Will Herbert, 59, Budgens Upper Street, London
“My confidence wasn’t really there until I started selling The Big Issue”
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I’ve just come out of treatment for bowel cancer. I was diagnosed in 2016 and got the all-clear last year so there was a lot of chemotherapy and uncertainty. I’ve had three quarters of my stomach removed and I’ve also found that I’ve lost a lot of memory. People say hello to me, and I’m not being rude but I just don’t remember them. But now that’s all behind me I feel I’ve got an extra shot at life.
I’ve sold The Big Issue on and off since the early days of the magazine. When I started I was on the floor, I had a very serious drink and drug problem.
I grew up half with my family and half in care and then later in life I had a lot of issues. I’m a lot more confident now. I don’t know why, but my confidence wasn’t really there until I started selling papers. I’d have had to have some alcohol or something.
Selling the paper has done me a lot of good and it’s given me sales skills. Now I’d say I’m pretty good at reading people, like whether they’re going to buy or not. You get an instinct.
I’ve sold the magazine all over the country – Manchester, Leeds, Darlington, Scotland, Birmingham. But I just missed London so I came back to where I’m from. I was on the streets for 10 or 15 years but I was fortunate in the end and a hostel I stayed in helped me get a flat around here. So I’m a local boy, living and working in my own area. It’s helping me to get a little bit of quality of life.
This job has kept me going over the years but before too long I want to try to get a bit of extra money. I’d like to set up a little stall selling gifts and trinkets and I’d travel all over London with it. I’ve got an NVQ in rail engineering and a certificate in painting and decorating but that’s all too much like hard work now. After my cancer and my years of heavy drinking none of that work appeals any more. I don’t drink these days though, and I’ve been clean for nearly nine years now.
I have a daughter and I had a son, but he died 15 years ago when he was just 27. I don’t see so much of my daughter no more. She’s graduated from university in the arts, acting and things like that. I’d love to have more contact with her but she’s become a vegan now and I’m no vegan! I just do what I do, but there’s nothing vegan at my house.
At the age of 59 I’ve only just found a partner. Sam works on the magazine at Covent Garden. I caught her right at the end of my treatment. Sam has been a total, total support since I’ve been with her. She’s given me a new energy for life.
I’m on my pitch every day from 9am-5pm
Photo: Orlando Gill
Budgens, 213-215 Upper Street, Islington, London, N1 1RL, United Kingdom