Jan Leyers is one of those exceptions. Two weeks ago, he was given the rare honour of presenting not only a Dutch TV programme but one of the programmes of which the Dutch are most proud.
The Flemish celebrity will present this summer’s season of the Dutch programme Zomergasten (Summer Guests), a three-hour show on VPRO that consists of one presenter, one guest and a string of archive clips. His appointment is all the more surprising in that the show is marking its 25th anniversary, and he’s the first Flemish person ever to present it.
Jan Anna August Leyers was born in Wilrijk, now a district of Antwerp, in 1958 and made his début as a pop musician at the age of 20 in a cover band called Beri- Beri. A decade later he formed Soulsister with Paul Michiels, and they scored their biggest hit with the 1988 pop tune “The Way to Your Heart”, which reached number one in Belgium and also made the charts in Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US.
The duo still performs, and Leyers also writes songs for Flemish artists like Clouseau and Natalia. He also broke into television, making a trilogy of documentaries for the VRT on the Crusades, Islam and the spread of humanity, as well as hosting a programme on Beethoven’s travels across Europe. In these, he fulfils the role of an Everyman rather than an expert, and perhaps it was his talent for providing a sympathetic ear that led to his being chosen for Zomergasten. For this new venture, however, he may turn out to be too sympathetic. The Flemish press criticised his first taping of the series, with Dutch musician Henny Vrienten, claiming Leyers was not in control of his guest or his subject. The Dutch critics were more gentle. Leyers, they all agreed, was very polite.
Zomergasten airs at 20.15 on Sundays until 26 August on Nederland 2. Soulsister performs on 29 August at the open-air theatre at Rivierenhof Park in Antwerp