Arik, the fruit and vegetable market and the sheepskin coat

Sharon at Covent Garden

Sharon at Covent Garden

It was January 1980 and Ariel Sharon was Israel’s agriculture minister, making a flying visit to the UK to meet some of his adoring supporters in British Herut.

But Sharon’s keynote event was a prolonged tour around the New Covent Garden fruit and vegetables market, stopping to speak to stallholder after stallholder who were stocking Israeli produce.

The visit was a grand theatrical performance: a motley troupe of journalists, Special Branch, Sharon’s own security detail, some hapless diplomats from the Israeli Embassy. Nobody wanted to be there because it was absolutely freezing, the cold seeping damply into one’s bones as we waited in misery for Sharon to conclude his conversation with yet another market man selling Israeli melons.

Sharon himself, however, was having a whale of a time. He was wearing a light grey suit and was positively bouncing from stall to stall. While the rest of us shivered and shuddered, SuperArik seemed impervious to the temperature.

But then we reached what felt like the 15th avocado stall. Sharon bent over to test the ripeness of the fruit and at the same time, without turning round, snapped his fingers over his left shoulder.

His closest adviser and acolyte, foreign ministry spokesman Eli Landau, was wearing an enormous John Motson-style sheepskin coat. Without a word, Landau took the coat off and draped it lovingly around Sharon’s shoulders.

The Special Branch men were in hysterics. “Why didn’t he just take it off and lay it on the ground for Sharon to walk on?” observed one. Another growled: “Actually, it wouldn’t have been the coat on the ground, it would have been him.”

It was a powerful illustration of Sharon’s magnetism, and a belief that when he wanted something, he got it.

Last updated: 12:15pm, January 16 2014