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French funfair king sparks outrage with anti-gay comments

Bertrand Guay, AFP | Marcel Campion, outside his ferris wheel on the Place de la Concorde in 2016 in Paris.
6 min

French fairground legend Marcel Campion has been causing trouble for Paris City Hall for decades. Now the 77-year-old, who vows to affect upcoming municipal elections, has sparked outrage by calling city officials "homosexual perverts".


The funfair tycoon is not one to mince his words, especially against anyone who gets in his way. In a video released on Sunday by the Journal du Dimanche (JDD), Campion is seen railing against "gay perverts" and "good for nothing" City Hall officials, whom he believes have been trying to push him and his fairground empire out of Paris.

In a sense, this is nothing new. The boisterous Campion regulary vents against the Mairie de Paris over its attempts to regulate his iconic funfair in the city’s picturesque Tuileries gardens. But this time the offensive outbursts of France’s loud-mouthed, mustachoed funfair king have taken a political turn.

Campion is gearing up to fight Socialist Mayor Anne Hidalgo in the Paris municipal election in 2020. Sunday’s video dates from January, when Campion held a public meeting to introduce his movement, Paris Libéré (Paris Freed).

The JDD released the video ahead of a meeting Thursday, when Campion  who does not want to be a candidate himself  will gather his troops once again to take the movement forward as the contest heats up.

'The city is governed by gays'

Campion insults the mayor, her predecessor and other politicians in the video.

“Were they Parisians? I don’t know. I knew [Bertrand] Delanoë (a former Paris mayor, who is gay); he was Tunisian. Now we have Anne Hidalgo, she’s from Madrid,” he said of the Spanish-born mayor. Campion is also heard saying that Green Party politicians are like "shit" and "worms to be squashed".

But most of his wrath is directed at Hidalgo’s deputy, Bruno Julliard, who announced his resignation last week.

“He’s the best one. He’s the one who rules over the city. Since he bats for the other team, he met Delanoë and they made the madness together and then, just like that, he became first deputy mayor. And with Anne Hidalgo, he’s just great, because at the same time, he brought in all the gays of the planet. That means that the city is governed by gays.”

I don’t have anything against gays,” he added. “Except those ones, they’re a bit perverted.”

Campion has since apologised, saying in a press release that the fact Julliard was gay has nothing to do with his anti-funfair politics.

But the damage was done, and it set off a flurry of reaction from all political circles.

Responding on Twitter, Julliard condemned Campion’s words and vowed to sue him.

“Homophobia must be fought relentlessly, because it oppresses, stigmatises and kills each day. These abject words and their author will be prosecuted,” Julliard said.

Other politicians joined in, saying Campion’s words were "sickening" and calling for Campion to be sued.

“Homophobia will never have a place in Paris. Legal action will be taken,” said Mayor Hidalgo.

Campion holds a vicious grudge against the mayor that has intensified this year, ever since she ordered him to take down his70-metre-tall Ferris wheel from the Place de la Concorde in central Paris.

The iconic "Grande Roue", which was finally dismantled in July, has been a Paris fixture on and off and more or less legally  for the past 25 years. But last spring, Campion was placed under formal investigation for alleged favouritism and misuse of company assets in a probe over the conditions under which the Concorde Ferris wheel concession was awarded in 2015.

Adding insult to injury, this year the Mairie also banned Campion’s traditional Christmas market, which takes place over the festive season on the Champs Elysées each year. The cheap Chinese trinkets it sells were too tacky for City Hall, which said it wanted to preserve the historic character of the famous Parisian avenue.

The market will move less than a mile away to grounds outside the Louvre and will join Campion’s funfair in the Tuileries gardens. This decision has been construed by some observers as a political move as the battle for the Mairie de Paris heats up. The Tuileries grounds belong to the state, led by Macron’s ruling centrist La République en marche (LREM) party, and not the Mairie de Paris led by Hidalgo from the left-wing Socialist Party.

An industrious teenager

Campion is used to fighting for his patch. Born into a family of fairground workers in 1940, Campion was only 3 years old when he lost his mother to a Nazi shell and became a ward of the state. Like others in the Traveller community, his father had been deported from occupied France and imprisoned in Nazi Germany.

Reunited after the war, the young Campion helped his father working on the fairgrounds, but he ultimately left home at 14. As an industrious teenager, he saved enough money to buy a lottery business for his ailing father and a French fry stand and fairground ride for himself.

He set up shop at 17, selling fries outside the Tuileries gardens. From a young age he became a leader among the funfair workers and a spokesman at only 25 in their winning the fight to keep Paris’s Foire du Trône (at one end of the Bois de Vincennes) from migrating to the suburbs.

In 1983, Campion and his funfair fellows occupied the Champs de Mars, the garden in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, to save the Fête à Neu-Neu funfair. He would win that battle too, obtaining negotiations with Paris mayor and future French president Jacques Chirac.

As he readies to fight a new political battle, Campion appears more feisty than ever.

“I’ll stop funfairs only when I’m a hundred years old,” he once told the press. Whatever the outcome of the municipal elections two years from now, the funfair king is likely to remain a thorn in the side of Paris City hall for many years to come.

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