The Duke of Cambridge with vendor Dave Martin
Photo: Andy Parsons
Less than a week after tens of thousands packed The Mall and a global audience of hundreds of millions celebrated the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee with the royal family, Prince William is standing outside a supermarket and passers-by are passing by.
He’s still wearing a bright red uniform like he had on for Trooping the Colour and watching the noisy flypast. But instead of a ceremonial military outfit and medals, it’s a Big Issue tabard and badge.
Next to him stands Dave Martin, a veteran vendor who volunteered to show the Duke of Cambridge the ropes and give a glimpse into the life of a Big Issue vendor.
Only a 15-minute walk from Buckingham Palace, Dave knows this pitch well.
A decade ago, Rochester Row in Victoria was one of the places he sold magazines when he first came to The Big Issue for the opportunity to work his way off the streets.
He’s adept at putting the new recruit at his ease. After donning his tabard, William is handed a bundle of magazines and briefed on how to accept cash and card payments, then the pair set off.
At first, business is slow. Nobody takes much notice of the vendors – a feeling familiar to many who make their living on the streets – but Dave shares some selling tips and soon the sales start coming.
A Royal Mail employee, who probably spotted some family resemblance from stamps, is one of the first customers. There are double-takes and swerving bike couriers rubbernecking the new vendor.
A young man called Khalid says after purchasing that he bought the magazine because “I am a bit curious so I want to know what’s going on in the world.” Not because of who was selling it? Khalid says he wasn’t really surprised when he learned it was Prince William. That’s the kind of thing you’d expect him to do. “It’s like meeting a normal person,” he adds.
Neil Kramer is charging his taxi on the opposite side of the street – a captive customer. Dave and William cross over to secure a sale. I ask Neil about their technique afterwards.
“He said, ‘Would you like to buy a Big Issue? You look like you’re a generous man.’”
Was he right?
“Yeah, my wife and I do buy The Big Issue. As they both left, I wished them luck and then pinched myself.”
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A queue has started to form. There’s a group of Colombian and Ecuadorian students who can’t believe they’ve met a postcard face of London on the street; a young girl and her mother pose for a picture. “Happy Jubilee!” they shout.
Lots of people want to shake hands, snap a selfie and have a chat, which William allows – only if they buy a magazine, of course.
Brian, who’s involved with the Prince’s Trust, jots down his number on the back of a Sainsbury’s receipt and William promises to look him up.
As is often the case, Big Issue customers cut right across society. Some were among the throngs that joined the Jubilee celebrations the previous weekend, amazed to have their own private audience with the future king. Some have a history of homelessness themselves.
A woman and her mother introduce themselves. Later on, William shares their story.
“We met two Ukrainian refugees,” he explains. “The daughter lives here, she’s brought her mum from Kyiv. Sadly they’ve lost a number of family members and most of their property. The grandmother is still out there.
“And then there was another gentleman who undid his shirt like Superman with a Ukrainian logo on there. He’s got his whole family over here and they’ve lost everything. From Mariupol.”
The time Dave and William spent selling goes on longer than planned, but William calls for extra magazines and won’t leave until every copy is sold.
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While he’s shifting his last few, I speak to Tolu Desalu. “I’m attached to a Christian church,” she says. “What we do is go into hospitals to visit patients who don’t have family. So this is bang up my street.
“I was having a bad day so I thought I’d just go for a walk, I had no destination. I was in Waitrose and I think the security guard thought I was trying to steal something – well not steal, but he said, ‘Why don’t you go to Tesco’s, it’s a lot cheaper’. OK. All right. Then somebody said to me Prince William’s around the corner standing outside Sainsbury’s. I thought yeah, of course…
“Life is funny,” she says. “But he’s lovely and I hope this encourages people to buy the magazine.”
Completely sold out, Dave and William call time. Together they’ve sold 32 copies. “How long would it take for you to sell those normally?” William asks. In under an hour they’ve sold what it would usually take Dave half a week to sell.
Read more about what happened when Prince William sold The Big Issue:
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