John Byrne, 53, Regent Street, London
“I got an English Literature degree. I was in and out of hostels but read WB Yeats and Oscar Wilde”
I became homeless at the end of the 1990s. It started when a relationship fell apart – that was difficult to take, things spiral, and I ended up on the streets. After a while I started selling the magazine and I really took to it. London is a brilliant place to do it because you end up chatting with people from all over the world. You meet some incredible people.
The Big Issue gave me a great boost, and I wanted to do something really interesting. I took a foundation course, then I got accepted for an undergraduate degree at Goldsmiths University. I studied English Literature and History and loved every minute of it. It was great. I got on really well with the other students, despite being older than them. There were a lot of stimulating conversations over a pint in the pub.
I continued selling the magazine because it helped me pay my way and I still struggled to get any decent housing. I was in and out of hostels. But I was reading a lot and getting into the great Irish writers – WB Yeats, Sean O’Casey, Oscar Wilde, Brendan Behan. I also enjoyed studying Shakespeare and Chaucer.
I studied English Literature and History and loved every minute of it
I mostly avoided the modern novelists. My dissertation combined literature and history: I looked at the period between 1900 and the Easter Uprising, and looked at how much the writers were influenced by politics and how much they managed, in turn, to influence events.
I’m from Ireland – I moved down to London when I was in my early 20s. But I actually went back to Dublin and completed the final year of my degree at University College Dublin. It was a great feeling.
After that I got an office job and got pretty fed up with it. My old friends in Dublin had all moved since I had been in London. And I began to miss London a lot and miss my friends here. So I moved back.
Things didn’t go so well for a while, I was back in the hostel system for a time. But things have been looking up.
I managed to get a council flat in Westminster, and I’ve made a go of that. I still really enjoy selling The Big Issue. I’m in one of the world’s great cities – I just love the London buzz. There’s nowhere else like it in the world.
My reader’s pick… WB Yeats. His poems captured a lot at an important time in Irish history – September 1913 is my favourite.
My favourite sport… Rugby. I follow the Irish national side in Rugby Union, and London Irish RFC – they’ve just been relegated, unfortunately.
On my pitch… I’m outside Boots on Regent Street in London from 11am to 4pm daily.
Photo: Travis Hodges
Regent Street, London SW1Y 4LR, United Kingdom