Founder of Big Issue recalls life on streets

SPEAKING OUT Big Issue founder John Bird
SPEAKING OUT Big Issue founder John Bird
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HE slept rough on the streets of Portsmouth during his youth.

Now John Bird MBE will make his first return to the city since the 1960s to talk about poverty in today’s society and what life was like for the poor during the time of Charles Dickens.

The 66-year-old, who went on to co-found street magazine the Big Issue in 1991, will entertain an audience at Portsmouth Historic Dockyard’s Action Stations on Friday, June 29.

Mr Bird, who was born in Notting Hill, London, is one of many special guests who will visit the city during Portsmouth Festivities, which this year have the Dickens theme ‘Great Expectations;

Visitors will discover how Mr Bird grew up in a violent home and was homeless by the age of five.

He spent time in prison during his teens for stealing and returned to jail and slept rough across the country in his 20s.

In 1991, he set up the Big Issue with Gordon Roddick, who came up with the idea of a street magazine after he saw people selling papers on the streets of New York.

Mr Bird first met Mr Roddick when he was sleeping rough in Edinburgh. Mr Bird, who now lives in Cambridge, said: ‘I wanted to talk about poverty because it seemed appropriate given my own experiences.

‘I really want people to open their eyes to poverty and how it is all around them.

‘More needs to be done to support the homeless.

‘But at the same time we’re more comfortable than we have ever been. It must have been incredibly tough growing up during Dickens’ time.

‘I’m honoured to have been invited to the Festivities. I’m proud to be coming back to Portsmouth.

Tickets are still on sale for Portsmouth Festivities, a nine-day event which kicks off on Friday.

Mr Bird’s talk begins at 7.30pm.

Contact the Portsmouth Festivities box office on (023) 9282 4355.


· The Brodsky Quartet Master Class. High Street, Old Portsmouth, 2pm. Admission £5, concs.

· Evensong. With the Portsmouth Cathedral Choir. Music by Purcell and Wise. St Thomas’ Cathedral, High Street, Old Portsmouth, 6pm.

· The Wheel of 4Tunes. A diverse programme of music performed by the Brodsky Quartet celebrating their 40th anniversary. St Thomas’ Cathedral, High Street, Old Portsmouth, 7.30pm. Admission £14, concs.

· Petrifying Portsmouth Perambulation. Guided walks inspired by macabre reports from Dickens’ Household Words supplement. Meet Central Library, Guildhall Square, 7.30pm. Admission £7, concs.

· Go to for further details