I once walked around the streets of Manhattan with Donald Trump.
It was an extraordinary experience. Everywhere we went, he was mobbed by ecstatic New Yorkers and tourists.
All cheering, shouting his name, fist-bumping if they got close enough and frantically demanding selfies.
It was like being with a rock star.
And in many ways, that’s exactly what Trump is.
He’s big, brash, bold and bombastic. But he’s also a major star; arguably the most famous businessman in the world, and host of a long-running, very successful TV series, The Apprentice.
Let me declare an interest here: I won Trump’s first season of Celebrity Apprentice seven years ago. Since then, we have become good friends and speak on a regular basis.
I like him. He’s smart, funny, loyal and thoroughly entertaining.
And he’s no political fool. I interviewed him many times during my tenure at CNN and on the myriad big issues facing modern America, he often makes a lot of sense.
Yesterday, Trump announced he is finally running for President, after years of flirting with candidacy then pulling out at the last minute.
The reaction was almost comically predictable.
Much of America’s mainstream media rose up in indignant outrage to say what a clown he is, whilst simultaneously packing the hall where he made his announcement, and then running acres of coverage on TV and in newspapers analyzing it.
Secretly, they all love him – because he’s box office. He sells papers and gets ratings.
Trump both craves and commands attention.
He knows how to work the media, and they either wittingly or unwittingly, get well and truly worked.
He’s been thoroughly dissected by reporters, professionally and personally, for decades – so won’t have any fears about the kind of forensic examination that instantly engulfs all new candidates.
He also has a big popular appeal away from the snobby halls of Washington and New York’s media elite.
Regular Americans love the guy. He’s what America used to be all about – incredibly well resourced, a fierce patriot, gutsy, and bursting with ‘can-do’ confidence.
During the time I’ve spent with Trump, I learned a few interesting things about him.
He doesn’t drink. In fact, he’s never had a drop of booze after watching his older brother Fred succumb to an alcohol addiction.
He’s never smoked either – Fred was a 3-packs-a-day man – nor taken illegal drugs.
Trump doesn’t even drink coffee because he feels no need for any artificial caffeine-fuelled high.
All this shows a man with an unusually high level of self-control.
He may sound a little bonkers occasionally, but everything he does is deliberate.
On a personal level, he’s a terrific father to his five children, as I’ve seen at first hand many times. He loves and respects them as much as they love and respect him.
His only vice, as he once told me with pride, is women.
But let’s face it, that didn’t harm Kennedy or Clinton.
And his third, current wife Melania is a delightful lady.
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