Bromance blossoms as Fanboy Slim meets Justin Biebeau
Leo Varadkar and Justin Trudeau could be mistaken for a 1990s boy band reunion
So there they were: the Them and Us boys.
Inviting comparison by their very presence.
“Alternative” might not be the word which springs immediately to mind when considering Justin Trudeau and Leo Varadkar, the sort of nice boys any mother would be delighted to see a son or daughter bringing home. Yet they are projecting a very carefully crafted image of modern men who want to do politics in a new way for a different generation.
Their outlook is showcased in the zany socks and the shirtsleeves, the jogging and the gym bodies, the studied informality, social media savvy and in-your-face youthfulness.
And everything about them is saying: “Look at Us! We are not Them.”
(What they actually are, mind you, is a whole other question.)
“Canadians and Irish alike understand that it is not enough to tolerate our neighbours, we need to embrace the things that make each of us unique – whether it’s our gender, the language we speak at home, where we worship or whom we love,” said Trudeau.
“We each share a relationship with a very big neighbour, a neighbour that has to a certain extent decided to go in a different direction at least for the time being,” said Varadkar.
Clearly of the view that comparisons are not always odious, the two were happy for the not-too-subtle message to go out that they represent twin bulwarks against buffoonery on both sides of the Atlantic. In North America, Trudeau steps forward as the antithesis of Trump. In Europe, Varadkar sides with the European Union against Theresa May’s Brexit tomfoolery.
The Taoiseach nodded in agreement as Trudeau spoke of great opportunities at a time when “our significant allies and trading partners, in the case of both the US and the UK, are turning inward, or at least turning in a different direction” and allowing Canada and Ireland to make the pitch that their countries “are exciting and open to the world in a positive and progressive way”.
Stick that in your phone and tweet it, Donald.
But never mind the politics. Trudeau is an international star and Varadkar thinks he’s the bees’ knees. He’s mad about Justin too.
Throw in France’s Emmanuel Macron and, what with the snappy suits, stylish haircuts and swooning admirers, they could be mistaken for a 1990s boy band reunion tour, minus the unreliable wild one who recklessly gambled on going solo.
That would be Boris.
Yesterday at Farmleigh House, one observer who recently chaperoned her lovesick little girl to a sellout concert in the RDS kept referring to the prime minister as “Justin Biebeau.”
Which would make the Taoiseach “Fanboy Slim”.
The Canadian media travelling with Trudeau were fascinated by the enthusiastic welcome afforded the visitor by their Irish counterparts. “Gushing” is how one outlet described it. But one also got the impression they are rather proud of having such a popular leader to trail after.
In that regard, in any country, seldom is wonderful.
As Justin Biebeau and Fanboy Slim vied with each other to cherish their commitments to climate change, diversity, gender balance in government and the unrivalled merits of free trade, it was Leo’s socks which were making headlines.
Justin, of course, is the world’s leading politician in the novelty sock department. Once a niche area confined to men who lose the run of themselves at the office Christmas party, the Canadian prime minister has elevated sad socks to the realm of international diplomacy. Acres of newsprint have been devoted to his choice of hosiery for the big occasion and what he means it to say.
What would he wear on this official trip to Ireland?
Boring grey stripey ones, as it turned out.
But, fear not.
Fanboy Slim raced in to rescue the day, modelling a fire-engine red, maple-leaf- and Mountie-emblazoned pair .
The local press were instantly mortified on behalf of the people of Ireland. Leo, on the other foot, was absolutely delighted and determined to show off every inch of his wacky socks. Had he hitched his trousers any higher he could have joined the Palestrina choir.
But back to the swoonsome Biebeau, who had quite the following among the females in the crowd at Farmleigh.
“He’s insanely handsome!” was one reporter’s take-away line from the brief tête-à-tête between the two men when they posed for photographs before their meeting. Fanboy presented Biebeau with a book of poems by WB Yeats, then he tried to give him a new pair of socks.
An aide rushed over. “Eh, no, no, Taoiseach. They’re for later.”
Not for the first time in recent months, Leo apologised and explained he’s new to the job. And in our notebooks, we happily ticked off the word “bromance” from the list we prepared earlier.
After their meeting, the boys swaggered out to the microphones.
Varadkar began with a big statement.
“Canada is very large. We’re very small.” That famous scene from Father Ted came to mind. Ted holds up a little plastic cow, then points out the window to a grazing herd and says to Fr Dougal: “These are small, but those are far away. Small, far away. . .”
The Taoiseach rescued the situation. “But we do have a lot of similarities.”
Then he did the new-boy thing again. “Prime minister Trudeau is 18 months in office, I think I’m 18 days in office, so he was able to give me some good advice on how to manage a new job.”
Fanboy Slim was lost in admiration as he listened to Justin Biebeau answer questions in English and in French. “It must be very tough to have to answer the same question twice,” he cooed.
“It gives me two chances to get it wrong,” came the reply.
At this point, the Taoiseach had already answered a question on the bin charges issue. He had to answer a second time in the Dáil later on. It’ll be 15 months before the charges regime is in place, he said, by which time he’ll be so jealous that Justin has to answer the same question twice only.
At last, the big moment. Fanboy presented the Canadian prime minister with an Ireland rugby jersey, quickly following this up with a pair of socks. Thumping great woolly socks with “a kind of Celtic design”. Biebeau was thrilled.
Whereupon Leo lifted up his leg to show off his “Canada socks” again, but looking in the photos like he was explaining the basics of Irish dancing.
There was one final thing: the obligatory hurling demonstration and the traditional hefting of the hurley by the honoured guest. (There would also be a presentation of GAA jerseys, bodhráns and sundry other Irish-themed gifts, along with donkeys on parade in the fields. The only thing Justin didn’t get was a sod of turf, but the day was but a pup.)
The boys fronted up in their figures. No jackets. “You can see they work out,” said everyone, enviously.
The prime minister showed skill with the sliotar. The Taoiseach declined to take part, having proved a duffer in the hand-eye co-ordination area at a similar photocall a few years ago.
“I am so not doing that,” he declared.
Bless his cotton socks.