I got a message about Eric recently. He had died in The Royal Free Hospital in Hampstead, North London. He was in his mid-50s. He had a way with people that I had not seen amongst anyone else. He got talking to people who seemed to be made sensitive and good with him. Wherever he went, he seemed to bloom friends.
We got on very well. He was a one-time Big Issue vendor. Once, he had gone into a Royal Albert Hall charity ball with a Big Issue camera team and asked people how rich they were. And embarrassed people in an innocent way. He, along with the camera team, were thrown out.
He was a heavy smoker and not a good eater. I don’t know what killed him, but when I first met him over 20 years ago, he was full of a kind of rich seam of survivalism. As if he would not be worn down, even by his own throwing away of golden opportunities.
I took him to Portugal to talk to groups of drug and street users and he charmed and entranced many more than I could do. He was soft and kindly. There was a bit of Christ in him.
I have no idea what were the complex reasons for his cyclical breakdowns where he turned against everyone, including his own family
I got the message from a miner’s son who had arrived in London in the early ’90s. And who had fallen into homelessness, and then had risen out of it by using photography. He knew which club to be at for which personality. All picked up while selling The Big Issue. Enormous skills of communication. He rang me, the miner’s son, and said that Eric had died and asked if I could write about it. I said I would write about what I knew about Eric. I did not know about his end. I was not there.
Why? Because periodically, Eric would go mad at the world and at my place in the world. I invited him to Parliament when I joined the House of Lords and he went mad, shouting and spewing hatred down the phone. Recoiling into a world of blaming the world for all of his homelessness. ‘Everyone was an arsehole!’ And I took my turn at being one, in his eyes.