When you slide into a car with TV’s most popular love guru, it’s hard not to feel like a Parisian heroine in a Jean-Luc Godard movie. The twinkling-eyed Fred Sirieix is, of course, the maître d’ on Channel 4’s hit show First Dates. And he has chosen the über-Gallic Renault Clio for our test drive – the car that’s impossible to mention without saying ‘Va-va-voom’ in heavily accented tones. ‘Ah yes, va-va-voom,’ he ponders. ‘I like that idea – it is inside all of us, it’s inner joy and sexiness.’
We’re setting off from the London Hilton On Park Lane, where Fred has nipped out from his day job running the Galvin at Windows restaurant. He has no intention of having his head turned by fame, though. ‘I’m a waiter at heart and I will forever be – to go to the Baftas and see Justin Timberlake and Idris Elba on the red carpet? That’s fun but I am not one of them. My feet are firmly grounded.’
A bit like the Clio. It’s 25 years old this year and has had a smart revamp. Less ubiquitous than the Mini, less boy racer than the Golf, the Clio is all about stylish understatement. It’s been upgraded with luxe additions such as a rear parking camera and hands-free key card. And it’s impressively quiet with none of that rattling you often get in small city runabouts. ‘It’s very compact, no?’ says Fred, as we weave through the streets of Mayfair. ‘It’s nice, it’s sexy – and so easy to drive.’
He’s a fabulous road trip companion. Full of wisdom: ‘My favourite quote on love is, “When I saw you I fell in love and you smiled because you knew.”’ Charming: ‘You like to say you’re old because you’re looking so good!’ And unfailingly polite when issuing directions: ‘Left here, please. Thank you.’ Does he get asked about love all the time? ‘All the time! People want to talk about love problems and confess things. I’m very happy to listen, I’ve been listening to customers for 25 years. But I don’t know it all – you’re never a master, you’re always a disciple.’
I experience Fred’s romantic insight first hand on our drive. We’re in traffic when we spot a man and a woman walking by. Are they an item? ‘No,’ says Fred, firmly. ‘They are not connected intimately.’ I’m not convinced. So Fred does something I’m not expecting. He whizzes down the window to confirm their romantic status. ‘Excuse me, we were just wondering, you’re not a couple, are you?’ They wave back at him excitedly, ‘No, we’re not. He’s gay!’ OK. I’m officially in awe.
Fred needs to get back to the restaurant, but I have one more question. Who are better lovers – French men or English men? He gives me the full-on mischievous First Dates smile. ‘Well, what can I say? Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it.’
The revamped Clio has impressed me immensely – it’s a little pocket rocket with a lovely vibe. And as for Fred – I think it’s safe to say he pretty much had me at ‘Bonjour’.
Fred's Life On Wheels:
1. First Car
‘My dad’s old Citroën 2CV – when you learn in that, you can drive any car.’
2. What annoys you about other drivers?
‘When people drive at a snail’s pace up car park ramps. Just turn the wheel – the car does it for you!’
3. Right hand or Left hand drive?
‘I’ve been in England so long I have to stop myself driving on the wrong side of the road when I go back to France!’
Buy the Renault Clio from £11,145. For more information, go to renault.co.uk