The streets of West London bellowed with the sound of ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ on Monday morning as mourners gathered to pay respects to former Big Issue vendor Darren James who died in an alleyway near Goldhawk Road Station in December 2017.
The memorial, attended by M People’s Heather Small and The Voice contestant Peter Donegan among others, saw mourners lay single roses at the spot where Darren was found dead. His sister, Jen Roberts, organised the tribute following the release of a charity single of the Hollies ballad featuring both Small and Donegan, as well as Peter Andre, Atomic Kitten’s Natasha Hamilton, Alexander O’Neill, Errol Reid and Patti Boulaye.
After the roses were laid, the group burst into an impromptu A Capella version of the song that reverberated through the alleyway and out onto Goldhawk Road.
Darren used to sell The Big Issue in Bournemouth. Unfortunately, he fell on hard times after moving to London and died shortly afterwards, aged 49. Even though his identity and family contacts were on his person at the time, his family weren’t informed about his death until March 2018. He had been rough sleeping in the capital for two years.
His sister said the idea for the charity single came from Darren’s love of the song; a song he always wanted to record himself. The single is raising money for Jen’s charity Homeless Worldwide, the Salvation Army and Shelter.
She said: “I don’t want the loss of the life of my brother to be another life wasted. Darren was truly loved by everyone. His humour, good nature and kindness will live on with this single.
“It was always his dream to one day record it in a studio and release it. Now that dream has posthumously come true.”
Big Issue founder Lord John Bird, who was in attendance, said: “I’m here in solidarity with Darren James, who unfortunately died right here in December 2017.
“It’s a great tragedy that this young me should fall so low and fall into such need. We really do have to be supporting people.”
Peter Donegan, currently coached by The Voice judge Tom Jones, told The Big Issue that Darren’s story is all too familiar and that’s why he taken part in the charity single.
“There isn’t enough support. They’re competing for places in shelters and hostels,” he said. “I think any extra help that they can get to find shelter, especially on freezing night. It could be one of us one day. These people have so much more to give.”
The single is available to buy on iTunes here