The first cover asked a simple question – Why don’t the homeless just go home? This challenging, confrontational no-nonsense start set the marker for all that was to follow. Through revolutionary salespeople to establishment-confronting content, The Big Issue would not be like any other magazine. The ball was rolling.
The world came knocking for an interview with the secretive, chaotic Stone Roses. Their second album had been five years in the making and they had tales to tell. But the Madchester kingpins refused everybody and gave their interview to The Big Issue. The reprint sales boost was a catalyst for growth and catapulted the title into national consciousness.
The Big Issue has always campaigned for those without a voice. We speak up when others won’t. The fight to allow homeless people to exercise their democratic right had a positive effect. Even if you have no fixed abode you can now register to vote in Britain. Our other campaigns in the intervening years – such as Make Heat Fair – would also enjoy success.
The reluctant superstar was also a reluctant interviewee. The object of huge attention, gossip and rumour he decided that The Big Issue was the place to finally talk openly about his sexuality and the pressures of fame. He would chose The Big Issue first in subsequent years.
The May 1997 Labour landslide was looming. Tony Blair, before Iraq, was a figure of hope. But that didn’t mean he couldn’t be challenged to stand up for the poorest. This was a cover that showed The Big Issue was a cross-party political agitator. Our place remains to speak for the underdog, to give the voiceless a voice.
Shane Richie was flying high. A British celebrity with a certain cachet he was offered a lot of money to sell the rights to his 40th birthday party. With incredible chutzpah he snubbed his nose at the rest, took £1.10 from The Big Issue (£1 for him and 10% for his agent) and created a wonderful moment and memory.
A box-fresh new PM, David Cameron (he was the future once) looked early to The Big Issue – as the four previous number 10 inhabitants had done over the lifetime of the magazine. He came as guest editor, bringing Michelle Obama and plans for the Big Society (remember that?). An interesting time.
Over the years, access to big names has been a Big Issue keystone. As has our ability to have them show support by taking part in publicity stunts and eye-catching promos. With the help of guest editor Trudie Styler, Iron Man Robert Downey Jr donned the iconic red Big Issue tabard and posed. A great moment. He would not be the last.
To mark his 70th birthday, Paul McCartney came to The Big Issue to show another side. Macca gave us his Letter to My Younger Self, the blue ribbon main interview feature we carry in every edition. He told us about the same dream he and Lennon had had independently before they formed The Beatles. A brilliant story that then went global.
The horrific double murder of Big Issue sellers Ian Watson-Gladwish and Wayne Lee Busst, knifed to death as they worked in Birmingham in January 2013, shocked Big Issue vendors, staff, customers and readers. We knew we had to find a way to pay tribute and also to allow in some ray of light. Our vendors, for so many in Britain a vital part of their communities, provided our anchor and inspiration.
When the idea of an exclusive Christmas story was floated with old friend of The Big Issue Irvine Welsh, his mind moved to Begbie, the dark heart of Trainspotting. Along came He Ain’t Lager. And this, says Welsh, “enthralled” him. He was inspired to follow on to a novel, The Blade Artist, and further to the sequel to Trainspotting, due in cinemas next spring. All sparked by The Big Issue.
To celebrate Christmas, the time most focus is on our vendors, we decided to make them central on the biggest selling edition of the year? Putting just one vendor the cover is unfair. Getting hundreds is impossible, isn’t it? Not if you have the creative genius Charis Tsevis who crafted hundreds of vendor faces into one of Santa. A wonderful image, a big selling, award-winning cover.
As hit TV show 24 returned with a series set in London, we were inspired to show what 24 hours on the street REALLY looked like – through the eyes of a Big Issue vendor. The feature was moving, visceral and a reveal that readers would not discover anywhere else. A great Big Issue combination.
Celebrated artists and photographers have collaborated frequently with The Big Issue over the last quarter of a century. On this cover Ralph Steadman, with typical cheek and elan, commented on the state of the political landscape AND predicted the surge in UKIP and all that would follow. Sometimes you can’t argue with the simple potency of an image.
On the centenary of 1914 we wanted to focus on the those who return from serving their country with life changing injuries – to pay tribute and let them know they weren’t forgotten. We worked with Bryan Adams to use this incredible image of Sgt Rick Clement. It would go on to win the prestigious PPA Award as Magazine Cover of the Year in 2015.
We wanted an image that dominated the cover, but had something about it - a cheek, a look in the eye, that spoke of a different side of his character; the human beneath the global icon. Louise Haywood-Schiefer nailed it. This cover was being planned as the Syrian refugee crisis was beginning to break. The Dalai Lama’s position as a refugee from China is no secret. Our line, therefore, would be simple but loaded. A great Big Issue cover – a huge name, a line that spoke of a bigger global issue, but locked into something different for us. All with a bit of cheek.
David Bowie’s death early in 2016 shocked the world. The cover called for simplicity, elegance and imagery that made it immediately identifiable. We revisited a wonderful interview from the archives – an interview that dealt a lot with mortality – and stripped components right back. We’re grateful to Brian Duffy for making it so easy to get the rights to his iconic image. It’s a cover that draws you in time and time again.
Selling so many copies of the magazine was a landmark moment. It illustrated the incredible position The Big Issue has for Britons and also amplified the positive influence on the lives of so many – vendors and readers. Ben Eine, a wonderful artist who straddles the street and high office (he is one of Obama’s favourite Brit artists), created this immediate classic.
Britain is on the precipice. Will it jump into Brexit, or stick? How do you illustrate content that seeks to pick fact from fiction from a fractious, epoch-changing vote? By making the mocking up the main protagonists as Abba, making a cheap pun and have them singing Knowing Me Knowing EU. A Big Issue cover that seeks to stand out, challenge and raise a smile.
The landmark 25th birthday, celebrating a generation of change. Led by PM Theresa May saluting The Big Issue and exclusively unveiling a new homelessness funding packing, an array of big names from across politics, music, the arts and business joined us in toasting 25 years of a publishing revolution. This included Nicola Sturgeon, Sadiq Khan, Daniel Radcliffe, Andy Murray, Julie Walters, Christopher Eccleston, the Dalai Lama, and many more.
He’s faced down poverty, homelessness, tragic loss and cancer – but earlier this year Big Issue vendor William Herbert headed into the House of Commons to see the Queen as a guest of Big Issue founder Lord John Bird for the official State Opening of Parliament. Here, we looked at this incredible story, and more about William's journey from homelessness and prison to the Palace of Westminster.