audio & video

“I’m not sure whether the news will still be presented by a
flesh-and-blood anchor in
15 years’ time”

Dany Verstraeten




If you add up all his broadcasts, Dany Verstraeten spent seven months of his life on live television. In 2023, the 68-year-old VTM news anchor said goodbye to ‘his’ channel. HLN journalist Jan Segers sat down with him for an interview and explains a Flemish icon to Dutch readers. “I’m world-famous in Flanders, but nobody knows me in Rotterdam or Hilversum.”

Dany, not ‘Denny’. But how do you explain to someone from Maastricht or Leeuwarden what Dany Verstraeten has meant for VTM – and for Flanders? Ten thousand times he presented VTM NIEUWS, the commercial channel’s flagship and backbone. “In Flanders, only Martine Tanghe followed a similar path,” says Dany. Add up the careers of Rob Trip and Jeroen Overbeek in the Netherlands and you get an idea of how long he’s been a fixture in Flanders.

From day one in 1989, Dany Verstraeten was the face of the channel. What Jan de Hoop was to RTL Ontbijtnieuws between 1989 and 2022, Dany was to VTM NIEUWS. For 35 years, he was one of the top 10 most well-known Flemish people.  “If I wanted to go out for a cup of coffee, I’d sometimes cross the border into Wallonia so I could read the paper without anyone bothering me.” The other day, when he went to pick up an order from his local Flemish bakery, hilarity ensued. “The person behind the counter was a Walloon girl who lends a hand there on Sundays. I said I had ordered some rolls, and she asked me what my name was. The whole queue burst out laughing – the baker ducked under the counter to hide his embarrassment.”

HLN journalist Jan Segers interviews Dany Verstraeten.

Dany describes himself as ‘part of the furniture’. He was a master of his craft. “I exuded a sense of calm, which made the audience trust me. ‘If he says it, it must be true.’ I used clear language and read the news in a neutral tone, but as a human being, made of flesh and blood. VTM NIEUWS had a bit of a French bent. Dutch news anchors tend more towards the stiff style you see in Germany.”

Picture Mark Rutte turning the tables and interviewing a parting anchor. Never going to happen. But that’s exactly what Belgian prime minister Alexander De Croo did for Dany’s farewell broadcast. Everyone who was anyone in Belgian politics sat at his desk at some point. “I can’t count the number of times I interviewed Jean-Luc Dehaene on VTM NIEUWS. One time he sat there for all of Flanders to see, dressed in shorts and a Hawaiian shirt, barefoot in his sandals. He’d come straight from a family barbecue. Another time, he suddenly rolled up his trouser leg. ‘See those flakes, Dany? I’ve got psoriasis.’ I’ve been asked to go into politics many times, but I’m not a party person. All that flag-waving is lost on me.” Not one for controversy, Dany’s own personal and professional life never made headlines.

“Not once in those 35 years did I have to apologise to a studio guest. So people go: ‘He’s too nice.’ As in: not critical enough. But I’m convinced that you get more out of the person you’re interviewing if you treat them with respect. Don’t approach them like you’re their enemy, because you’re not. If you do that, it’s for your own glory – it doesn’t serve the audience at all. And it’s the audience that’s always been front and centre at VTM NIEUWS.  That’s why they initially looked down on VTM over at the public broadcaster. 

1995 – Dany Verstraeten hosting VTM NIEUWS

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1989 – Dany Verstraeten in the newsroom

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The scorn he faced affected him more than he let on. “I took it very personally. I was deeply affected by it. Some media outlets ridiculed me for years – an interviewer from a well-respected magazine once asked me, in all seriousness, ‘Oh, so you read books then?’ It’s a form of discrimination you see in the media world: anything commercial is bad, even though that magazine itself was also a commercial product, of course. I had to fight for the unanimous recognition I enjoy today.”

And fighting he did, both in the newsroom and on set. Despite his calm personality, he could be strict if the situation called for it. “Philip Freriks once compared a live news broadcast to a Formula 1 race: lose focus for just one moment and you’re off the track. People make mistakes, but I didn’t tolerate amateurism or nonchalance. So I would reprimand people, but I never screamed at the crew.” Fun fact: gentle and even-tempered as Dany may be, his lifelong idol is Van Morrison, a man known for his surly and unpredictable nature. “I first saw him live in 1973. He’s known for his bad temper, but his music is heavenly.”

1989 was a pivotal year for Flanders. Not so much because the Berlin Wall came down, but because that’s when VTM launched. “It really did feel like a turning point. We were pioneers – freebooters, like Radio Veronica in its pirate days. Many people in Flanders saw us as liberators, because when VTM NIEUWS arrived on the scene there was suddenly an alternative to the drab greyness of Het journaal. We actually cared about how our viewers experienced the world. For entertainment, people in Flanders would tune in to the Dutch channels. Our TV stars were all Dutch: Jos Brink, Mies Bouwman, Ron Brandsteder, Sonja Barend, Ivo Niehe and André van Duin. Thanks to VTM, Flanders got its own stars. It was like we were discovering our own identity. Anyone over the age of 45 will tell you: there was a Flanders before 1989 and there is a Flanders after 1989.”

So was it all just one big bed of roses? Dany quotes the late Dutch singer Robert Long: ‘Every relationship has its rose-strewn days / but in the autumn the leaves still change.’ “There were a few times where I thought: Maybe I should go do something else. Immediately followed by: Where would I even go? Because VTM is engraved on my forehead. It’s my tattoo – on my skin and underneath. The channel will always be part of me.”

VTM NIEUWS is broadcast twice a day

and has a market share of 33.3% in the
18-54 demographic. Every day, the programme reaches 969,000 viewers.

“Let it go, you’re not the anchor anymore,” his family sometimes tells him now that he’s watching VTM NIEUWS as a critical viewer, on his sofa. “I’m in withdrawal, but the job is still in my body. I still feel involved, and I’ll be saying ‘us’ when I mean ‘VTM’ for a long time to come.”

But in these rapidly changing times of AI technology, such as ChatGPT and deepfake generators, he also feels a sense of relief. “On Qmusic the other day, I heard myself speaking all kinds of languages, from English to Chinese.

Unsettling for me, but they thought it was hilarious. ‘Only took us five minutes,’ they said. Should I have my voice patented? I don’t understand artificial intelligence, so I’m a bit wary of it. I’m not sure whether VTM NIEUWS will still be presented by a flesh-and-blood news anchor in 15 years’ time. But it’s just another evolution the channel will adapt to, just like we’ve been doing for the past 35 years.”