Britain through the eyes of a vendor
The Big Issue, 27 January 2012


Rickesh Advani
Age: 22
Pitch: Long Acre, Covent Garden

I’m the best Big Issue salesman in London because I tailor my pitches. To parents I say “this magazine will get your children reading”; to theatregoers it’s “literature akin to Shakespeare”; and to women I offer a simple choice: “buy the magazine or marry me”.

I’ve always been very successful at work. At 16 I started as an office junior at a conference company. Next, I was head hunted to run a telesales department, and by the age of 18 I was an acting manager at a branch of Bradford & Bingley. Apparently that made me the UK’s youngest ever bank manager.

I have high functioning atypical aspergers syndrome, which means I’m autistic. It impeeds my ability to read scenarios and understand social cues. When I left the bank I got involved with less reputable people, and sold everything from shares in fraudulent companies to carbon credits, artwork, diamonds, and timber. Eventually my moral compass caught up with me and I realised I was doing the wrong thing.

At the same time I had become a father, but the relationship with my partner broke down. I didn’t get on with my mother in law and would hide in a wardrobe for hours whenever she came round.

I started gambling as a way to escape, and my ability with maths led me to roulette. Like many gamblers I tried to develop a system to beat it, but it was impossible, and my addiction has cost me £287,000.

I lost everything and ended up selling The Big Issue. When I was at my lowest ebb it was one of my customers, Tom Leeds, who saved me. He gave me what I really needed, which wasn’t money, but friendship. He let me talk to him about my depression and anxiety and the process has provided a springboard for my rehabilitation.

I’m doing lots of positive things with my time now, like reading, and saving for a flat deposit. My short term goal is to find permanent accommodation and a stable job. I want to be enrolled on a degree course by September 2013 and eventually own my own home. Ultimately I need to demonstrate to the courts that I can be a responsible father figure for my daughter, so that I can regain access to her.

I’m learning to be happy with who I am and to see everything that has happened to me as a valuable experience, or at least as good material for my autobiography.

Interview by Sam Judah.