big Issue – I put my wig on for the photo for the pass, I was looking all glamour.

I couldn’t wait to sell it – I looked good! It gave me the confidence to go and find work. I can chat for Britain. Everyone knows that. So the work suited me. You can see me at car boot sales – I am good at selling. I used to sell out of Big Issue magazines in a few hours. I was a good seller of The Big Issue –
big time!

Sandra kept her vendor badge from her time selling the magazine in 2009

From being in jail in 2007 for shoplifting to a homeless hostel when I lost my place – I was starting over again. The Big Issue gave me a lot of confidence to do things when I was in a dark place – now I am in the light. I went to AA meetings, then I got a flat in Norwood.

By 2013, I was in a good place. And I was sitting in the Beehive Pub, Queen Bee, Queen of Brixton. Relaxing. It was the right place at the right time. And I was asked to be in Gogglebox. The rest is history! I’m famous now. But it was only four years before Gogglebox started that I was selling The Big Issue. It feels like 15 years ago, so much has happened since.

When I was homeless and lost, The Big Issue helped me so much. That is why I kept the badge as a souvenir

These days, anyone I see selling The Big Issue, I buy it. There is a lady in Brixton I always buy from. And I have helped out in the Brixton soup kitchen at Christmas.

I do homeless work because I know how hard it is, and how important. I have always supported The Big Issue. Sometimes the vendors can’t believe it is really me buying it. I say, ‘I used to be in the same boat. I used to do this. I was homeless.’

I was proud to be a Big Issue vendor. I really was. It felt really good working for you guys. It made me confident. I had a job. When I was homeless and lost, The Big Issue helped me so much. That is why I kept the badge as a souvenir.

It’s good work you’re doing. Big time! Big up everybody who sells The Big Issue all over the country.

Sandra Martin plays the Spirit of the Ring in Aladdin, Magnet Leisure Centre, Maidenhead, from December 9

Sandra Martin and Nisha Anil in Aladdin panto
Panto fun: Sandra Martin stars alongside Nisha Anil in Aladdin this Christmas