Dave and Prince William on the cover of the magazine, "the pinnacle of [Dave's] Big Issue career.” Photo: Andy Parsons
On a bright sunny day in June, Prince William joined Big Issue seller Dave Martin in central London. The unlikely colleagues stand side by side on the cover of this week’s magazine, something the sixty-year-old vendor described as the “pinnacle of his Big Issue career”.
It’s early afternoon when Dave arrives at his pitch a week or so later. He unpacks his backpack and arranges a stack of the latest magazine, a card reader, and postcard prints of his artwork on a fold-out chair. There is not a corner unaligned, everything is meticulously perpendicular, a nod to Dave’s eye for geometric shapes.
He greets every customer that walks through the sliding doors of Tesco.
“Some people acknowledge you, sometimes they ignore you,” he says stoically.
The other day a young girl “half-inched” one of his £10 postcard packs.
“You don’t know what ‘half-inched’ means do you?” he chuckles. “It’s cockney.”
Dave came to London from a city in the Midlands as a young man, having been pushed between care homes and foster families as a child. He started selling The Big Issue in 2010, after falling on hard times. Another vendor took him to one of the Big Issue offices and he never looked back.
Now many of his customers know him by name, or “the people’s prince” as friends have since referred to him. The attention hasn’t been lost on customers or passers-by either, and the hounding from press and fans badgering him for information.
“Is William handsome?” demanded one passer-by, recognising Dave. Another asked if the prince was like his mother, Princess Diana.
“I know a lot of people, they’re quite friendly and chit-chatty. I call them my surrogate family, because I haven’t got one myself,” Dave said.
Partnering with Prince William to sell the magazine was unlike any other day. Despite being incognito, the prince’s height and “recognisable face” gave him away instantly.
“I didn’t realise how tall he was! I’m 5”7, he must’ve been 10 foot or something!” Dave remarked.
“Will was very laid back. He’s obviously done lots of interviews before. It’s like me when I do interviews, people say to me ‘you’re a natural’ and he seemed to be like that, a natural. He wasn’t overawed by people coming up. He was friendly and chatty.”
Between selling the magazine and “plenty of photos” Dave shared his wisdom with the prince: they discussed what it’s like to sell on the street, “how difficult it can be,” and the “homeless situation.”
“Will asked me about my life, he was very interested in getting to know me.”
The day selling the magazine made headlines around the world but it took a little longer for the true reasoning to be announced.
Writing in this week’s magazine, timed with his 40th birthday on June 22, the prince revealed he wanted to do more to “give the next generation less chance of being homeless” and make sure his children knew about the work of charities and social enterprises as his mother taught him.
“While I may seem like one of the most unlikely advocates for this cause, I have always believed in using my platform to help tell those stories and to bring attention and action to those who are struggling,” he wrote. “I plan to do that now I’m turning 40, even more than I have in the past.”
He wasn’t a bad salesman either, by all accounts.
On a normal day Dave “will be lucky if [he] sells five magazines a day,” but when accompanied by the prince he managed to sell 15 magazines in 40 minutes.
It didn’t take long for the prince to sell out. “It must be the royal factor,” Dave says, “Will had 20 magazines and he sold them pretty quickly. It was just bam, bam, bam, sell, sell, sell.”
Since he’s been on the cover, his “sales have increased no end”. In two days alone he has sold almost 90.
Dave has had multiple pitches across London in his time, in Victoria, Paddington, Kensington and now Hammersmith. He currently sells at his longest and favourite pitch at the entrance of Tesco on Shepherds Bush Road.
“Selling The Big Issue gives me a business, a living, purpose, self-worth and gets me out and about meeting people,”he said. “And from that, you can get opportunities which thankfully come across for me.”
“To see my print framed up in someone’s house, sitting on their mantelpiece or in their hallway is more than satisfying.”
One of Dave’s prints might just be on a mantelpiece in Kensington Palace.
“The highlight of the day with Will was when I presented him with a pack of my postcard prints. He took them as a gift. He was quite pleased.”
While the day itself was positive, the aftermath was unexpected.
“After meeting William I thought everything was going to be fine. I got a phone call on my phone, it was the press, they’d got hold of my number and my email. I became inundated with callers. Press started coming to my pitch, it was full on. I’ve never experienced that in my life and I wouldn’t like to experience it again.”
Dave described one journalist from a popular paper who “hounded” him.
“They were asking me certain questions, questions where it doesn’t matter how I answered it, they would get the answer they wanted. I was just about to say something, and stopped myself and they said, ‘nearly got you’. I started to get paranoid.”
Although Big Issue vendors are self-employed, the company makes every effort to care for its vendors where appropriate, and has been accompanying Dave on his pitch since the sell-off to assure him he doesn’t need to deal with the attention alone. It’s not quite the pressures of royalty, but neither does he have the phalanx of bodyguards and PR specialists as a first line of defence.
“Will said he’d come to my pitch,” Dave said, speaking shortly after their first meeting. “Whether that will happen or whether he said it on the spur of the moment, I don’t know. But I told him ‘you’ll have to come to the car park’ and he said ‘don’t worry, we’ll just park up’… yeah right.”
Sure enough on June 22, Will’s birthday, he pulled up at the Tesco carpark. It proved Will was “genuine”, Dave said. They shared a chat and some chocolate birthday cake before going about their days.