Sunday, June 16, 2024

Leo van der Velde – a true Hagenaar

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DIPLOMAT MAGAZINE “For diplomats, by diplomats” Reaching out the world from the European Union First diplomatic publication based in The Netherlands Founded by members of the diplomatic corps on June 19th, 2013. Diplomat Magazine is inspiring diplomats, civil servants and academics to contribute to a free flow of ideas through an extremely rich diplomatic life, full of exclusive events and cultural exchanges, as well as by exposing profound ideas and political debates in our printed and online editions.

Text and pictures by Henry Arvidsson /

Leo van der Velde knew his passion at age six and he is still living it. He grew up in the era when reporters wore suits and hats. When we first meet on Binnenhof a cool autumn morning he is smartly dressed in a pair of jeans, polished brown wingtips, a tweed jacket with a tie and ready for the day. He smiles easily and is at the top of his game with no plans to retire, ever.

However the road was neither straight nor easy. Growing up in a much bombed out The Hague after the Second World War he saw his birthplace in ruins and his friend’s mothers forced to make ends meet as prostitutes. Their son’s, Leo’s friends, later became owners of the brothels. He chronicled these times in his 1999 book “Hoeren and snoeren”(Whores and moustaches”) one of five he have written so far.

3229-098 NL The Hague-DPTo escape the devastation he took a job as deck steward with the Holland America line. Before his eighteenth birthday he had circled the globe twice and taken a liking to the US a love affair still going on today.

Talking about love, his girlfriend of fifteen one day gave him an ultimatum to choose between the sea or her. It was an offer he could not refuse and they are still married today and remain in the “Hofstad”.

The life back on shore in the sixties was a bit like the “West Side Story” with gang brawls and disputes over territory. However Leo does not like to dwell on the past or in nostalgia but shares the story of how he and his gang of eight with knuckles alone put fear in the eyes of a hundred man strong gang which tried to make inroads on Leo’s turf in the center of The Hague.

Not either a big fan of football he was told that the way into his wife’s family was to join her father for the weekly Sunday game. These afternoon games eventually made a Feyenoord fan out of a true Hagenaar.

One day he saw an advertisement for journalists in the paper. As he preferred writing over speaking he saw his chance to fulfill his dream. All dressed up in a suit and tie he asked his dad for the crowning hat. However his dad had none to lend so young Leo headed for the interview without. As he walked into a newsroom of 140 journalists and heard the smatter of typewriters he knew he was in the right place.

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His good grades from school meant nothing to the editor of the newspaper who gave him four days to come up with a story or be out of by week’s end. Leo spent four nights at City Hall listening to not all that exciting council meetings but delivered the article on time and has done so ever since.

Over the years he has always been a real newspaper man and the “go to guy” who would run down the stair at four in the morning any day of the week to get the story. He writes for the whole of The Hague and says about a favorite event Parkpop that if people reading his story says “we were there and he knows exactly how we feel” he have succeeded.

During his lifetime the city and it’s population has changed both in character and size. From an almost all white society in the sixties immigration of color and cultures has added much to the city over the decades. He likes the influence and impact of International Organisations on the local economy but don’t think that many expats integrate well as the “worlds are so different” but do not see it as a big problem. The changing skyline with added high rises is not to his liking but he acknowledges that it is a sign of the times.

Today he has his own page “Bij ons in Den Haag” (“with us in The Hague”) which appears several times a week in AD Haagsche Courant. Filled with what happens around town and insights into the city’s movers and shakers it is well read. It’s influence is such that it is even translated at embassies and enjoyed by the broader diplomatic community.

If you have never seen Leo out and about he is perfectly happy with that as he prefers to blend in and be the “fly on the wall”. Better yet he may be the perfect Ooievaar (White Stork – the city symbol of The Hague) who often times see life as it is on the ground and sometimes take a bird’s eye view of the city that is his and our home.

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