For Donald Trump, politics is just like reality TV and he's the star – Stephen Jardine

After meeting the future US President in Trump Tower, Stephen Jardine learned to never to underestimate anyone

Sometimes your past comes back to haunt you. Nearly 20 years ago, I followed then First Minister Jack McConnell on a visit to Canada and the United States to cover his attempt to encourage inward investment to Scotland. It was a journey filled with bonhomie and genuine enthusiasm for all things Scottish. Then we arrived in New York.

A meeting had been arranged with a property mogul called Donald Trump who’d expressed an interest in building a golf course in Scotland and on a cold October morning we all trooped into Trump Tower. Back then, it was simply a weird visitor attraction. Tourists from out of town would gawp at the gold-plated escalators, buy over priced cappuccinos in the coffee shop and just hang about in the hope that they might spot the host of TV show The Apprentice USA. Before that happened, they would be politely asked to leave.

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We were on a different mission. Jack McConnell was whisked upstairs in a gold-plated elevator while we hung about in the lobby, under the gaze of beefy security guards, spilling out of their suits. I was just starting to contemplate where the toilets might be when the lift doors opened and something unexpected happened. Scotland’s First Minister emerged but next to him was Donald J Trump, striding forward with his trademark orange glow and too-white smile.

Donald Trump predicted Stephen Jardine would be 'very famous' after they met in Trump Tower in New York (Picture: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)Donald Trump predicted Stephen Jardine would be 'very famous' after they met in Trump Tower in New York (Picture: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)
Donald Trump predicted Stephen Jardine would be 'very famous' after they met in Trump Tower in New York (Picture: Doug Mills-Pool/Getty Images)

Painful listening

Since I was holding the microphone, he made a beeline for me. In the next 90 seconds, he told me his mother was from Scotland (“that’s serious Scotch”), called Jack McConnell the King of Scotland, and insisted I was going to be “very famous” because our whole encounter was being filmed for his latest TV show. In case I didn’t believe him, he pointed to a tiny radio mic hidden in his tie. Suddenly everyone started shouting questions and that was when he turned on his heels, strode back into the elevator and went back to his penthouse.

This bizarre encounter features in a new BBC podcast, Trumped, which tells the story of his Scottish golf adventure. Listening back is pretty painful. I asked why he’d agreed to meet a Scottish political leader and what might come out of it. Two decades on, there are so many other questions that need to be asked but hindsight is a wonderful thing.

As he walked into the elevator, I thought that was the end of the story. I wasn’t convinced a man who walked the glass canyons of Manhattan would want to spend much time batting Aberdeenshire planning decisions. He not only did that, he also became the 45th US President and now he wants the job again.

If I learned one thing from my encounter that day, it is never to underestimate anyone. What seems impossible can happen if the circumstances line up and the wind blows in the right direction. All the clues were there that day. The adoring fans outside waiting to see their idol. The TV cameras glued to his every word and the way he stage-managed his appearance and words for maximum effect but minimum disclosure.

For Donald J Trump, it’s all just one great big reality TV show and he is the star. In November, we will discover if the American people have the appetite for a second season.



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