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Daniel Mays: Joining The Big Issue is my most important role to date

Mays joins Christopher Eccleston, Sophie Winkleman, George Clarke and Sabrina Cohen-Hatton as a Brand Ambassador

Daniel Mays is one of the finest actors working today.

During the first lockdown, Sky One cop comedy Code 404, in which he starred with Stephen Graham and Anna Maxwell Martin, gave us big laughs and won huge ratings – with Mays brilliant as hapless robocop DI John Major.

His Netflix series White Lines aired a month later, taking us out of the confines of our own homes and into wild parties of Ibiza, when such things were impossible in real life.

Then, in September, he starred opposite David Tennant in Des, a stunning drama which shone a light on Dennis Nilsen’s awful crimes, but always kept the victims at the heart of the story.

As well as starring in three brilliant television series over lockdown, Mays has taken on a new role: as a Big Issue Brand Ambassador. He tells Adrian Lobb why…

The Big Issue is part of the DNA of London and of cities across the UK. I can’t imagine a world where The Big Issue doesn’t exist because of all the good that it does.

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Since becoming a Big Issue Ambassador, the more I have learned about how The Big Issue operates, the work that you do and the inner workings of the organisation, the more I feel that – particularly at this time – this is the most worthwhile cause I could possibly get involved in.

Because the fact that so many vendors can’t go out and sell the magazine on their pitches is devastating for them, isn’t it? It has been a real eye opener for me. That notion of them buying and selling the magazine, keeping the difference, means it isn’t a hand out, it’s a hand up. They are essentially a small business.

I love the idea of The Big Issue instilling an entrepreneurial spirit in people who have gone through such trials and tribulations in their lives. For me, The Big Issue stands for supporting some of the most vulnerable people in the country. And when you place that vital work in the context of the second national lockdown, it is compounded tenfold, isn’t it?

So it was a complete no-brainer to jump onboard and to highlight those vendors that can’t work at the moment. It is a really vital message to bring home.

The Big Issue has been a publication that I’ve felt has always supported me over the years by giving me interviews and championing projects I’ve been involved in.

During lockdown, I put myself up as a raffle prize in The Big Raffle, which raised money for The Big Issue. It was such an amazing thing to be part of, the prize was won by two young aspiring actors and I did a workshop with them. We spoke for an hour and a half, they were delightful and enthusiastic and it was a really intimate opportunity to talk to them about the industry, to instil confidence in them and listen to whatever fears or worries they had. It was such a brilliant idea.

Now, as an ambassador, I’m up for being as involved in more of The Big Issue and its work as I possibly can be. If I have to do a speech, if it becomes proper hands on and involves meeting vendors, visiting hostels, campaigning, whatever it is, I’m in.

If I am being brutally honest, an actor’s life – particularly with the run of work I’ve had – you can’t help but get a little bit self-obsessed. I’ve had so many shows coming out during lockdown, you have to promote the shows and do interviews, and I have I felt a bit talked out. This feels like a breath of fresh air.

I said to my wife the other day, I feel so blessed and lucky to be given the opportunity to flip all that on its head and talk about some of the most vulnerable people in our society, as opposed to just talking about myself! It feels like a golden opportunity, with the platform that I’ve got and the notoriety I’ve got in recent years, to use that to really good effect.

I went on BBC London News the other day. I wanted to highlight how half of Big Issue vendors are not able to sell the magazine at the moment, and that there’s going to be a lot of hardship and unemployment and pain when this pandemic is over. But that once vendors are able to get back out on the street, come rain or shine, they will do so. So we need to support The Big Issue and its vendors now and drive that message home.

Because it’s a brilliant publication and it is contributing something so important – instilling confidence in vendors and helping them stand on their own two feet. So whether you can buy it in print from a vendor, buy it online, take out a subscription, or make a one-off donation to the Christmas appeal, these things are so important.

It will be great to work alongside the other ambassadors. I bumped into Christopher Eccleston in the woods recently – I had no idea then that he was going to be a fellow ambassador. I worked with Sophie Winkleman way back on a comedy called Plus One and she is an absolute delight. And my wife Lou is over the moon that George Clarke is involved because she adores watching him.

So individually we can raise the level of interest in what The Big Issue is doing, and collectively, I hope we can come together and magnify that even more.

I’m so honoured and humbled to become a Big Issue Ambassador. It’s my most important role to date!

As told to Adrian Lobb @adey70

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Support The Big Issue and our vendors this Christmas

Every time you buy a copy of The Big Issue, subscribe or donate, you are helping our vendors to work their way out of poverty by providing 'a hand up not a hand out.' You’re helping Big Issue vendors achieve their #BigWish

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