James O'Brien on 'utterly soul-destroying' invisibility he felt selling the Big Issue

10 June 2022, 12:04 | Updated: 10 June 2022, 12:31

By Tim Dodd

James O'Brien reflected on the "utterly soul-destroying" invisibility he felt when he spent an afternoon selling the Big Issue, after Prince William was spotted selling the magazine this week by shocked bystanders.

The third-in-line to the throne was wearing the red uniform recognisable to so many as one of the magazine's venders.

He stopped for a picture with a surprised passerby and was photographed grinning as he tried to sell him a copy.

The charity uses the magazine as an opportunity for homeless people, or those at risk of ending up on the street, to earn money.

James told listeners of the time that he sold the Big Issue on an afternoon in Covent Garden in 2016.

"I too, like Prince William, once spent an afternoon selling the Big Issue," he said.

"I have never felt - actually until I became the father of teenage girls - I had never felt more invisible in my life than when I tried to sell the Big Issue.

"I'm very lucky, and I always enjoy it these days. Often, people will stop me in the street to say hello or ask me for a selfie. It was before that period."

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James continued: "A few people did make the effort to come and see me and find me, but for a significant part of the afternoon I was standing there, saying to people 'Can I interest you in a big issue? Excuse me, would you like to buy the Big Issue? Big Issue, Big Issue!'.

"And it's not until you're in that sort of scenario, that you realise how utterly... soul destroying it is to be invisible.

"You can't always buy a copy of the Big Issue, but you can always at least acknowledge the existence of the person who is trying to sell it to you."

James O'Brien admitted that he wasn't being "holier than thou" as he too has walked past Big Issue sellers without acknowledging them.

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