Europe: Dozens of viewers share moment of intimacy before

THEIR EYES met across the table and they were transported back in time to a secret rendezvous in a Parisian cafe.

Ken gazed at Paddy's rugged good looks, Paddy laughed at Ken's jokes. The air crackled with a shared passion. It was enough to make a hardened Eurosceptic gag.

In an interview to be broadcast today on Bloomberg Television, Kenneth Clarke and Paddy Ashdown will reveal that they once had a brief encounter in Paris in which they indulged each other's forbidden love of the euro.

The previously secret meeting, which is sure to confirm the worst conspiracy theories of anti-federalist Tories, emerged when the former Tory chancellor interviewed the Liberal Democrat leader earlier this week.

Proving that anything the young whippersnapper Michael Portillo can do he can do better, Mr Clarke has spent the past year presenting a 15- minute show on the business channel.

Although he admits that Bloomberg's audience consists of City dealers and "bored businessmen in hotels", he has had Roy Jenkins, Ted Heath, and Geoffrey Howe in his hot seat over the year. Monica Lewinsky, he assures us, he turned down.

Adopting an interrogation technique that was more Judy Finnegan than Jeremy Paxman, Mr Clarke smiled benignly on his fellow Euro-enthusiast as they discussed everything from Paddy's future to er, Ken's future.

But it was those stolen moments in the cafe in Paris in 1997, when both men attended a meeting of the Association for Monetary Union in Europe, that stirred the blood.

"Paddy, I think the last time we had a proper conversation was in slightly more private surroundings of a cafe in Paris," Ken opened. "You owe me lunch," replied Paddy.

"I do. You were the only one with French francs," recalled Ken.

Remembering that this was a political interview and not a love-in, Mr Clarke did ask more probing questions about Mr Ashdown's intentions once he stands down as leader in June.

"What about Mr Foreign Affairs?" he asked. The Liberal Democrat leader admitted he was fascinated by the topic, particularly the Balkans, but refused to give any details of his job applications.

"I can assure you it isn't going to be pipe and slippers," Mr Ashdown said.

The two men, one a former cabinet minister and nearly leader, one a former leader and nearly cabinet minister, taunted each other about Lib-Labbery and proportional representation, but couldn't keep off their favourite subject of Europe for long.

They agreed that it was time Tony Blair came off the fence and joined an all-party campaign for UK membership of the single currency.

"When the Tory party comes back, as duly it must, from its wild excursions to the extreme fringe of politics and finds waiting there patiently for it the crumpled figure of Kenneth Clarke ready to lead it" - at this Ken had the grace to blush - "then Conservatism will have a right to claim its position," Mr Ashdown said.

Whatever happens to Ken and Paddy in the future, the world now knows that, at the very least, they'll always have Paris.

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