Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 21 October 2014

A tomato squash... and Gentleman Jim's X-rated encounter with Sharon

But it's all in a day's work for the Lord Mayor of Belfast

X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne feeling the Lord Major's backside

Belfast's First Citizen may have served only half of his 12-month term in office to date but it's already been quite a year.

From having his bum felt by X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne to a rather unfortunate incident involving a council worker dressed as a tomato, the Lord Mayor Jim Rodgers' stint so far has been anything but dull.

Reflecting on the first half of his term in office, the east Belfast councillor said: "This is my second time as Lord Mayor, my last time was in 2001/2002.

"There is such a difference in the city, such a great feeling about Belfast at the moment. You can feel it in the air.

"You only have to look around the skyline and see so many cranes where new offices, businesses, shopping centres, retail units and houses in both the public and private sector are being built."

Welcoming both the Victoria Square development and Ikea to Belfast, Mr Rodgers said the new shopping complexes would help create jobs and boost the local economy.

The Ulster Unionist also spoke of an increase in both visitors and migrant workers to the city.

He said: "The Mayor's parlour has been moved to Clarendon Dock due to a £12m refurbishment which is taking place at the City Hall.

"But in my first five months of term when I was still at the City Hall I took my time to speak to people taking tours round the building.

"As well as visitors from England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic, there were people from at least five other countries on each tour.

"From the late 60s to the early 90s, we had nothing but people losing their lives in the Troubles, but now we have visitors and people seeking work from all over the world coming to Belfast. What a transformation."

The Mayor praised the city's taxi drivers for being "fantastic ambassadors".

He said: "I would like to thank each and every taxi driver for their contribution because for me they are Belfast's unsung heroes.

"There are there to pick up visitors from airports, ferry ports and train stations and they use this opportunity to sell the city."

The Lord Mayor also spoke of the City Hall's impressive festive facade, saying: "It looked fabulous.

"With the lights, the continental market and the big wheel, I've had so many people coming up to me and telling me how fantastic it looked."

Singer Shane Ward and Bangor-born TV presenter Zoe Salmon helped Jim Rodgers turn on this year's Christmas lights.

Despite attracting hundreds of families, the festivities were marred by drunken youths who attacked the PSNI with bottles and other missiles.

The First Citizen, who is teetotal, said: "The number of young people out of their minds on drink and drugs in Belfast is an issue that still needs a lot of work, as is the prevention of suicide amongst not just teenagers but older people."

One of his first public engagements following his election to Lord Mayor was attending the X Factor auctions which took place in the Hilton Hotel in June.

A picture of the politician's bum being pinched by X Factor judge Sharon Osbourne made the headlines and as Mr Rodgers joked: "I've been in touch with my solicitor as there is still a mark there.

"I enjoy a laugh and I think Lord Mayors have to be up for it. There is a time for joking and a time to be serious but the Sharon Osbourne incident was great fun.

"After she pinched my bum, she told everyone gathered in the lobby " I didn't know the Lord Mayor wore a thong". I don't, of course, but it was all part of the joke."

However, one publicity stunt in September which proved to have serious consequences for a council worker proved to be no laughing matter.

While promoting a food event, Mr Rodgers was asked by a Press photographer to leap over council colleague Lorraine Mallon, who was dressed as a tomato.

After several successful leapfrogs, the Lord Mayor's foot connected with Ms Mallon's neck resulting in her sustaining back injuries.

It is understood a lawyer has now lodged a damages claim against Belfast City Council.

Wishing Lorraine a speedy recovery from her injuries, the Lord Mayor said: " It has absolutely devastated me and causes me great distress."

He also threw his hat into the ring about the proposed sports stadium for Northern Ireland.

A member of Sport NI, he said he thought the proposed site at the Maze in Lisburn was the wrong choice. He said: "The proper place for the stadium is the city of Belfast.

"My personal choice would have been in the Titanic Quarter, which proved too expensive."

He also revealed he wasn't too disappointed to miss out on a seat representing east Belfast in the Assembly.

"It's a bit like sport", he said. "You win some, you lose some."

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