A passionate journalist, the presenter of the most watched 1 p.m. news in Europe will have succeeded in creating an inimitable style. Often mocked, never equaled, Jean-Pierre Pernaut was proud to be “five days a week the boyfriend, the son, the uncle… Neither a TV star nor a star, just ‘Jean-Pierre'”.
On December 17, at 1:40 p.m., he does not know it yet, but it is the last time that Jean-Pierre Pernaut presents his weekly show on LCI. Also broadcast on JPPTV, the channel he created on the Internet, “Jean-Pierre et vous” is more than a program, rather the summary of a life of caring about others. In the summary of this ultimate address to the French: the absurdity of the speed limit at 30 km/h, the madness of the standards which paralyze the country, the reduction coupons on the Web for shopping, the increase in the prices of the ‘energy. A bit of a dream, too, with a subject on overpriced champagne bubbles. Du Pernaut all spitting. At the end of the show, Happy New Year wishes. And then nothing, except the concern expressed by those who love him. They are numerous. JPP and the French, Jean-Pierre and us. Pernaut, almost an aperitif name at 1 p.m. High mass everywhere in the provinces of France and Navarre, as we used to say.
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For this love for villages, old-fashioned life and traditions, he has often been accused of Poujadism and populism. Benevolent, but also stubborn and a bit angry, this is how those who have worked with him most often describe him. It is true that he has multiplied the rants and rebellious rants, sometimes borderline. True, it very quickly echoed the small miseries, simple joys, demands and anger of the people. Jean-Pierre and them, the invisible people of our regions, whose daily life he highlighted. Over the years, for them, he has become a friend, almost a member of the family – and that’s what has always counted for him who has never felt part of an elite.
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So, Poujadist, JPP? The one who had seen the yellow vests movement rise before anyone else has always given a damn about this Parisianist criticism. Jean-Pierre Pernaut, the lover of small markets, is rather “common sense near you”, a slogan he could have borrowed from Crédit Agricole and made his own. In his book “33 years with you”, he says he is “proud to have created, at TF1, a network of correspondents in all corners of the country to tell the reality on the ground, in order to fight against a very real territorial divide. Proud to have given the floor to real people to show France as it is rather than to institutions”.
However, he himself has become one. Eight thousand five hundred television news – including 7,000 at noon – presented without a teleprompter, 115,000 reports filmed even in the smallest hamlets that he defended tooth and nail, 15,000 magazines devoted to traditions, crafts and heritage, but also 150 special editions, including one in Chernobyl. He was the first to go there. A scoop. But if for some there is undeniably a Pernaut style, for others he has remained a little old-fashioned, the spokesperson for old people with gray hair who don’t mix with blond hair. The one who was the favorite presenter of the French has always defended himself. “In 2001, I created the first website dedicated to news. I was the first to have a Facebook page and a Twitter account. My greatest pride, I who started when TV was in black and white, is that the polls indicate that more and more young people watch us at 1 p.m. on TF1. The bet was not won in advance.
He too was young, but at another time, and in the provinces. Jean-Pierre Pernaut was born on April 8, 1950 in Amiens. He grew up in Quevauvillers, a small village of half a thousand souls. He is the son of notable Picards. His father, Jean-Paul, an engineer, runs the family machine tool factory. His mother, Françoise, is a dedicated pharmacist who does not hesitate to get up in the middle of the night if someone knocks on the door of her pharmacy. From his childhood, Jean-Pierre always kept two memories: that of television, which few possessed at the time, but also that of nature, with the habit of getting by in all weathers. He repeats classes and already expresses himself elsewhere than in studies, a scout with the Squirrels then a field hockey player, an activity in which he excels as long as he is nicknamed “the gazelle”. At 13, he discovered his vocation as a journalist in Paris Match, reading a long report on the death of Pope John XXIII. “I failed my baccalaureate twice. Fortunately, at the time, the school of journalism in Lille accepted students at the final class level. From “Courrier Picard” to the ORTF, via France Inter, Jean-Pierre Pernaut finally joined TF1, at the age of 25, on January 6, 1975, the day the channel was created, which he never left and whose it will become an almost stainless pillar.
King of Ratings for thirty-three years with more than 6 million loyal viewers, he was never a prince of cities and their nocturnal worldliness, unlike Yves Mourousi, whom he replaced at the presentation of the newspaper in 1 p.m. in February 1988. Parisian life, friends in showbiz, very little for him, more adept at the canteen where you have lunch with everyone than starred restaurants where you come to show yourself. A house near a wood in Louveciennes, 30 kilometers from the capital, will make him happy for a long time. “I’ve always tried to be a normal guy, despite my exposure. Nothing extraordinary in my life: I do the shopping, the cooking as soon as possible. I’m a stew expert! My great passion is gardening. I couldn’t live without nature, without digging and watching my plants grow. That was when he could still…
Physical setbacks and illness have not spared him in recent years. In 2010, he underwent heart surgery because of a 98% clogged artery. He’s got three stents. In 2015, while going to smoke in his garden at half-time of France-Canada, a Rugby World Cup match, he fell and exploded his quadriceps ligaments in the knee. “I underwent five operations in twelve months, because I caught staphylococcus in the hospital. In 2018, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, from which he was operated on and cured. He hides nothing of his illness, wants to serve as an example. Seven weeks later, he is back on the air. Last year, in May, a tumor was detected in his right lung which required major surgery two months later, on July 5, at the European Georges-Pompidou hospital. “This cancer, he will say, there is a good chance that it is linked to the fact that I smoked a lot for fifty years. I never followed the advice to quit, including that of my doctor brother. I was dumb. »
He quits smoking, too late perhaps. In August, the doctors discovered a second tumor, in the left lung that one, and much bigger, that it was not possible to dislodge. Too heavy to handle physically. Then begin stereotactic radiotherapy sessions, rays sent in massive doses to the tenth of a millimeter. “Big blow on the head and big fatigue”, he confides then. But, at 71, JPP does not collapse. Exhausted, he still works, but at his own pace; and, whatever happens, he keeps his spirits up. To fight cancer, to reassure his wife and children.
Pernaut, almost an aperitif name at 1 p.m.
Never give up. A lesson inherited from Françoise, her mother, who died in 2016 at the age of 101. She had always been a fighter: “She wanted to be called a pharmacist and not a pharmacist, even though she was very feminist. She taught me that you should never be sorry for yourself. Curiously or not, I married a woman who looks a lot like her. With his first wife, Dominique Bonnet, he will have two children, Julia and Olivier, who will give him four grandchildren. Then, in 2007, Jean-Pierre Pernaut married Nathalie Marquay, a Miss Alsace who had become Miss France twenty years earlier. What could be more natural, in short, for him who loved regional beauties so much?
With her, he wrote two plays which she performed, “Piège à Matignon” and “Régime présidentiel”. With her, who overcame leukemia at age 30 and refused a bone marrow transplant to preserve the possibility of being a mother, he had two other children, Lou and Tom. With her, optimism anchored to the body, he never had the right to be negative and always saw it as an opportunity. She never let go, was always there in difficult times. Like this December 18, 2020, at the end of his last diary. His provincial correspondents, of whom he was so proud as to often say that he owed them everything, had a surprise in store for him that moved him to tears. It was a song to the tune of “Salut les amours”, by Joe Dassin, and the words sung then resonate even stronger today: “When we go back on the roads crossing our distant villages, you will occupy our minds no doubt. We do not erase all that with the back of the hand. »
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