DARREN TULETT has spent most of his career at Canal+ until he recently switched to Al Jazeera’s new big-money BeIN Sport channel.
Here he tells ELEANOR FULLALOVE how he went from Brighton teacher to prime time TV presenter.
Did you ever imagine that your career would turn out the way it has?
People talk about fate and in many ways, that’s probably the only explanation I can find. It’s the sum of many decisions and things that have happened along the way, which led me to be where I am today.
But it’s true that I could never, ever have imagined being where I am today.
What brought you to France originally?
I went to university late because I did not work very hard for my A-levels. So I was working in a factory, cleaning supermarket floors, scraping by. As luck would have it, a former teacher had taken a shining to me – probably because he saw a bit of himself in me. He grew up on a council estate and was the first bloke in his family to go to university.
He signed me up to take my economics A-level again, the one I failed. He got in touch to say: ‘You’ve got to take this exam in a year’s time, so get yourself some night classes and go to university like you always wanted.”
So I went to Manchester at 20 to study politics and social sciences.
On the last day of the exams, I went out with my friends. Nick had lived in Paris when he was 18 and wanted to go back. I was drunk but he says that I swore that I would go with him. We came over at the end of 1988.
As things turned out, we both got jobs working for Berlitz. Before you knew it, I’d been here five or six years, being an English teacher.
Take us through the journey that led you to become one of France’s most famous football pundits…
I met a girl, she was French and she became my wife. She gave me a bit of a talking to about what I was going to do with myself. I said “I dreamed of being a journalist when I was a kid” and she said, “If you’re going to give yourself a chance to actually do that, you’ve got to start now!”
We went back to England and I took her with me to Brighton and was shocked to find not one national newspaper editor was waiting for me on my return.
Magalie found a job straight away and I was unemployed for six months.
Again, things sort of happen. I saw my old teacher again – we caught up for old times’ sake, I told him what I was not doing and he said to get in touch with this guy who used to be in the same school and runs Brighton’s Festival Radio.
So I found myself presenting a show and got to know lots of people. One of them was going for an interview at a local TV station. So I went along as well, pretended I’d already been on TV and got taken on part-time.
Weeks later, I saw an advert in The Guardian and it said ‘Wanted: Sports Reporter’. I pretended that during my time in Paris I’d been writing for a magazine and went along for the interview! You have to force your luck, don’t you?
To cut a long story short, I got the job. That was with Bloomberg in London. I went in at No3 on the sports desk and a couple of years later, I was number three of 10 as they kept hiring people!
It meant that when my wife got pregnant and we visited a hospital in Clapham, and she said “I would rather die than have my baby in this place”, I felt confident enough to ask my bosses whether I could get a transfer to Paris.
I hung it on the very tenuous link of having the World Cup in France 18 months down the line. They said No at first, but then I said “I’m going to have to leave, which is sad,” and they said “OK, go to Paris”.
Traditionally you start off doing League 2 matches and maybe 10 years later the Champions League. With Bloomberg, I started off doing menial tasks and two years later, I was the No1 reporter at the World Cup final in Paris.
I got invited on to radio programmes over here, to talk about English football. For them it was cool to have an English guy on the show, who spoke good enough French to get by and could tell all the French listeners about the English league.
A few months later, a guy at Canal+ was asked to present a European football show, L’Equipe du Dimanche. This programme had already been presented by one guy alone, just presenting highlights from around Europe on a Sunday night.
The new presenter wanted to have a panel: somebody from Spain, somebody from Italy, somebody from England, somebody from Germany, to give a bit of news about what’s going on in those respective championships.
Hervé Mathoux started ringing round his friends, saying “Do you know any foreign journalists who could come on the show?” and my friend at Europe 1 said yes.
The guy rang me up on a Monday and I did my first show on Sunday – no rehearsals, no nothing!
I’d never really done TV and there I was on Canal+ doing what I’ve since found out was a legendary show, with a cult following. If I’d been the only newcomer, I’d have been kicked off for being too bad. I actually did that show for seven or eight years. Then I got my own show.
Were you excited by the prospect of David Beckham signing to PSG?
Yeah, I was thinking this is the one for me, because I did the first Joe Cole [he joined Lille on loan] interview for TV here and that was nice, but Beckham – wow – this would have been huge. I thought he could have taken me into consideration a little bit more!
In the beginning, he thought it would be good for him. Then he realised there would be
no guarantee of first-team football. That’s what he needs if he’s going to be on form for the Olympics. That’s the swansong he dreams of, being captain of Great Britain.
Given your nickname, ‘Darren of England’, does living in France make you feel more English?
I like the idea of being a foreigner abroad. You enjoy a duality, especially when you’ve been here a while, where you understand what the French are saying, their culture, their jokes and their references. I’m on the inside of all that, but at the same time I’m still on the outside. It gives you a certain edge. I’ve not lived in England for 20 years, but I’ve never had to talk about my country so much.
Do you make a special effort to keep your British accent?
People do say that I have less of an accent when I’m not on TV. If it is true, it’s probably just the fact that when you’re on TV you’ve got the cameras rolling and the lights – it’s a naturally stress filled environment. I don’t feel like I have to play up to my role, even if people enjoy casting me as that funny English chappy.
Your wardrobe was key to that character…
Before they listen to you, people look at you. People were coming up to me and commenting about things I was wearing, and I wasn’t wearing that outlandish clothing. I realised that when I started pushing it a little bit, it had an even greater effect.
I found this guy who had a stall in Camden Market in London – an Austrian guy, mad about swinging London in the 50s. He was a tailor, making Austin Powers-style clothes. I bought about everything he made, brought it back and wore it on TV. When I meet people now, that’s the first thing they talk about.
Have you kept a particular suit or shirt?
I have kept my favourite, the purple corduroy suit.
Do you go back to the UK often?
I used to because I was the reporter doing pitch-side commentary and post-match interviews. These days, less so – it’s the price to pay for the glory of being a presenter! I still go over at least half a dozen times a year if it’s an exceptional event or if I fancy a bit of holiday.
Would you like to receive the same recognition in the UK as in France?
There are loads of French people in London. My English friends watch me with their eyes wide open when they come up and go “Darren, comment ça va?” In Paris it’s all the time, people wanting to take photos with me. If you’re going to be on TV and you want to present shows watched by millions, it’s the price to pay. I don’t mind, as long as I’m not with my kids.
What football team do you support?
Brighton & Hove Albion, of course!That’s my local team who I started to support as a teenager.
Is going to a football match in France much the same experience as in England?
There’s always something similar, wherever you are; just little local differences.
I used to stand behind the goal in the cheapest section, shouting my head off and singing all the songs. Now I’m in the president’s box drinking champagne! I don’t live matches the way I used to.
Can I assume that you will be supporting England in Euro 2012?
Of course! The weird thing is, some French people actually come up to me and say “You’ve lived here so long now, have you applied for French nationality?”
Why on earth would I want to become French? We’re English and proud to be!
I thought your surname sounded a little bit French…
Put an E on the end and it becomes Tulette, a little wine-making village in Provence. Before I was on TV, I was down in that region and took photos of myself next to the village sign.
We went into the town centre – it’s like three shops – and one of them sold postcards. They were getting ready to close for lunch, but I nipped in, bought all the postcards, i.e. 10, and tried to explain to the woman behind the counter in my broken French, “Err, votre village, Tulette, err, je m’appelle Tulett et je suis anglais mais je m’appelle Tulett. Comme votre village”.
This woman looked at me and said, “10 francs please”. I was disappointed, hoping that she was going to say “Mon dieu! Vous êtes de retour!” – the long lost Tulette.
I read an interview you did with cyclist David Millar for Bloomberg News in Paris. How does it feel now the tables are turned?
It is weird, but there’s enjoyment in it as well. When you see a nice article in a magazine, it’s something to cut out and keep.
Last year I was in GQ magazine – they did a four-page special and I was in the icon section. Darren Tulett - icon! It’s difficult to take yourself seriously.”