Eddy Wally, a Flemish cultural icon, died on 8 February at the age of 83. It’s hard to explain the enduring appeal this man had in Flanders-and according to him, around the world-to anyone who isn’t Flemish. Mr Wally defined his image with a baroque combination of jet-balk dyed hair, fake tan, eccentric, outsized bejewelled sunglasses and sequinned costumes. His accent was a cross between one from the Netherlands, his East Flanders home of Zelzate with a hint of mid-west USA.
Because of his extravagance and well-honed self-promotional skill, Eddy Wally was one of the greatest marketers Flanders ever saw. He was a celebrity everybody loved: whether you were hip, unhip, a butcher, a baker of a cool app maker. He was adored by an older demographic that liked his music and persona, as well as by the younger generation who loved hi campy style.
That ability to appeal to different audiences would be enough to show his marketing nous. But that is a facile conclusion. In fact, his real strength was his ability to make you think that you are laughing at him. In reality, he knew it and was actually mocking you, while making a lot of trips to the bank. You didn’t have to like him to like him. He was every hipster’s guilty pleasure, and he knew this.
To enhance his cheesy image, he had meaningless catchphrases that everybody associated with him (sample: geweldig or great in English) delivered in a characteristic Liberace-like style. These are cherished precisely because they are throwbacks.
He captivated Flemish hearts who longed for some things, at least, to stay the same and whose idea of heaven was to still go to the local recreational centre and hear his most famous song Cherie.