Parking my ‘home on wheels’ safely for the night along the Brighton seafront was a major challenge. As was learning the opening times of public toilets at which I became expert. Nights were cold, sleep was short and I grew tired from being woken up daily at 5am by the daylight coming through the windows of the van. At least I had a safe place to protect me from the elements, and neighbouring van owners made me feel less vulnerable. They were even a source of friendship, inviting me into their ‘homes’ for a cup of tea. The camaraderie of other homeless people in their vans was comforting. I recall Hilary saying, “this is it, this is home and I am proud of it”. I was of course far better off than others. I met people who slept on benches and hid their limited possessions every morning under the stones of the beach in black sacks to be retrieved at night. I learnt that you never hide your sleeping bag and that you must keep it with you at all times as losing it is unthinkable.
How many millionaires get to live in the varied and challenging world of the homeless? I realise how lucky I am, and even though my experience was just a small window into another world, it was a unique and life changing one. Never again will I just walk past someone asking for 10p for a cup of tea.
I shall never forget shivering and queuing on the seafront for free food being handed out by Church volunteers. This was one of the most emotive moments of being ‘The Secret Millionaire’. It was when someone in the food queue turned to a lady in front of me and said, “you look too smart, you don’t belong here”, and then turned to me and said, “but you do” that a real chill went down my spine. How easily one could sink into this way of life.
I did not expect to be made homeless. I did expect to track down some phenomenal organisations with some magical people, and on that score I was not disappointed.
The four charities I built relationships with leave me with both a sense of pride in what they do, and a sense of shame that I do so little. I love the diversity between them, how they ‘hit that spot’ within me that I was searching to touch.
The Towner’s Club helps younger people suffering from dementia. Spending time with them reminded me of the dementia sufferers in my former care home but from a whole new angle due to the age of the club members. It is poignant to think, there, but for the grace of God, go I.
Safe and Sorted addresses contemporary social issues for the youth of today. It is rare that anyone can say that they have saved a life. I met someone who in the course of a busy routine has recently saved two teenagers from committing suicide. The organisation is so much deeper than that, with its strategic approach to services for young people who often find themselves on the street with little or no direction.
I love the Moulsecoomb Forest Garden Project as it hit a chord with me. I never flourished at school and firmly believe that you don’t have to flourish at school to flourish at life. The scheme does so much on a budget of only £30,000 a year. It is inspirational what they achieve. Hidden away is a tranquil and natural retreat where everyone is welcome, where anyone can find something and where your path of life can take on a new direction.
The Brighton Unemployed Families Centre Project welcomed me with open arms as a homeless person they could help. Living alone in a van on the seafront I did become lonely and feel low. BUFCP was my home from home and nothing was too much for them to help me with. Inspirational characters who hadn’t known me for more than 24 hours wanted to help put my life on course, invite me to live with them, feed me and give me hope.
Giving gifts to the organisations I supported was a highlight of life, an absolute privilege and a source of great joy. Philanthropy does so much for both the donor and the recipient and I still smile when I think about what I gave, and how I plan to continue giving to good causes in the future.
It is impossible to give a thorough, just, and comprehensive account of my time undercover as ‘The Secret Millionaire’ or the impact it had on me. This website can only give a tiny personal footnote to my days undercover. In order to gain a fuller appreciation of the phenomenal charities and people I met, I urge you to watch the programme on 4OD, I tunes, DVD or live when next broadcasted if you have not already seen it.Finally a huge thank you to RDF Television and Channel Four for giving me this opportunity, it was phenomenal and I am indeed a very lucky and changed man.