Life & Culture

My week as Jerry Springer’s media minder

“If you save my life, I’ll turn up at your dinner.”


I’m a great person to have at a dinner party,” Jerry Springer tells me. “When you ask most people, “How was your day?” they tend to say: “Fine, I was in the office.” When people ask me, I say: “I met someone who married his horse.”

I’m spending the week with the host of one of TV’s most controversial — and long-running — talk shows. I’m keen to find out if the Jerry Springer I watched so often as a teenager is the same in real life.

The Jerry Springer Show first aired back in 1991. A serious talk show at first, the team discovered that scandalous storylines, swearing and fighting were the key to winning ratings. A few seasons later, they cranked the dial up to max and it’s been there ever since. The show is still recorded in Stamford, Connecticut and chants of “Jerry! Jerry!” punctuate Springer’s daily life.

He’s in the UK to speak at two World Jewish Relief fundraising dinners. I am the charity’s Head of External Affairs. In 1939 WJR rescued Springer’s parents from Nazi Germany. They settled in London and baby Jerry was born in Highgate Tube station in 1944.

It’s an unusual way to enter the world. “There’s no blue plaque there, though,” he points out.

I wonder whether someone who has lived for so long in the public eye has developed any vices. Alcohol, perhaps? Soft drugs? I’m excited to discover Springer does indeed have an addiction. But I’m disappointed to find out that it’s coffee. Every morning begins with a trip to Starbucks for Grande Mocha with extra whipped cream.

He teaches me how to pronounce it properly. Not mocha. MOW-ka. “It’s probably going to take years off my life,” he sighs. “But I love it.”

At 73, he’s honed his art. I show him a two-minute video about our work. It’s the only thing I share about our programmes and he absorbs it all, telling the Press Association during an interview shortly after that World Jewish Relief does great work, all around the world — supporting Jews in need in Eastern Europe and responding to international disasters too. I should hire him for our communications team.

Jerry seems to be as amiable in real life as on TV. He is gracious and charming throughout his time with us. He makes a point of being courteous to everyone — taxi drivers are greeted: “Hi, I’m Jerry” as his way of asking their name.

At Euston station passers-by do a double-take as he walks past.

At our fund-raising dinners, everyone wants a photo with him.

“It’s what comes with the job,” Jerry shrugs.

“I have a rule,” he adds. “If you save my life, I’ll turn up at your dinner.”

I’ve never been obsessed with celebrities, chasing autographs or selfies. But I am fascinated by the concept of celebrity, how society decides who or what is important and why. Jerry Springer is deemed important: every media outlet says yes to an interview with him straightaway. Are they speaking with Jerry Springer the talk show host or Jerry Springer the Democrat and Donald Trump critic?

“What you’re watching on TV is me. I like most of my guests – they’re not that much different to me, I was just lucky.”

At the London dinner, Emily Maitlis suggests to him that The Jerry Springer Show might, in a way, be responsible for the Trump phenomenon as it encourages fighting and shouting. He rejects this idea. “The show’s stupid,” he says. “It’s a circus.”

A member of the train crew comes up to Jerry. He’s already walked past us a few times, and I get the feeling he is biding his time. He summons his courage.

“I’m sorry to disturb you,” he says to Jerry. “But you look like someone and I can’t remember who.”

Jerry smiles his easy smile — he must get recognised dozens of time a day. He offers a hand to the man.

“Jerry Springer,” he says, warmly.

“Yes!” says the crew member. “Are you his brother?”

Richard Verber is World Jewish Relief’s Head of External Affairs

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