Next week Advantage members will travel to Miami for the consortium’s conference, where TV legend Jerry Springer will join as keynote speaker. He talks to Sophie Griffiths about his love of agents, the Cunard sailing that brought him to the US and why he won’t be running against Trump in 2020.
Until last week, my only knowledge of Jerry Springer was as the genial host of America’s outrageous talk show.
The infamous chant of “Jerry! Jerry!” was as synonymous with my ’90s childhood as Tamagotchis, Gameboys and Saved by the Bell.
But in advance of his appearance as keynote speaker at Advantage’s annual conference, I was given the opportunity to interview Springer – and I learned there is a lot more to the 74-year-old than a tabloid talk show.
He might be best-known for his TV host role – especially given some of the more shocking subjects tackled on his show, including “I married a horse” – but Springer has also enjoyed a number of other jobs. Born in the UK during the Second World War as the child of Jewish refugees, he began his working life as a lawyer before becoming a mayor, then news presenter – and he even at one point considered running for president.
Central to this varied career was Springer’s art of storytelling – the reason, perhaps, why his talk show remains successful after 27 years. And it is this skill – encouraging people to open up to him – which Springer will be discussing at the Advantage conference.
He is also keen though to discuss the image of the US – we’ve barely been speaking for a minute and the subject of Donald Trump has already arisen. Springer explains that he wants to urge Advantage delegates to look beyond his country’s politics. “I want to talk to them about what’s good about America today,” he says.
“Trump has put us on the front pages and I want to remind people that wherever you like to go on vacation, you can find it in America. Geographically we are one of the best places in the world. There’s something for everyone here.”
Springer’s love for his adopted country is unequivocal, in part due to the nature in which he arrived on its shores – on a Cunard ship in 1949. He was born in Highgate Tube station in 1944 – “women in their ninth month would play it safe and often go down to Tube stations for fear of bombs” – after his Jewish parents fled to London to escape the Nazis. The family then emigrated to the US five years later.
“My dad bought us four tickets for the Queen Mary. I remember I had never seen an elevator before,” he chuckles.
“My sister and I played in it the whole time – the ship was like this huge exciting city to us.”
“The best job I ever had was being mayor of Cincinnati. The most fun was being a talk show host, but it’s not a serious job.”
The most memorable part of the journey for Springer, though, was the ship’s arrival. “I have a vivid memory of arriving in New York,” he recalls. “We were holocaust survivors, so our dream of arriving here was huge. We passed the Statue of Liberty as we were coming into New York harbour – everyone on the ship went up to the top deck to see it.
“I remember it was January 24, 1949, and people were stacked together looking out. It was freezing cold but nobody said a word – it was so eerie. I remember asking my mum, ‘Why is it so quiet?’ And she replied in German, which translated as: ‘One day it will mean everything’. I realise now that it was all of their beliefs in the American dream.”
It’s a journey that Springer commemorated again recently with his sister. “For a major birthday we decided we would fly to London and then come back to America on the Queen Mary 2. Interestingly, in 1949 it took five days – this time it took eight.”
He might now be a US citizen, but Springer insists he is also an Anglophile, travelling to the UK several times a year. When it comes to holidays, though, he says he is more of a “lazy traveller”. “We often go to Italy,” he adds. “I do think when God made Italy he was showing off.”
And when he does holiday, he insists he always uses a travel agent. “We love her. She knows the whole family – we’ve been with her for 30 years. She knows what we like and what we don’t. Travel agents make it so easy,” he adds. “She looks after us.”
Aside from travel, Springer says his real passion is politics. He served as the (Democrat) mayor of Cincinnati from 1977 to 1978, a position he remembers fondly. “The best job I ever had was being mayor of Cincinnati. The most fun job was being a talk show host,” he grins, “but it’s not a serious job.”
I ask him how the political arena has since changed. “The most significant thing is the impact of media and social media,” he replies. “We get to see the decisions that are being made at the top. We know all about what the strategy is and who is talking to who, so we the people get involved too and start arguing about strategy.
“There’s no such thing as privacy now the whole world shares in every meeting.”
I point out that this is especially so when the US president is tweeting his every thought. Springer agrees: “Donald Trump bears a big responsibility for that.”
“My dad bought us four tickets for the Queen Mary. I remember I had never seen an elevator before. The ship was like this huge exciting city to us”
“I was going to run for Senate – there was a lot of pressure and interest but it was a five-year commitment and I felt I was too old. Obviously I’m at the other end politically [to Trump]. It’s not personal, though,” he adds.
“I’ve always got on with Trump personally. I was the host of the Miss Universe Pageant 2008 in Vietnam, so we met then and he’s only been nice to me. But his politics are horrible and I don’t think he has any business being president.”
Such politics of course include Trump’s controversial travel ban – something which Springer says “has clearly impacted the image of America”.
“Our image has totally suffered,” he says. “This should be a place where you are welcome, poor or rich – where you can be whatever you want to be. That’s the American ideal. That’s America to me – a place of freedom. This president wants to replace the Statue of Liberty with a wall. It’s so un-American.”
So would Springer take on Trump in the 2020 presidential election?
“If I did run, then people would want to be getting out of the US. They’d all come to the UK!” he grins, bursting out laughing. “Can you imagine – Trump versus Springer!”
It sounds like a good topic for The Jerry Springer Show…