‘I have confidence in myself and island’s post-Covid future’

Continuing her series of interviews with the deputies who were elected to the States for the first time in October 2020, Helen Bowditch spoke to larger-than-life character and former hotelier Simon Vermeulen

First-time deputy Simon Vermeulen brings 43 years of tourism industry experience to the States.
 (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 9347196)
First-time deputy Simon Vermeulen brings 43 years of tourism industry experience to the States. (Picture by Sophie Rabey, 9347196)

NO ONE in the new States has a heartier laugh, no one has a greater physical presence, and no one quite understands our tourists like Simon Vermeulen.

Even on Microsoft Teams, he fizzes over the line with rosy cheeks, twinkly eyes, a broad smile and his Guernsey flag in the background.

For reporters who spend their time in the interviewing trenches battling against communication officers who try to remove every ounce of flair and jollity and replace them with words like ‘stakeholder’ and ‘multi-agency strategic approaches’, Deputy Vermeulen is a breath of fresh air.

‘Well I’m just myself, I don’t put on any special act. I think I wouldn’t make a particularly good poker player, I’m just myself, I’m pretty open and I’ve got that experience behind me.

‘I’m a pretty confident sort of guy, some people do call me a big character, like you’ve just done, but at the end of the day I’m just Simon and most people just know Simon.

‘Does it help me? It doesn’t hold me back, it doesn’t help me particularly, I’m just doing it in my style.

‘The island has a pulse to it, and, having lived here all my life, I understand that pulse and how Guernsey works and perhaps what Guernsey needs.’

This first-time deputy brings up the detail that he actually stood to be a politician when he was a young man, but was unsuccessful at that time.

With 43 years’ experience working in tourism he now has a track record under his belt and said that listening was one of his greatest skills.

Politicians do not really like labels such as left and right any more and Deputy Vermeulen describes his politics as pro-Guernsey and pro-business.

He is a member of the Guernsey Party and he serves on two committees.

On Home Affairs he is the vice-president, and he is a member of Economic Development, where he is the lead on tourism, a subject he feels strongly about.

‘There’s no doubt about it, the rule book has gone out of the window with Covid, so we’ve got to look at how we can attract people to the island in different ways, and what we can do working in conjunction with the industry.

‘As bad as it gets with Covid, there are some unique opportunities that present themselves to this island, and to those businesses that have had a good lockdown.

‘I take my hat off to them, they are survivors those businesses, real survivors, and they know how to recover better.

‘And if I can in some little way contribute to their success, and the industry’s success, and Guernsey’s success, that’s what I’m going to do.’

Rookie politicians are sometimes rather coy on divulging when things may have gone a bit wrong, but Deputy Vermeulen obliged when asked if he had any funny stories as a newbie.

He recalled a moment when a new mobile phone caused a ruckus.

‘I did the unthinkable and in one of our first sittings in the Chamber the mobile phone went off – and it’s not that funny.

‘It wasn’t on silent, so I quickly jumped on it with my big thumbs trying to silence it, but it wouldn’t silence, and in actual fact somehow or other I managed to set off an SOS, and if you’ve ever heard an SOS it sort of goes ten, nine, eight... and I’m trying to muffle this and stick it in my briefcase and sit on the thing, I just could not silence it.

‘And that was noticed by most people in the Chamber.

‘It sounded like a nuclear explosion was imminent.’

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