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Smoggy the 50p man with a heart of gold

MEGA WATT SMILE: Smoggy (Poppy Brady)

BENEFITS STREET’S ‘Smoggy’, the upbeat star of the TV show known as the 50p man, suggests meeting early in the morning for our interview so we won’t be interrupted by his rapidly growing fan base.

But his well laid plans soon fail as we open the doors heading to a quiet café at the end of a shopping arcade in Birmingham. “Hey! It’s the 50p man”, someone yells and all the stallholders start cheering. Then someone else shouts, “When are you going to have a sale?”

Smoggy – real name Stephen Smith – reacts to all the banter with a mega watt smile. “It’s like this all the time,” he laughs. “I get people on the bus banging on the window and waving if they see me in the street.”

He’s signed autographs on the back of McDonald’s napkins and been hailed a “genuine geezer” by total strangers.

Smoggy’s life has turned round for the better since his appearance in the first episode of the controversial Channel 4 series charting the lives of benefit-dependent residents in James Turner Street, Winson Green in Birmingham.

After wining the hearts of the nation with his door-to-door business selling everything from washing powder to tea and sugar in 50p samples, golden-hearted Smoggy has been offered three jobs. This week he started work with a gourmet food firm.

“I can’t tell you who it is because they’ve already been inundated by the press about me starting there and it’s not fair on them,” says the 38-year-old father-of-two, who thought up his 50p business when he spent two months in Winson Green Prison “for something very petty.”

But despite now finding full time work, he’s determined not to let go of his 50p-based social enterprise and intends to build up a franchise, financed by his new job.

“I want to renovate a fleet of old ice cream vans and get people to go out to streets across Birmingham with the 50p goods. I want to employ people like me who have been on benefits and know what it’s like.”

Smoggy was born a few streets away from James Turner Street, but visited the area regularly with his 50p business.

ON THE STREET: The 50p man

“One couple went to the papers saying I was ‘planted’ for the programme, but that’s simply not true. It’s where I grew up,” explained Smoggy, who was re-housed to Northfield in Birmingham about three months ago.

Desmond Jaddoo, a community activist who befriended Smoggy several months ago when he met him at a local business enterprise competition, said: “Stephen is someone who just needed a bit of support – and now with that support it just shows what he is capable of.”

But Smoggy is clearly not dazzled by his new-found fame. “Something like this makes you realise who your real friends are,” he says. “People who haven’t been in touch for years are suddenly ringing me because they’ve seen me on TV.”

He’s been a Twitter sensation and had someone set up a fake Smoggy Twitter account, but he’s delighted that he’s made his family proud of him.

So how does he feel about being in Benefits Street?

“I had no idea what the programme was going to be like, so when the first episode was screened I was thinking to myself ‘where am I going to fit into all this?’ But I’m 100 per cent happy with how I was portrayed. There was nothing scripted about any of it.

“I think the show has lifted the lid on what it’s like for so many people in Britain today. You could throw a stone randomly anywhere and there are streets like this all over the country.”

Smoggy explained how the crew, who were in James Turner Street for seven months, had no idea what to call their documentary and used to talk daily about a name.

“One day Fungi, one of the characters in the street, was walking past and he just said, ‘Call it Benefits Street.’ He’d had a few drinks, but the crew decided that was the name.”

So, we finish our interview and he’s walking with me even though his car is parked in the opposite direction. I ask him why and he says “I just want to make sure you get back to your car ok.”

That’s Smoggy for you.

*Follow the real Smoggy: @50pManSmoggy

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