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The Big Issue in 30 moments: The '00s

In the 2000s, Shane Richie gave The Big Issue exclusive images of his 40th birthday party for a grand total of £1.10 and we met Street Cat Bob. Here's the second part of our 30 moments series.

30 moments that made The Big Issue. Illustration: Lisa Sheehan

For part two of our series of 30 moments, we move from celebrity birthday parties to business investment to Street Cat Bob. A whistlestop tour of the diverse impact that The Big Issue has had over the past 30 years. Check out part one here.

Shane Richie. Photo: The Big Issue Archive

10) Shane Richie’s birthday party 

March 2004 

When Shane Richie turned 40, he threw a huge party, full of famous faces. The actor was at the height of his EastEnders fame, but turned down six-figure offers from other magazines in favour of offering the exclusive images to The Big Issue. 

“You know I was homeless for a while,” he recalled. “I remember OK! magazine were going to pay me hundreds of thousands for the exclusive. This was at the height of Kat and Alfie, and they knew I knew Elton John and people like that.

“I think a vodka company wanted to sponsor it so they needed pictures. I sat down and said, let’s shelve it. I will pay for it. But we wanted someone to benefit – so we came up with a £1.10 fee. One pound – that was my fee – and 10p for my manager’s commission. [The Big Issue] sent me a cheque for £1.10. And they could get money by selling the pictures to the newspapers.” 

11) Big Issue Invest 

2005 

Founded in 2005, Big Issue Invest was a natural extension of The Big Issue’s mission. While the magazine helps vendors start their own micro-business, Big Issue Invest provides funding to organisations with a social purpose to help their growth and sustainability. 

Big Issue Invest offers social enterprises, charities and profit-with-purpose businesses loans and investment from £20,000 to £3m. Since 2005 it has invested in more than 400 social enterprises and charities across the UK. 

Former Big Issue seller and now multi million selling author James Bowen hit the streets with his famous cat Bob to sell the magazine. Credit: Gavin Rodgers / Alamy Stock Photo

12) James Bowen takes a new friend to his pitch 

2007 

James Bowen’s life changed when he adopted an injured stray cat. Struggling with addiction, he started selling The Big Issue to gain some stability and security for himself and his new furry friend Bob.

What happened next is an incredible tale. Street Cat Bob became one of the most famous cats in the world after the pair were spotted earning a living on the streets of London by a book publisher. The book, A Street Cat Named Bob, was published in 2012 and became a global bestseller. A film adaptation and its sequel followed. 

In his book, Bowen wrote about the first time he sold The Big Issue with his “secret weapon” Bob: “I sold six copies within the first hour. Most people gave me the correct money but one elderly gent in a smart, tweed suit gave me a fiver. I was already feeling vindicated making this move. 

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“I hadn’t got many decisions right in my life. Whenever I’d been given an opportunity in the past 10 years I’d screwed things up big time. Within a couple of days of deciding to become a Big Issue seller, however, I was pretty sure I’d taken a step in the right direction for once.” 

Although Bob died last year, his memory lives on. He’s raised awareness of Big Issue vendors more than any other creature and a statue was unveiled this summer where fans can remember the most marvellous cat, very close to the pitch where he sold The Big Issue in Islington, North London.

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