Bridgette Sibley, Waitrose, Southsea, Portsmouth

Bridgette has been a fixture on her pitch for 21 years, and she loves being a Southsea local

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Things are very good indeed on my pitch. I’ve been there for 21 years now, and I am part of the fixtures and fittings. I’ve got many regular customers and I look upon them as my extended family. At Christmas I send over 130 Christmas cards to my customers, all with their names on. Sometimes they buy me biscuits and cake, which is very nice of them. 

I’ve worked in all sorts of different establishments, I’ve worked in hotels here, there and everywhere, all very high-end jobs. I bought a hotel with my husband in 1981. He was a civil engineer who worked and lectured all over the world. He had his consultancy business while I owned and ran the hotel and we were very, very rich. I think I was considered the wealthiest and best-dressed woman in Southsea.  

Unfortunately things turned sour. We put a bar in the hotel and my husband became an alcoholic and it ended up wrecking the business. He took my keys, and I ended up having to break the windows to get into my own hotel. I went to live with my mum in rented accommodation while we sold the hotel and he swindled me out of my half of the hotel money. Then my mum died so I was homeless. I ended up living on the streets for 18 months, living behind derelict churches, cars and so forth. 

It was extremely hard. I came from riches to rags basically. However, when you’re on the streets you get tough, don’t you? It hardens you up. I used to stay behind the council offices, and I remember getting my cardboard and my sleeping bag out at night. There was a fan that kept me warm at night and when I woke about five o’clock in the morning there’d be about five other people either side of me all asleep, all in the same boat, and we got on very well.  

I don’t know if I found The Big Issue or they found me. But there has been no looking back. They found me a flat and I loved selling the magazine. I still love it because every magazine I sell is a thank you back to The Big Issue for the way they helped me. I’m very, very proud to sell The Big Issue. I had lost contact with my children when I was on the streets. Now I see my adult children – one’s 41 and the other is 37 – constantly and I love them dearly. There’s a good chance without The Big Issue I wouldn’t have got back in touch with them. I would have just got more and more in the gutter. 

I was so thankful for The Big Issue’s support during lockdowns. They got me jigsaws while I was off my pitch. That’s my hobby – it’s so therapeutic. It’s the only time I really relax – 1,000 pieces are just right. I can knock a jigsaw out in two days if it’s a weekend or I’m not selling The Big Issue. 

I’m a big fan of the Queen and I was absolutely glued to the box for her funeral. I watched it with a friend. It’s an absolute shame that she’s gone, she was a lovely lady.   

I’m now what you class as an old-age pensioner. I live in sheltered housing in a little studio flat and it’s very nice indeed. I’m Portsmouth born and bred. I love Southsea because the people are so very friendly, and I get on so well with the staff at Waitrose. Being here 21 years, I have got a good reputation with them and I get nice remarks. I’d like to thank all my customers for their kind support. I have loved chatting to them over the years. 

Interview: Liam Geraghty

Waitrose & Partners Southsea, Marmion Road, Southsea, Portsmouth, Southsea, UK

The Big Issue

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