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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Fortune favours the brave

June 15 2012
Former Big Issue vendor to carry Olympic torch


A lot can change in three years. At 21, Belize-born Joel Hodgson found himself sleeping rough in London and selling the Big Issue. Fast-forward three years, and Joel is employed at one of London’s top law firms and is preparing to carry the Olympic torch through the capital next month.

Oh, and he’s also training to represent his Central American home nation, at the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow in 2014.

Joel has experienced nothing short of an incredible journey. His mother abandoned her children at a young age and, along with his sisters Yvette (26) and Keisha (27), Joel was adopted by Scottish couple, George and Susan Hodgson.

Speaking to the Daily Record, Joel had nothing but praise for his adopted parents and his upbringing in Renton, Dunbartonshire: “My birth mum walked out on us when I was a baby and left us with our dad, who was a very bad man. Social services put us in a home.

“The Hodgsons wanted to adopt three children and chose my sisters and I, without knowing we were all related. Then they brought us back to Scotland and we had an amazing childhood.

“I remember seeing snow for the first time and running outside in my underpants. I didn’t know it was going to be so cold.

“We couldn’t have wished for a better mum and dad. I’m determined to make them proud.”

At the age of 21, Joel and his girlfriend Michelle Clark, a gardener whom he met in a Motherwell call centre, travelled to London in search of a prosperous career; moving into the borough of Croydon.

One day, whilst Joel was out, Michelle was assaulted at home. Joel told the Daily Record: “Police advised us not to go back to the flat and we ended up on the streets. “Michelle was offered a place in a homeless hostel but because I was not [priority need], I was told to go and fend for myself. Not wanting to be separated, we spent three weeks sleeping on the steps of police stations to keep safe until Michelle’s boss found us a flat. Then I got a job selling the Big Issue. “Life was tough for a while but then things started to improve.”

Joel got the chance to sell the Big Issue at London law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer as part of a pilot scheme in 2010, where he eventually secured a full-time post within the billing department against fierce competition.

He told the Daily Record: “I got to do some work experience with [Freshfields] and a year later when a job came up I got it. It’s been onwards and upwards ever since.”

Joel then couldn’t believe his luck when he was selected as part of the team of runners set to carry the Olympic torch, as he explained to the Record: “I was over the moon when I discovered I had been chosen to run with the flame. It’s an incredible honour.

“When I was talking to people from the Olympics, I told them how, as a kid, I dreamed of winning the 100m gold. Then last week they got in touch to say I’m eligible to compete for Belize at the 2014 Commonwealth Games. I just have to achieve the qualifying times.

“People are joking that Usain Bolt better watch out. It’s all a bit surreal.”

Joel, however, remembers his roots, appreciates the harder times he’s been through and is very grateful to find himself where he is today: “When I was sleeping rough, my main concern was where my next meal might come from and if I would get through the night.

“I’ve worked really hard to turn my life around but so many people have helped me along the way.

“To run for Belize in Scotland would be my way of thanking them all for believing in me, especially my mum, Susan.”