Earl John Charlton, 40, Newcastle Central Station

"It was a stranger who helped me in the end"

started selling The Big Issue seven or eight years ago after I took myself into the office in Vauxhall. I wasn’t quite sure if it was the right thing for me, but it has been. I’d lived in London for 16 years as an addict – drugs, alcohol and methadone – and I was so fed up of begging or shoplifting to feed my addiction. It took a few years to sort myself out, but when I started doing The Big Issue properly I started doing better. Then I came back home, away from the drugs in London.

Being an addict is like being put into a corner. I would steal, and then I started selling drugs, so just when you thought I couldn’t go any lower I went to jail. Coming out of rehab or prison with no support and no structure, I always just got back into what I knew.

A businessman called John Morris intervened in my life and saw the better in me

It was a stranger who helped me in the end. A businessman called John Morris intervened in my life and saw the better in me. I was just sitting outside Farringdon station, he was suited and booted but he came up and talked to me. Every few days we’d sit in the park together, have a chat, we even wrote poems together. He let me be me. He knew about my addiction and he had ongoing alcohol problems himself, but he was from a different side of society. I was right at the bottom, he was able to function.

Last year he died of pneumonia. I’d moved back up to South Shields by then but I knew he wasn’t eating properly and was drinking heavier. I could hear it in his voice and I told him to go to the doctor. I couldn’t get hold of him one weekend then his family phoned me to tell me. They said they wanted me at his funeral and asked me to carry the coffin. It’s still very emotional for me.

It’s taken time to give myself a pat on the back for what I’ve gone through

I’m in rented accommodation now. It’s not luxurious but me and my girlfriend are saving the pennies up and we’re decorating. We’ve got a parrot, a bunny rabbit and a Staffie called Paige. We rescued her because we were rescued and we called her Paige because her life’s a page-turner like ours have been. I’m hoping to take her on my pitch but she’s still quite nervous.

Little by little I’m feeling more confident about myself. It’s taken time to give myself a pat on the back for what I’ve gone through. I’d love to get into college to be a drug and alcohol misuse worker. On the streets – I don’t want to be sitting behind a desk. I want to help people not abuse methadone and not end up with a double addiction. I can connect, I can relate and I can sympathise because I’ve been there. My biggest goal is to die clean.

About Me…

Pedal power

One of my customers bought me a bike and I cycle 20 miles a day to and from work. It saves me about £120 a month in travel.

If I won the lottery

I’d take my girlfriend on a safari. I’ve never been abroad in my life but we’re always watching Attenborough. It’s one experience we’d love to have.

I’m on my pitch 9:30am until 5pm six days a week

Interview: Sarah Reid

Photo: Jamie Tranter

Newcastle Central Station, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK