Harrington: Tarot reader predicts tougher times ahead

Friday, 15th April

Merlin Trotter

Merlin Trotter

Reporting by Hayleigh Evans

YOU may have seen Merlin Trotter shuffling his tarot cards in Leicester Square in years past.

I must admit my cynicism had always been a barrier to sitting down for a reading but he seemed like one of the characters who added to the eclectic nature of the tourist trap.

I hadn’t seen him there since the Covid pandemic started and wondered where he may have got to. This week I learned the answer: he has departed for a canal boat on the Regent’s Canal. He was shuffling away on The Rosie, near Islington Tunnel, last Tuesday.

He explained how Leicester Square was now a no-go area for his performance: Covid had meant fewer people asking for readings, and then the rules got tighter.

Mr Trotter insists he can provide a glimpse into the future or, for clairvoyant sceptics, an interesting conversation at the very least.

He perhaps can be forgiven for not predicting a worldwide pandemic – and the scarcely believable punch it has on all our daily lives and occupations – would ruin his working week.

“[Tarot readers] can charge 150 quid, but donations are the fairest way,” he told me. “How do we know how much the information we’re giving is worth? A donation is fair on them,” Mr Trotter explained. “If you’re not good at reading, you won’t get none, will you?”

He spends two-week stints at mooring locations along Regent’s Canal and takes a route that includes Broadway Market, Islington, King’s Cross, Camden, Regent’s Park, Little Venice and Paddington.

“It’s meant to get your problems, solve your problems, and make you think positive about them. So when you walk away from a reading, you should feel positive,” he added.

His own cards were marked when he left his pitch in Leicester Square after Westminster City Council altered rules for buskers and street performers in 2021. So Mr Trotter took to the canal.

“We only charge a donation which keeps you in the law,” he said. “Then all of a sudden, the council came to me and said I’m breaking the rules, not the law. As an Englishman I should be allowed to work in the middle of my city. I worked out there since the 1980s and never had problems.”

Mr Trotter had learned how to read tarot cards from his aunt when he was 13 years old and turned professional after he started offering sessions in his local pub at the age of 17.

The city council, I should say for fairness, received a complaint about Mr Trotter from local businesses, but he claimed he did not disrupt anyone in the area. He said: “I don’t say ‘come and get your cards read’. I just sit there. People come up to me and ask. There’s no fairer way to do that.”

He added: “The pandemic killed the street entertainers, straight off. We didn’t get furlough. We lost all our tourists in London. I was in Leicester Square the other day, and it’s nothing like what it used to be.”

On a weekend, Mr Trotter performs around 30 to 40 readings a day.

For each reading he invites visitors to shuffle his tarot cards twice. Both believers and sceptics stop to have their cards read, and some return to confirm Mr Trotter’s tarot interpretations.

In response to Mr Trotter’s laments, Calvin McLean, Westminster City Council’s director of public protection and licensing, told me street entertainment can cause “excessive noise or obstruction”. He added: “We introduced the street entertainment policy in April 2021 following some years of engagement with residents, local businesses and performers. The vast majority of entertainers comply with the new rules, which are not onerous. A small number of street entertainers do not do so and we continue to engage with these individuals to help them obtain a licence.”

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