Hugh Palmer, outside St Paul’s Underground (Exit 2)

"I was quite old so no one wanted to employ me"

Support Hugh

50% of net proceeds from your purchase of a gift subscription will go direct to Hugh

I used to be a sales manager for a menswear chain in 2000 but then the company went bust and I lost my job. And that’s when all the problems started.

In 2011 I went bankrupt and in 2012 I found that I had lost everything. I only had the clothes I was standing in and I was nearly homeless. In 2013 someone told me about The Big Issue so I went to them and explained my situation. I was on a small pension and had no money, I was quite old so no one wanted to employ me. They understood the situation and said I was OK to sell the magazine. I’ve been on this pitch since 2013. There are no best hours really. I spend a long time here. Lunch time is probably my quietest time, as even though there are a lot of people they are not interested in buying the magazine. I have a lot of regular customers, but I’m trying to get new ones. I plan to take credit cards in the future – The Big Issue said they can help set it up for me.

People wonder why I’m here until 10 at night, even later sometimes. It’s because in the evening, especially in the city, business people are going home. They don’t work regular hours, so I can sell a lot of magazines in the evenings between about 7 and 10pm. This year I’ve had some problems with the station because they put in new escalators downstairs. This has meant a lot of customers have to make a special journey to see me because they can’t use the exit where I am. A lot will make the effort and that’s the main thing.

I have a lot of people coming up from the Tube who are going to St Bartholomew’s hospital. Sometimes they like to talk about their health issues and I can talk with them and discuss with them what they are going through.

I had a guy last year who had a brain tumour and he used to come up here before he had the operation and I would talk to him and reassure him that I was sure everything would be OK.
He had the operation and they stopped the growth of the tumour. Some weeks later he sent a letter into The Big Issue, which was very nice of him, and he said how much I helped him through his traumas.

I am pretty well known here and everyone knows my face. One customer wanted to take me to lunch the other day but I said I couldn’t because I had to work. People automatically buy you a coffee but I don’t look for that. The main thing is to sell The Big Issue and talk about it.

I have a flat in North London. I have been there a long time. The Big Issue helps me pay my rent. I have a small pension but I couldn’t live in London with it. There is just no way.

I am 73 in February – maybe I will create a record and be the oldest Big Issue guy. I do enjoy selling the magazine. I wouldn’t be doing it otherwise. It is not just about the money.

I’m on my pitch at St Paul’s Underground Station (Exit 2), London, Mon-Fri, 7am-10pm

Photo: Shen S Balendran

St. Paul's, Cheapside, London EC2V 6AA, UK