An interview with ex-homeless artist David Tovey

Recently, we had a chance to speak to ex-homeless artist and activist, David Tovey. David’s story is an inspiring one. He went from life as a successful chef and entrepreneur to being homeless; he has suffered a stroke, cardiac arrest, cancer and becoming HIV positive. At 38, David was resuscitated after a drug overdose, an event which would become a turning point in his life. He has since become an accomplished artist and active supporter of the homeless community.

David has designed an exciting collection for Hopeful Traders, inspired by the London environment in which he lives. His 1st Girl and 2nd Girl designs are original pen and ink drawings and the collection is completed by David’s interpretation of London’s iconic bus and taxi. 

How did Hopeful Traders approach you about this project? 

I was working on a catwalk collection called Man on Bench (#manonbench) with Clothing the Homeless, and I received an email from Charlie (founder of Hopeful Traders) asking if I’d consider doing some designs for him. It took me a few months to reply as I was extremely busy and then fell ill again with another stroke. It took us a while to decide on designs, as I wanted something very ‘me’ but also something striking. I believe we hit the nail on the head with the designs.


What advice would you give to people who are facing homelessness?  

That’s a really hard one. Homelessness is one of the worst situations anyone can be forced into. I say forced because that’s how it happens, no one wants to be homeless and no one chooses to be. My advice would be, go to the local council to understand their criteria of homelessness, go to your local MP and get them on board to help you. Go to Citizens Advice. If this fails and you end up on the streets then you need to contact as many charities as possible because now you’re homeless, the Government WILL NOT help you. If you’re ex-forces, go to Veterans Aid. If you really need help and can’t get any joy, contact the Streets Kitchen and they can get you food, clothing, bedding, warm drinks and lots of amazing help and advice. And they are FREE.


From being a successful chef and entrepreneur to being homeless, and now an artist and an active supporter of the homeless community: what inspired you to become an artist? 

Well, I’ve always been an artist in some way or another. After I had to give up my business due to my health problems, I couldn’t get my head together and didn’t know what to do. Then my mum said, “well, you’re really good at art, so why not try doing that?” She was right, as always (lol). If it wasn’t for my art and especially my photography, I truly believe I wouldn’t be alive now. It’s helped me rebuild my life and introduced me to some amazing and great people. If it wasn’t for art I wouldn’t have met the Pilion Trust, Cafeart, Clothing the Homeless, Streets Kitchen the Deputy Mayor of Rio and so on. ART has saved my LIFE.




How will the profits from the collection help homeless people? 

So with this collection, I’ve chosen to give the money to Clothing the Homeless. This will be used for their outreach team, so they can deliver more clothes and more collections throughout the year. For more info about their collection dates, or to donate, you can follow them on Facebook

Will homeless people be employed/involved in the production and sale of the clothes? 

We are starting small at the moment and who knows what we might be able to do in the future but, for now, the focus is on design. Art by homeless-affected people will always form the basis of our designs.

Are there any plans for future collections? 

Absolutely, with many more artists, and I’m planning on another collection for Hopeful Traders.




What’s the best way to challenge negative attitudes and stereotypes of homeless people?  

So, that’s the easy bit. On this planet, homelessness isn’t classed as part of society, it’s classed as a disease, a problem. Homeless people are classed as drunk, drug taking scum. But this is all WRONG. Homeless people are the RESULT of a much bigger and larger PROBLEM. The problem starts with society itself. We have let our governments throughout the world tell us and control us and destroy us. They have sold our countries around us to the corporate world. The corporate world only has places for profit focused winners. The happiness of the employee does not matter. If he then starts to suffer he gets left behind. Once he’s left and gone he has no way of getting back up due to the lack of social networks and care in place. This is due to massive cuts by consecutive governments. So, I try to help and to educate the winners that even they can become homeless; I do this by sharing my story, showing people the pain I had to endure. I’ve been to speak to the National Citizens Service, I’ve been to talk to the Employees of Citibank, I’m having a documentary made about my story. I’ve shared my story with national and international papers and TV stations. I’m proving that the so-called stereotypical homeless person is only a small percentage of the so-called problem. I do this with art, photography and fashion. Instead of standing on a soap box getting angry about the situation (which I am), I give the general public something beautiful to look at. By doing this, more people will stop, look, stare and want to know what we’re about. Fashion has always been a medium to help with political change. Vivienne Westwood never started her label to make money, she started the label to create a REVOLUTION! But going back, the best way for anyone to help is to not be scared of a homeless person. I’m not asking for you to give them money or food, I’m asking you to stop, chat and find out their story. By stopping, you could save their life. Someone stopped for me and now look at what I’ve achieved, surely everyone deserves that chance.

Interview by Charlotte Taylor.

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