Bidding for the Nomadic
By Jenny McGuigan (Department for Social Development)
I was sent on behalf of DSD to buy the Nomadic at auction in Paris. I met up with the legal team there only minutes before the auction was due to start. Arriving at the Palais de Justice I was surprised to find a huge crowd at the entrance. Apparently a lot of people were getting divorced that day and had queued up for their hearings. We were already running late for our pre-auction appointment with the barrister inside the courts. So with the help of the security staff we pushed through a very disgruntled crowd, managing to lose one of our legal advisors on the way.
Time for a quick meeting with Madame Sarton, our barrister. She assured me that in court she and her colleagues would take care of everything and I wouldn’t be called upon by the judge to answer any difficult questions. Then it was time for the legal team to get their gowns on and we were off to court.
I was surprised by the significant media presence inside the courtroom. We were met by a sea of TV cameras, newspaper reporters and photographers from France and Northern Ireland. The judge arrived. She was quite flattered by all the media attention and on taking her place announced that she didn’t mind being filmed at all, but that filming shouldn’t take place in the courtroom until our lot came up.
She then announced, ‘Would ‘the representative of the British government’ (me, no less) ‘mind being photographed and filmed’. Suddenly in a flurry of activity all the cameras turned on me. I didn’t know whether to hide or try to fix my hair and make-up. I didn’t have time for either. The judge gave the media another telling off and they retook their places on the other side of the court to wait for the auction to begin.
An unusual feature of French auction rooms is that a sale is decided on the lighting of three small candles: there is no hammer and no ‘going, going, gone’. A court official lights each small candle announcing, ‘premier feu’ deuxième feu’ as each candle goes out, which takes a matter of seconds.
When our lot was announced, Madame Sarton made an opening bid of 250,001 euros. The court was silent. Then ‘premier feu’– no counter bidders. ‘Deuxième feu’ and that candle went out. The courtroom was tense as ‘troisième feu’ was announced. As it extinguished the SS Nomadic was ours for 1 euro over the asking price.
As we pushed our way back out of the courtroom, we were congratulated by the many Titanic enthusiasts there and bombarded with questions from the French media and the UTV. I was relieved to eventually escape and relax after my first (and last) experience of being mobbed by the media.