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When Karl met Prince Charles: vendor recalls selling mag to royal 20 years on

The royal had to rely on an aide to find some change outside Peterborough Cathedral

Big Issue vendor Karl Grierson has recalled his brush with the royals after the “hilarious” moment when he sold the magazine to Prince Charles outside Peterborough Cathedral.

It’s 20 years ago this week since veteran seller Karl, 43, hit the headlines when he asked the Prince of Wales to buy the magazine while the second-in-line-to-throne was visiting the cathedral to open new buildings in its grounds.

But Prince Charles was caught short for change and had to ask for an aide to rummage through their pockets to find the £1 to buy the magazine.

Read the BBC’s coverage of when Karl met Prince Charles from 2000

At the time, Karl’s bravado earned him a spot on the local news and on the BBC, who he told: “He’s just like any other human being, except that he’s got a bit too much security around him and not enough ready cash.”

Speaking to The Big Issue this week, Karl, who usually sells the magazine on Princes Street in Edinburgh, described his encounter with Prince Charles as “hilarious”.

“He didn’t have anything on him! It was hilarious,” said Karl. “I asked him: “Would you like to buy The Big Issue?” trying to sound like I had a posh voice.

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“But he had to go to one of his aides to get the money and then they managed to find a pound. And then a film crew came to interview me about it.

“It was so funny, looking back I just find it hilarious.”

Karl has been selling the magazine on and off over the last two decades, including 10 years in London, as he has battled drugs and alcohol addiction as well as spending time in prison in the past.

He is currently based in Edinburgh where he has had to temporarily stop selling the magazine as The Big Issue was forced to halt sales to protect vendors from the coronavirus.

After a long history of rough sleeping, Karl was able to secure permanent accommodation through Housing First in Edinburgh, moving in on March 23 – the day the UK went into lockdown.

The impact of Covid-19 has made it difficult for him to fill his flat with basic essential appliances, like a fridge, while Karl, who suffers from deep vein thrombosis, has also found it difficult to access services, for example, to replace a damaged bus pass so he can travel to receive treatment for his legs.

And he told The Big Issue that he was also missing his customers on his pitch.

“Because of my anxiety and my depression, selling the magazine helps me,” said Karl. “I suffer from leg ulcers and DVT but while selling the magazine on my pitch I can walk backwards and forwards that helps my legs.

“I miss my customers and speaking to people because it’s nice to have people who want to stand there and listen to me.

“It’s nice when a person stops and speaks to you and spends five minute of their time to not just speak to me but to speak about each other’s lives.”

Big Issue vendors need your help. You can now support vendors by subscribing — head to bigissue.com/subscribe for details.

Image: John Stillwell/PA Archive/PA Images

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