In 1986, as a favour to his friend, television host Michel Drucker introduced a newly discovered 22-year-old Whitney Houston to the set of French prime time show the Champs Elysées unaware of what was about to unfold.
The French singer-songwriter Serge Gainsbourg, a notorious lothario with an eye for all things controversial, was sat waiting on the sofa as Houston waved to the crowd before being escorted over to the seating area by host Drucker who was introducing the American singer to French television for one of the first times in her career.
Houston, clearly a little nervous about appearing on foreign television, was introduced to a then 58-year-old Gainsbourg who stands as Houston takes a seat to his right-hand side. Taking her hand, Gainsbourg kissing it and says: “you are superb,” as she politely accepted his compliment.
Drucker, who becomes quickly aware by Gainsbourg’s slurred speech when the singer mutters, “my mic doesn’t work”, attempts to talk over his guest and repeats the compliment to Houston by reassuring her that Gainsbourg had simply told her that she was pretty. However, in the blink of an eye, the atmosphere takes a sudden turn: “No, you are not Reagan, I am not Gorbachev, so don’t try,” Gainsbourg snaps with a sense of agitation.
“I said, I want to fuck her,” Gainsbourg says in English to the astonishment of a fresh-faced Houston whose facial expression matches that of the crowd who had suddenly let out a gasp of pure shock. “What did you say?” she replied with bemusement as Drucker does his best to usher the situation away, desperately trying to rescue the show by claiming that Gainsbourg simply wants to give her some flowers.
“Not at all,” Gainsbourg chimed back in, not for a second allowing Drucker to stop the car crash that was unfolding on live television. “I said I wanted to fuck her,” he repeated, this time in French.
Drucker, with an air of resignation, attempts to comfort Houston: “Sometimes he’s a little bit drunk you know,” he said. “Yeah I know,” Houston replied in agreement before trying to laugh off the situation with commendable grace. “I’m not drunk!” Gainsbourg replies. “I’m not drunk today!” he slurs.
“Are you sure you’re not drunk?” she asks Gainsbourg. “You’ve got to be!” she adds. Quite right.
Offering Gainsbourg a cigarette in an attempt to calm him down, Drucker turns back to his microphone as tells the crowd: “I don’t think Whitney Houston is going to come back on Champs-Elysées.”
See the nightmare, below.
Years later, in an interview with Gala magazine, Drucker explained that the whole disastrous situation was a result of his attempts to help out a friend, “Sacha Distel asked me to have her on because she was the cousin of one of his friends, Dionne Warwick,” he said.
“That was without counting on Serge, who put me in a terrible situation. Whitney was furious. That night I even went to her hotel with flowers to apologise.”
He added: “That wasn’t enough though. Shortly afterwards, she told Variety magazine that she didn’t know such a programme could exist. A programme where artists can be so deceived.”
Despite the obvious anger, both Drucker and Houston were able to laugh off the situation when they met at a separate event: “I saw her some years later in Monaco during an awards ceremony I was presenting with Claudia Schiffer,” Drucker explained said.
“We were seated next to each other at Prince Albert’s table. I thought it was going to be awful but we ended up laughing about it. She had found out more about this famous Serge Gainsbourg in the meantime.”