In the start village in Annemasse, where VIPs rub shoulders with brand partners of the Tour de France, it is simply too hot. A kind of sticky heat, precursor to some fat droplets of rain that will cause chaos in the peloton about an hour later. But before the rain, it is just hot – too hot – sun radiating off the ground, and heat swirling around.
Through this very hot brand activation nightmare I spot a Credit Lyonnais mascot. I point a camera at the lion who poses, thumbs up. I tell the lion it is a video. It starts dancing. I give it a thumbs up back, and walk away. I am a complex mix of amused and sympathetic.
A few minutes later, another mascot appears. Whatever-it-is is wearing the controversial green tones of the maillot vert, covered in Skoda branding. A bit of Googling uncovers that the mascot has a name (Felix) and a species (bobcat). The bobcat and the lion are on a collision course, and I have the pleasure of seeing them meet and share a moment, posing for their handlers that help them not bump into people.
Then, because I am nothing if not a capital-J Journalist, I decide to interview them.
I turn first to the lion and its handler. “Do you speak English?” The handler replies in the affirmative. “Does the lion speak English?” Non. “Can you interpret for me?” Non. Fair enough.
Felix and Felix’s handler – a woman called Fanny – are more sympathetic to my Very Important Project. I confirm that the mascot is indeed a cat or something, and turn my recorder on.
Escape Collective [waving hand up and down]: I would like to know what it’s like being inside this on a day like today.
An unexpectedly female voice responds from inside the depths of Felix, half-panting, half-laughing. Her name, I learn, is Audrey.
Felix Audrey: It’s really hot.
Escape Collective [affirming]: I believe you. Do you have fans or something inside?
Audrey: No, I don’t have it.
Escape Collective [concerned]: Um, how long are you in the suit every day?
Audrey: 10 minutes …? Yeah.
Escape Collective [guiltily]: And I have stopped you right in the hottest part of the Tour village, and this is probably very painful for you.
Escape Collective: I’m sorry. How do you become a Skoda mascot? What is the process …?
Audrey: It is my first time today.
Escape Collective: Your first time today?!
Fanny the Handler: We have turns in the suit.
Escape Collective [barely containing delight]: Have you been a Skoda mascot?
Fanny the Handler: Yes!
Escape Collective: How many times?
Fanny the Handler: Two, two times. We’re three in the team – uh, sort of four in the team – so we take turns and I’ve done it two times, it’s her first time, and we have colleagues that have done it two or three times already.
Escape Collective: Is it a good day when you get to be in the suit, or a bad day?
Fanny the Handler [instantly]: No, bad day. [small pause] Well, it’s fun, but when it’s really hot it’s, oh, it’s a pain. [Another pause] But it’s fine. It’s fun to see the kids, and people taking photos and saying ‘hi’ to us.
Escape Collective: Do you work for Skoda?
Fanny the Handler: Yeah! Well, she works for Skoda, and I’m only here for the Tour.
Escape Collective [turning to the mascot]: What do you normally do for Skoda?
Audrey: I’m the product manager of the Enyaq IV.
Escape Collective: I wouldn’t have expected a Skoda product manager to be in a Skoda cat suit.
Audrey and Fanny: [Uncertain laughter]
Escape Collective: Yet here we are.
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