© AFP (Archive)
Luxembourg's size means it is quite normal to rub shoulders with all types....in this case, I was chest to chest with the then Prime Minister
Working in the sector that I do, it is part of the job to interview certain people and persons of note - especially so when working in a language that is becoming more and more important as each year passes.
I have interviewed either in print, by phone or in person, quite a few 'celebs' and many a politician - despite protestations that I am a little frivolous with 'serious' issues, I can hold my own with the 'suits', and to protect toes (both yours and mine) I won't drop too many names right now. In-keeping with the theme, though, it is rare to achieve such easy access to the key decision-makers of the Grand Duchy.
Take the former city mayor Paul Helminger, as a case in point, he was/is a very warm and approachable chap, just as happy to talk off-topic as he was on more pressing matters, and would often take up conversation when we meet in public/outside allotted press hours...
Perhaps it goes with the territory but Xavier Bettel, for instance, was kind enough to send me a birthday message on my 40th - true he ignored the invite to the drinks and nibbles but it is the thought that counts and he has been a consistent figure throughout my time in Luxembourg.
Bettel married my mother - no wait - that's an altogether different headline. Let me start again... Bettel was the official who recorded the marriage of my mother and her partner. Xavier would go on to become mayor and, in a cover story for (now defunct) print publication 352 in which we would be among the first to uncover his ambition for a taking the biggest seat at the of the head table, he was very open about his political ambitions.
We were laughed at, at the time, for making such a suggestion, Bettel was, after all, far too young for the role and far too progressive for the dated stance of many hard-line politicians. Since then, I have had the pleasure of chatting to, both on record and off-record, to the premier on numerous occasions and it is incredible to note that his approach and character have not really changed.
Well, #PodiumGate may have altered all that.
eScooters, and the are they/aren't they landscape that has formed adds a little context to this otherwise light-hearted retelling, but in this particular instance, where I quite literally bumped into Jean-Claude Juncker, it reminds me just how different the landscape is for Luxembourg's politico-set.
We are going back a few years - probably to around 2013/2014, and I was a jobbing DJ at Ara City Radio - when the station was still situated in the City Centre.
It was common place to spot celebs walking around the Grand Duchy, some would come to the studio for a chinwag - as had been the case with Bettel and Helminger. That day was not one of them and I was tootling off a few minutes early.
So, to the Juncker anecdotes...before everyone had been bitten by the eScooter bug, I was a much-maligned middle-ager needing to get from uptown Lux-City to the Gare in 17 minutes - that duration being the time between finishing a live radio show and my train departing. I bought a street scooter. A three-wheeler, with a central steering rod and a rear-wheel braking mechanism. It was wonderful.
I felt so free and so-graceful, zipping in and out of traffic. Hopping on and off pavements (I know, I know this is the crux of concern) but I made my train every time. Slightly damp around the arm pits but always with a few surreptitious glances, a few of which were either a) 'smug tw@' or b) 'I want one of those' or c) a combination of both a & b.
I only fell off the thing thrice.
The first was spectacular, head over heels, flat on my back on the Ave. de la Gare. The second was, oddly enough, seconds after leaving the studio where I hit a bad cobble and landed on a table outside Urban.
The third was when I push-powered my way past Place de Clairefontaine and down a few of the slippy steps by the Ministère d'État. Hurrying round the blind corner was one JCJ. The collision was inevitable and I caught the then Prime Minister square in the chest with my shoulder bag full of CDS. I must have, in retrospect, looked like a smash and grab thief, being that I was sweaty, out of breath and had dozens of CD's shoved slipshod in my rucksack.
But far from being a priss, and far from having any sort of security details surveilling him, Juncker spoke softly in Luxembourgish about the silliness of the incident before my accented Lux/Fr/De attempts sold me out as an Englishman.
Jean-Claude switched to my more comfortable dialect and remarked on my Scooter. He was impressed (there were not so many around at that time) and wanted to know more.
I was still trying to apologize, as is my want, and was stopped with a kind hand on my arm as he addressed me; 'Sir, please, it is no problem...tell me about this board'...
Aside from the PM calling me 'sir', it was a surreal enough experience as we talked about the benefits of increased mobility, not having to wait for a bus, not needing to find a ticket for said bus, or better, not partaking in the drudgery that was having to navigate the labyrinthine maze that is the search for a free-parking spot.
Juncker asked for a quick 'go' on the board, I held his folders and files while he made some clumsy attempts at scooting along the path.
I asked if I could make a quick video, and was quite rightly rebuffed, that footage would be gold dust right about now.
JCJ handed the scooter back, said that he required 'more practice' and suggested I purchase a bike helmet, and with a cheery 'cheerio/adii' he was off.
I, now considerably late for my train, made like hell and pushed the trainer to the asphalt, just about making my connection.
A few weeks later and the PM was embroiled in the leaks-scandal that would define his final years in charge.
Just along from the Royal Palace is the Press Cafe and a couple of places where ministers would enjoy eating and (on occasion) an afternoon beverage.
Jean-Claude and a well-known (here not named) politician were embroiled in a fairly heated exchange. There was plenty of arm-falling and finger pointing. Members of the press were seated no fewer than 10 metres away and they batted not an eyelid.
The debate fizzled out and the PM's adversary trotted off. Clocking my scooter, there was a nod of recognition and a look of abject frustration.
I don't know why why I said it...jeez, I don't know why I say half of the things I do, but I offered a 'tough day, Prime Minister?' and a smile.
Juncker looked up, gave a feint smile in return, 'the toughest my friend, the toughest' and he then turned back into the restaurant.
A few days later the news broke properly on just how severe the leaks were, and then followed the allegations of phone-tapping and it appeared that Luxembourg's quasi-love affair with the tough talking Juncker had fizzled out.
Since then, there have been myriad stories surrounding Jucker and his health, some of his vices and a lot about his stance on certain subjects but if push came to shove again, the man can wield a scooter with the best of them.
So, yes, I've been on a bender with Daredevil, sung with Jack Black, danced with Al Pacino, drunk bubbly with Posh Spice, worked out with Sporty Spice and had a prime minister ride my scooter.
How're your toes?
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