Why buying The Big Issue was better than winning the lottery
From filming George Clooney to having a life-changing moment with a Big Issue vendor, Matt Callanan recalls a surreal day that led to him discovering a jackpot
by: Matt Callanan
25 Nov 2021
Matt with his Big Issue vendor Steffan.
Five years ago, I won BIG on a scratchcard.
It was a very lucky, very surreal day. A client of my video production company was filming interviews with high-profile people encouraging young people to get involved with social causes. Long story short, I ended up in George Clooney’s summer house – which was bigger than my house – then as we were packing up, George brought in Bill Murray who just happened to be visiting. He is my ultimate hero.
On the way back to Cardiff I bought a scratchcard. I was feeling really lucky, I was in the zone! The first two numbers were £250,000, so in my head it was definitely going to happen.
I ended up winning £20 instead. At first I was really disappointed but I’d had an amazing day and thought this is a sign, I should do something worthwhile with the money.
I didn’t know what to do until I saw Steffan selling The Big Issue magazine in Cardiff Bay. I’d occasionally buy him lunch along with the magazine. I said to him: pack away your magazines and come with me. We went into the supermarket, I gave him a basket and said let’s fill it up. He got essentials for himself and some treats for his family.
Outside he gave me a massive hug and a kiss on the cheek. “My brother, my brother”, he said as he tapped his heart. I felt happy, warm and knew I wanted to do more.
That one decision, to reach out with kindness, changed my pathway for good.
It led to me starting We Make Good Happen, originally to demonstrate to my son Alby the power of kindness and to be a good role model, but it quickly grew and became a group, as people wanted to help and get involved.
I started on a personal mission to achieve 403 Good deeds to positively impact 12,000 people. (A movie geek has worked out that Bill Murray’s character would have stayed in the Groundhog Day loop for 12,403 days.)
Starting the kindness project led to all sort of things. For example, I heard about this woman called Marjorie in a care home in Newport. She didn’t have any immediate family and people were sending her birthday cards for her 100th birthday. I thought, well, let’s do one better than that. We could put on a party.
About 25 of us went down – we obviously contacted the care home first – but it turned out to be a lovely day because they brought out all the residents and it was a party for everybody. We nearly burnt the care home down because we had a cake with 100 candles. I didn’t realise the flames you would get off that.
We would go back and visit her on Mother’s Day and at Easter. While she was alive, she became part of the family.
Another idea that took over my life was Tenner4Good. I hid loads of envelopes around Cardiff with £10 notes inside (and also one in a Big Issue magazine). There were two rules. You couldn’t spend the money on yourself, you had to do something good with it.
That had a massive ripple effect. I discovered that research has shown that when you do something kind for one person it ripples out to five people. Then those five people ripple out to 25 people, and then it ripples out to 125 people from that single act.
Personally, I have become a better dad, a more compassionate human and knowing I had a story to tell, I have started getting in front of the camera, getting up on stages and talking about the power of kindness.
This led to doing a TEDx talk, starting a podcast, We Make Success Happen, which led to presenting a documentary for the BBC, Give Kindness A Chance. It led to teaching others how to podcast and also coaching others to have more happiness and success in their life. So I’m now helping change people’s lives on a daily basis.
I want to thank you, Steffan. You helped me in incredible ways and I will forever have gratitude for meeting you and your hypnotising smile.
While I was telling the story about the scratchcard and how I was certain I was going to win the Lottery and become a quarter of a millionaire, what happened with Steffan and what had happened since, a very wise lady called Bobette Buster told me:
“But you did win the Lottery. Look at what’s happened to your life.”
And she was right. I’d just never thought about it that way. Steffan had helped me win the lottery of life.
He is in Cardiff Bay every day until 2pm selling The Big Issue (right by Tesco). Go buy a copy of the magazine (giving him a hand up, rather than a hand out) – and maybe ask him if he wants any lunch (chicken is his favourite).
When most people think about the Big Issue, they think of vendors selling the Big Issue magazines on the streets – and we are immensely proud of this. In 2022 alone, we worked with 10% more vendors and these vendors earned £3.76 million in collective income. There is much more to the work we do at the Big Issue Group, our mission is to create innovative solutions through enterprise to unlock opportunity for the 14million people in the UK living in poverty.