THE Big Issue seller who has provoked a storm of controversy in the Observer letters pages spoke out for the first time this week.
Romanian-born Maria Mihai, 32, revealed she sells the magazine to support her five children and does NOT claim any benefits.
The long-running correspondence started back on 6 February when a writer said her "wailing, cringing voice" was deeply irritating and enough to put people off their shopping.
Since then she has attracted critics and defenders in equal measure.
Maria, whose pitch is outside JJB on Broadway, may come across as desperate to sell the magazine because she is trying her best to single-handedly support her children, four girls aged five, seven, nine and 13 and a boy aged five.
She moved to England six years ago with her husband and children to live in Manchester.
But after a few months in this country her husband left her and she was forced to look after the kids on her own.
She said: "A few people have been horrible to me but most people are very nice, especially the schoolchildren who will come and talk to me. I am definitely a lot happier in England than I was in Romania before I left.
"I do not claim benefits because I am unable to fill in the forms and I don’t know how the system works. The only money I get is from selling Big Issue."
She is an official seller, buying the magazines for £1 and selling them for £2. The price is set by The Big Life Company which publishes it.
Maria says: "I have no control over the price of the magazine. I just sell it for what I have been told to. The price used to be £1.50 but then the company put it up to £2."
She travels from Manchester by bus four days a week to sell the magazine in rain, wind or snow and in a typical week she will make as little as £120.
She uses this money to pay her rent which is £450 a month.
She added: "I try to buy food and clothes for the children with what little is left over and do not spend it on alcohol as many people think. Sometimes I have to go without myself.
"I have a very nice friend who looks after my children while I am working."