Joan Freeman interview: A long-ago love, a loan and the lack of a helicopter

Presidential candidate promises to use symbolic powers to mobilise communities

It panned out more like the final scenes of a Barbara Cartland novel than the launch of a presidential campaign. If you read the blurb it goes something like this: A generous loan from a mystery businessman reveals a chance encounter with a long lost love in the shade of a gigantic pyramid.

The launch of her official campaign on Monday saw Joan Freeman being bombarded with questions about Des Walsh, the Los Angeles businessman who had contributed €120,000 to her cause by way of a loan.

As she recounted at her launch, and earlier to Seán O’Rourke on RTÉ, it had little to do with boring politics, rather a grand romance.

For as it happened, she went out with Des Walsh when she was 19 in 1970s Dublin.

“So we broke up after less than a year. Des went his way, I went my way. Seemingly what happened was Des moved to America, moved to I think Texas, and then moved to LA.

"And I was on The Late Late last January and someone sent Des a screenshot of me on The Late Late and said 'Is that your one Joan [Lowe]'?"

“And after 40 years, he sent me an email. We spoke on the phone.”

When asked had she conducted background checks on him, or done due diligence, her response came straight out of the Mills and Boons political playbook.

‘Seem shallow’

“The fundamental question – sorry I might seem very shallow – what does he look like 40 years later? Is he married? Does he have children? Where does he live?”

Despite the persistent efforts of reporters to change the literary genre from romance to hard-boiled, Freeman was not taking the bait.

Just the way he remembers me from 40 years ago, he believes in what I'm doing. It is a loan

“No I didn’t need to do a background check on him. This guy is a very good guy.”

Walsh used to be the president of a huge dietary supplement company called Herbalife which escaped being designated a “pyramid scheme” in 2016 but only after paying a fine of $200 million.

In a clear case of rose-tinted ocularitis, Freeman could see no conflict, or no wrong. Walsh had made the contribution in his personal capacity and was now retired from the company. Besides, there had been no “criminal activity” by the company.

“Just the way he remembers me from 40 years ago, he believes in what I’m doing. It is a loan,” she said.

Freeman has a point in saying that Ireland is becoming like Trump’s America, where only the very rich, or those backed by the resources of a party, can become a candidate for president.

Royal purple

She pointed out she will be paying the loan back at 9 per cent interest for five years, or possibly for 10. And she is the only one of the candidates who hasn’t a campaign bus, or, indeed, a campaign helicopter.

Freeman arrived to her launch wearing a dress of royal purple with flared sleeves, a colour very reminiscent of Mary McAleese during her campaign in 1997.

She outlined a number of interesting initiatives including extending the president’s An Gaisce awards to all age groups, having a national day of wellbeing, clamping down on cyber bullying and valuing our ageing population.

The location was the City Assembly House, an eye-catching Georgian building in the city centre. And as is the wont of presidential launches this year, the room always seem too small for the scrum of media and supporters.

Freeman talked about the hidden powers and the symbolic powers of the president that can mobilise communities across the country.

That said, she is by far the richest when it comes to the timbre of voice and her ability not to get riled by questions. She sounds so like her sister Theresa Lowe, the former RTÉ presenter. Close your eyes and you could be listening to a question from Where in the World?, the programme that brought her sister to fame: "Where else besides Giza, Cairo, can enormous pyramids be found?"

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