Prince Harry and his fiancée Meghan Markle felt the love in Edinburgh today as they dropped in on Social Bite, the social enterprise café which employs homeless people – and The Big Issue was there to make their day extra-special!
Thousands crammed into the streets around Social Bite’s Rose Street branch to see the happy bride-to-be – who wore a tailored Black Watch tartan Burberry coat – and her prince as they visited the café at lunch time. They met several staff members and sat in a booth to chat with them over a cup of coffee.
They asked what I do, and were interested to find out about my experience of homelessness.
And they also spent some time speaking with Big Issue vendor George Whyte, whose regular pitch selling the magazine is nearby, and who is a regular in Social Bite. “It was great, Meghan was very down-to-earth and talkative,” he said. “She was sat directly opposite me and said it was her first time in Scotland, but she looked the part in her tartan coat. She had a black coffee. My friend Sonny managed to pick up her coffee cup as a souvenir but I didn’t get any mementos!
“They asked me what my connection to Social Bite was and asked if I was homeless and that was about it really.”
The Big Issue magazine is read by an estimated 379,195 people across the UK and circulates 82,294 copies every week.
George, 62, who has been selling The Big Issue for four years, was invited to the royal appointment by Social Bite founder Josh Littlejohn because he’s such a loyal customer. “I only found out that I was going to meet them four days ago – Josh asked me if I would do it as I am a regular at Social Bite, I stop in every day for a coffee and a roll.”
He added: “A lot of people turned out to see them, it was the busiest I’ve ever seen Rose Street!” George said after the couple had left for their next appointment, with Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. “They asked me about what I do, and were interested to find out more about my experience of homelessness. It was a great atmosphere. It is a great thing for Social Bite and shows how much it has grown.”
The couple also chatted to Social Bite staff Sonny, Colin and Dana, who have experienced homelessness and are being helped to get their lives back on track by learning catering and restaurant skills.
After they left, George joked: “I’m getting quite used to meeting royals now, I’m not sure my roll and coffee will be quite the same tomorrow. I’ve only got the Queen, Will and Kate and Prince Charles left and I’ve got the complete royal set!”
The happy bride-to-be and her prince are both activists and campaigners. Prince Harry has long supported armed forces charities and veterans organisations, as well as homelessness charities – he was taken to visit Centrepoint in London privately several times by his mother, Princess Diana. And Meghan has long been an activist, working for organisations including the UN Women’s Political Participation and Leadership Programme. Recently she has been paying private visits to support survivors of the Grenfell Tower disaster.
The Big Issue has inspired the launch of 120 street papers globally, including sister titles in Australia, South Africa, Japan, Taiwan and Korea.
The pair fitted in their Social Bite visit during a packed schedule in the city, being greeted by hundreds of well-wishers outside Edinburgh Castle – where Harry narrowly avoided being bitten by Shetland pony Cruachan IV, the mascot of the Royal Regiment of Scotland. They went on to the Palace of Holyroodhouse to a reception to celebrate Scotland’s Year of Young People 2018.
The royal visit put Social Bite on the global map, making national TV headline news around the globe. It is not the first time the social enterprise has made headlines. In 2015 George Clooney popped in and spent time chatting to ex-homeless staff and enjoying a sandwich with them.
Main picture: PA Images