Imagine the outrage if a journalist welcomed a former political leader with the words “Good evening Mr Churchill … well done on winning the war; I see you’ve dressed as a gigolo tonight” or “Good morning President Carter, are you on your way to a swingers’ party?”
Because that’s almost exactly what happened to Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the first female prime minister of Denmark, who presided over this country’s affairs from 2011 to 2015.
The worst she’d been called up until the Zulu Awards last Thursday was ‘Gucci Helle’ due to her penchant for expensive handbags.
And given that she was with her almost grown-up daughters, she probably wasn’t expecting the question that came her way from the Ekstra Bladet reporter who greeted her on the red carpet.
Out of place … almost anywhere
“You look like a right whorehouse madam,” Thorning-Schmidt was told by EB reporter René Fredensborg outside KB Hallen.
“Du er jo sådan lidt bordello-mor i det der,” was the line in Danish, in fact.
Dressed in high-heeled boots and a trendy, glittery tracksuit (reported as being Gucci, of course!), it would have been a faux pas coming from one of the judges on ‘Project Runway’, or even ‘RuPaul’s Drag Race’.
But to greet a former PM of Denmark … it’s right up there with the time British actor Danny Dyer called his country’s former leader, David Cameron, a “twat”.
“Did I insult her?” asked Fredensborg as she walked away without saying a word. He later apologised by email.
“Not even close to being funny”
Ekstra Bladet’s newly-appointed editor-in-chief Pernille Holbøll thought her first sticky moment might have been fending off questions about how much the newspaper has earned from ‘bordello-mor’ ads over the years.
But no, this was a different kind of ‘bordello-mor’ situation, and it was exacerbated by the newspaper then including the moment in its red carpet coverage.
“Of course, we apologise for bringing a feature in which Ekstra Bladet’s cultural critic shoots too close to the bone in a degrading tone to Helle Thorning-Schmidt,” said Holbøll, who sounds almost human in comparison to her predecessor Poul Madsen, in an official apology.
“It was not even close to being funny. That part should not have been broadcast. But errors do unfortunately happen, and we do not have a zero error culture at Ekstra Bladet. This is not an expression of our journalistic line, but a satirical review of the Zulu Awards.”
Failed attempt at satire
At its first stab at an apology, senior editor Kristoffer Eriksen also said it was meant to be satire.
“If Lars Løkke had arrived in the same clothes, we would probably have said that he looked like a pimp or a gang member,” he told TV2.
“That’s the way with satire – it sometimes runs a risk. And then you have to take the beatings that come with the territory.”
Earlier Thorning-Schmidt has taken to Instagram to complain: “Tried a bit to forget this little embarrassing scene when I arrived at the Zulu Awards. But if Ekstra Bladet calls me, an adult woman in her mid-50s who after all has been prime minister, derogatory names, what do Ekstra Bladet and others say to and about other women. Still in 2021 !!! An apology would be gladly received.”
And then, after the apology from the journalist, she took to Twitter to say: “I have now received a kind of apology from the EB journalist who used a degrading sexist expression about me. But it was the editors who chose to run the clip, so will I also get an apology from them?”