The Duke of Cambridge and Dave Martin at The Passage
Photo: Andy Parsons
The Duke of Cambridge and vendor Dave Martin spent an afternoon on the streets of London selling The Big Issue. Once they had sold all their copies, they headed to The Passage, a centre that supports people threatened by or experiencing homelessness.
It was here, in 1993, that Princess Diana brought her young sons to give them a sense of the world outside palace walls. They’d talk and play board games with residents. Today, William is a patron. It was here too that Dave came when he needed help when sleeping rough in the area a decade ago. Dave and William sat down for a post-selling debrief and to get to know each other better.
Dave: How did you feel selling The Big Issue?
HRH: I really enjoyed it. I could have spent many more hours out there with you.
Dave: Why did you want to do this today?
HRH: The Big Issue is something that’s been around for a long time. It is part of UK history. I think at times it’s had peaks and troughs in terms of its visibility. People don’t know enough about it. The fact that we’ve been through a pandemic, and realising what that’s done for The Big Issue, but also for homelessness, how much that’s troubled everything.
Dave: I lost a lot of sales for, I call it, Covid reasons. People shop online or they don’t go to the store so often. And actually, there’s still people scared to come out. Today was quiet to begin with and then all of a sudden, it’s like crazy.
HRH: I was surprised how many people actually spotted me wearing a Big Issue tabard standing outside Sainsbury’s. I can walk down the street with a baseball cap on and nobody would pay attention. But everyone was really friendly, weren’t they? I’m conscious that I got the easy version in the summer sunshine.
Dave: What would you have done if it was raining?
HRH: I’d have still come out, don’t worry Dave. Ever since I came here [to The Passage] with my mother, homelessness has stuck with me as an issue I want to fight for. I’ve done everything I can to raise the profile of the homeless, and I want to do a lot more.
Dave: I’ve heard somebody’s got a birthday coming up. Are you 21 again?
HRH: I’d like to be 21 again, Dave. The big four-zero. Getting on a bit now.
Dave: You’re still young. I’m 60.
HRH: Sixty? Are you? You don’t look a day over 50. I felt my birthday was a good opportunity. I wanted to make sure we were highlighting something that matters to me. Off the back of Everyone In [the scheme that brought all rough sleepers off the streets during the pandemic] it started to feel that actually, this issue isn’t quite as big to tackle as we think. But it feels like it’s gone back to what it was before the pandemic. We can fix it. It is possible to – I never want to say completely end homelessness, because every day something else might happen for someone – but get on top of it more than we have done.
Dave: How would you do that?
HRH: It’s a good question. How do you bring together all the best people like The Passage, Centrepoint, Big Issue who know this area very well? How do you build something that’s got legs and can deliver support packages to allow individuals to come out the other end standing on their own two feet? That’s what I’ll be trying to do. How would you fix homelessness, if you had the power?
Dave: Get all the homeless off the street, get them accommodation. Give them support and help to move on in their life. That’s the first thing I’d do.
HRH: Sounds like a good idea.
Dave: A lot of day centres have closed. Would that be a good idea to open them up?
HRH: You know, I’m not the expert. But there’s no doubt about it, more support at the sharp end is needed. Rather than the firefighting going on – brilliantly done in lots of areas – it would be good to bring everyone together and have it a bit more streamlined and coordinated. Look ahead as much as we can as well and prevent homelessness, as much as curing what’s going on right now.
Dave: There’s a lot of, excuse the pun, issues with why people become homeless. Could be family, could be a multitude of reasons. So as you say, you need to address all those problems together.
HRH: Can I ask how you found yourself in the situation where you were living on the streets?
Dave: Well, I mean it first started when I was five and my mum died. I got pushed around different families and care hostels, that sort of thing. Then I decided to come to London. Obviously, come here and you’ll make it. And you don’t. I found myself on the street.
HRH: This is what got you back on your feet, selling The Big Issue?
Dave: It got me off the street. Gave me respect. I was begging at the time. Another vendor said I could be doing something a lot better and took me along to the Big Issue office. Hey presto, I’ve been doing it for 11 years now.
HRH: When I speak to you or anyone who’s been living on the streets, you start to see the human and the difficulties you’ve been through. There’s still some taboo about homelessness. I think the mental health side of things frightens people. We have to tackle all this to help humanise those who are living with homelessness. Many people would not be able to fare as well as you have to get through.
Dave: A few people didn’t fare so well.
HRH: That’s the sad thing. Many don’t. But if there was some way of being able to talk more openly about these stories, to show people the real challenges you’ve faced, I think a lot of people would be like, OK, I can now see why people end up where they do.
Dave: That’s right. You try to engage with people. Perhaps they don’t know how to approach you. I see some members of the public engage with the homeless and when that happens, you’ll see their face light up. They’ve got someone to talk to.
HRH: I’m fortunate enough that I get to see the best of people whenever I meet them. They give me their best side. Dave, you probably get to see the worst in people.
Dave: Sometimes, yeah. I’m fortunate that I’ve built up my pitch over the years [Dave normally sells at Tesco in Hammersmith] and it is quite a friendly place. But I’ve heard vendors getting spat at and a lot of verbal abuse.
HRH: I’m lucky because I am who I am. Often, people are happy to talk to me. We’ve got to push back on the normality that is popping in your wireless earphones and wandering down the street, listening to music or on a phone. In a city, you walk past hundreds of people every day and you don’t even look at them. Wouldn’t it be nice to find out a bit more about the people either side of you? That way, people would be a bit more understanding, a bit more tolerant of what everyone’s had to deal with.
Dave: They probably get to hear about the bad stuff rather than the good stuff. “Oh, I heard this vendor did that, I better not approach them.”
HRH: When you’re selling The Big Issue, I think people feel they can approach you. But if someone’s sleeping rough on the streets, that’s a different thing isn’t it?
Dave: The Big Issue has done Night Walks before, to take the public around where homeless people sleep to try and explain the situation. We try and get people to understand.
HRH: It’s about respect. People who are homeless can’t rebuild their life without a number of things. And one of those things is respect and self-respect. And that’s what The Big Issue gives you.
Dave: That’s right.
HRH: It’s a good start to get yourself back on your feet where you feel like: I matter.
Dave: Gives you pride. Gives you something to aim for.
HRH: You’ve got something each day to know you’ve got to do – a bit of structure. Because everyone needs a little bit of structure in their life, don’t they?
Dave: So how did you find the Jubilee?
HRH: It was a lovely weekend, thanks. It was a moment of national unity, I felt. I think it brought a lot of people together. I think it made everyone feel a bit better about themselves after a difficult couple of years.
Dave: I saw a picture of The Mall. It was just chock-a-block with people.
HRH: Chock-a-block. Red white and blue everywhere. It was really good to see.
Dave: The best bit I liked about the celebrations was the flypast.
HRH: Did you get to see it?
Dave: Unfortunately I was working. I saw highlights. I should have said, yes, I did see it.
HRH: No you shouldn’t. Because that’s the point. You need to work. You were telling me, you do seven days a week?
HRH: Every week?
Dave: Every week. Then hopefully I can take a bit of time off at the weekend. Depends how the sales go.
Even after a bumper sales session, Dave plans to head off to his regular pitch. But before he goes, he has a gift for the Duke. A few years ago, Dave became an artist, when he started “doodling” after visiting the Tate Modern. Now he exhibits his work and sells it online. He hands over a set of postcards of his work.
HRH: You’re a good doodler. It’s quite abstract, isn’t it? Does it represent anything to you?
Dave: I always leave it down to the eye of the beholder.
HRH: I studied a bit of art history at university. Had to give it up. I kept falling asleep in the lectures. Terrible. We did a lot of Renaissance, which was amazing. But then once we got into modern art, I started to get a bit dozy.
Dave: I can introduce you to modern art.
HRH: Yours are more interesting. I like to have a story behind the artist.
Before they part ways, Dave has one final question.
Dave: When are we going to do this again? We’ll do 50 next time, at least!
HRH: Honestly, I really enjoyed it. Thank you for looking after me. When you first do it, I can see it’s daunting. You just don’t quite know what’s going to happen or how it’s going to go.
Read more about what happened when Prince William sold The Big Issue:
This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income. To support our work buy a copy from a vendor like Dave!
Buy a Big Issue Winter Support Kit for £34.99, you’ll receive four copies of the magazine and vendors could receive immediate tools for survival plus access to vital training and employment pathways to escape poverty for good.