Clarkson's 'stupid' remark to Madiba

Industry news

Durban - Gender organisations are planning to read Zelda la Grange’s book on her years working for Nelson Mandela before taking any action on the remarks she said were made by Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson to the Struggle icon.

Launching her book this week, La Grange, who was Mandela’s personal assistant for 19 years, spoke out for the first time about Clarkson’s “inappropriate and stupid joke” to Madiba during a 2010 meeting.

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Popular hosts of the BBC’s Top Gear Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond are in Cape Town, where they are to present their show live from the
Grand Arena this weekend with 5FM DJ Sasha Martinengo, right.  Jan 27 2010
Photo by Michael WalkerNelson Mandela. File photo: Mike Hutchings.

In the memoir, Good Morning, Mr Mandela, published in English and Afrikaans, La Grange recalled how during the meeting Clarkson had asked Madiba if he had ever received a lap dance.

Of all the meetings she and Mandela had with celebrities from around the world, La Grange, 43, described it as the “ugliest” she had experienced.

“He walked into Madiba’s office and the first thing he asks him – really how inappropriate can you be? – is: ‘Have you ever had a lap dance?’” La Grange recalled.

“I immediately got to my boiling point – it was sizzling out of my ears; that’s how angry I was. I told Madiba: ‘You don’t have to answer that’.”

Le Grange, who also claims in the book the “poisonous” Mandela family banned her from seeing the ailing Madiba before his death, said the conversation soon dried up between Mandela and Clarkson.

That is when the controversial presenter asked the former statesman: “Do you come to the office often?”

Mandela replied that it was the first time that year, before La Grange interjected that he had met Neil Armstrong the day before.

“He says: ‘Oh yes yes yes!’ because he connected with Neil Armstrong very well and it was an incredible meeting,” she recounted. “And with Jeremy Clarkson there was just nothing more to say.

So Madiba asks him: ‘Have you been to the moon?’

“If he can make a stupid joke, Madiba can also.”

The joke went over Clarkson’s head and he said of their meeting that Mandela mistook him for the astronaut and wrote a column about it for The Times where he put his conduct in their meeting down to nerves.

“It was like queuing for a wedding line-up,” he said. “You want to say something to the bride’s father that all the other guests haven’t said before, but what hasn’t already been said to Nelson Mandela? My head was in a spin.”

Mfanuzwele Shozi, chairman of the Gender Commission, said he had heard about the book and was planning on buying it.

“I can’t really say much about those remarks because I haven’t read the book.”

A spokeswoman from Gender Links shared the same sentiments, saying she had not read the book.

It has been a tough year for Clarkson, who last month announced his divorce from his second wife, Francis Cain, just a week after he was reprimanded by BBC for using racist language.

The presenter initially denied using the n-word in an unaired clip of Top Gear, but later “begged for forgiveness”.

Emma Finlay, communications officer for BBC World Wide, said the broadcaster was aware of the book and the reference to Clarkson’s remark to Mandela.

“This happened four years ago and it was a private meeting between Mandela and Clarkson,” she said.

La Grange is currently abroad where she is launching the book.

The book, which tells the story of a young Afrikaner girl, who spent most of her adult life working and travelling with a man she called “grandfather”, has already sparked threats by Mandela’s eldest daughter Makaziwe Mandela, who has warned La Grange she could be sued over her claims that Mandela’s wife, Graça Machel, was sidelined during his final days and funeral.

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