by Paul D’Alton
He was tall, resoundingly loud, perfectly coiffured and preened, but possessed of such a deluge of bullying arrogance and nastiness you felt as if you were in a room with 50 snarling hyenas. It is almost 21 years to this very day that I interviewed Donald Trump, now the most notorious American President in modern history.
Now, don’t get me wrong. With respect, I’m not some tree-hugging, bleeding-heart liberal. In fact, some of which Trump said in the 2016 election campaign that he stunningly won had some resonance: his slogan ‘Drain the Swamp’ – referring to ending the self-serving, noses-in-the-trough indulgence of the Washington political elite and their contempt for working people – struck a chord that a lot of us might like to see in the Oireachtas. Yeah, right…
Still, the occasion I first met him was the opening of the Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, a two-hour drive south of New York. I’d flown over from London, where I then worked as a foreign correspondent for the Daily Mail, to have an exclusive interview with Trump prior to the opening of his massive casino.
It was a disaster from the very start. What I immediately copped on to is that Trump was the biggest BS artist I’d ever encountered. Without wishing to be any ‘Big I Am’, I’ve interviewed former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W Bush, as well as Trump’s defeated rival, Hillary Clinton.
Yes, they’re all politicians, and they know how to smoothly put the face on, as it were, but even with journalistic cynicism in fifth gear, I found both of the Clintons and Bush charming, adeptly manipulative in their own way…but they had something about all of them that immediately earned your respect. Hillary, particularly, is one of the nicest, funniest celebs I’ve ever interviewed, and sharp as a razor, and we hit it off like close buddies and remain in touch.
Trump was a different kettle of fish entirely. From the moment he walked in to a vast, soulless conference room in the newly-built casino, I knew there was going to be trouble. He was surrounded by a phalanx of dark-suited security guards – and they looked about as ‘happy’ as him. What did he need all of them for? Did he think I was some Al Qeaeda suicide bomber?
I stood to shake his hand, as you do, but he completely ignored the gesture. Seated opposite me, he said abruptly: “You’re a Brit, right,” in his grating New York twang.
“No,” I replied, “I’m actually Irish”.
Trump frowned for a second. “Is there a difference?”
“Er, yes, Mr. Trump, there’s a very big difference”.
He looked confused, then swatted his faux pas away as if an irritating fly was annoying him.
He then seamlessly launched into a monologue that made me both breathless and bored. “I’m opening the best casino in the world, the very biggest” – had he heard of Las Vegas? I remember wondering – “the most luxurious, expensive resort in the world”.
Trump went on: “You know we have 24 carat gold taps, 24-hour room service, every bar and restaurant open all day and all night. I built this myself, I raised the money myself” – not true, he was given $400 million by his late father – “tonight is going to be the most spectacular night’s opening since the Pyramids,” a comment which made me curious, because according to archaeological records, there doesn’t appear to have been some huge snazzy, similar shindig at the launching ancient Egyptian sites.
But he wasn’t finished yet. He stood, gruffly. “I have to go now. You watch, both Elizabeth Taylor and Michael Jackson are flying in on my personal jet to be here tonight. I’ll introduce you to them, I promise you’ll get the biggest newspaper exclusive in the world, I’m telling ya”.
He turned robotically, no handshake again, and was out the room, bodyguards following.
Of course, Liz Taylor and Michael Jackson never turned up, just a C-list of so-called celebrities. I was forced to ask a colleague from the tabloid magazine The National Enquirer who on earth they were. “Trash,” was his forlorn reply.
Call it hindsight after the damage he has done, call it cynical journalism, but in my career, I’ve interviewed and investigated more than one scumbag.
But, as said previously, I’ve never come across someone so full of crap and BS as Donald Trump – and again I’m not saying that out of bitter hindsight or with any political bias.
Once a conman and a thug, always a conman and a thug. After spending time with him one-to-one – and this is 100% true – all I wanted was a long hot shower, which is precisely what I had on return to my home in Manhattan.
Now at least America and the world are rinsing him away themselves.