MailOnline reunites ‘Papa & Nicole’: Stars of classic 90s Renault Clio TV ads meet after 25 years
They were two of the biggest stars on British TV during the 1990s, winning millions of fans for their portrayal of ‘Papa and Nicole’ in the classic Renault Clio ads.
Max Douchin was the super suave, château-owning Frenchman, and Estelle Skornik played his beautiful daughter.
Both became sex symbols as they darted off on romantic adventures, thrilling millions of Brits with their Gallic style and sophistication.
So much so that when they starred together for the last time, in May 1998, many bemoaned the end of a glorious era full of frivolity and Provençal sunshine.
On se revoit! MailOnline reunites ‘Nicole’ and ‘Papa’ after 25 years: Stars of the classic Renault Clio ads Max Douchin and Estelle Skornik met in central Paris. The pair charmed millions of British TV viewers with their on-screen adventures throughout the 1990s
Encore ensemble! ‘Papa’ actor Max Douchin and ‘Nicole’ actress Estelle Skornik reminisce at a restaurant in central Paris
‘Nicole’ and ‘Papa’: Estelle Skornik and Max Douchin starring in one of the ads from the classic Renault Clio series in the 90s
A plus tard, papa:! ‘Nicole’ – played by Estelle Skornik – helped Renault sell more than 300,000 Clios, and was reportedly more recognisable than the Prime Minister of the time, John Major. She was often seen slipping away from her unsuspecting ‘Papa’ to meet a man
Sourire Papa! Max Douchin and Estelle Skornik pose for a selfie during their lunchtime liaison arranged by MailOnline in Paris
Now, a quarter of a century on after last seeing each other at Renault’s farewell party in 1998, MailOnline has tracked Max and Estelle down, and arranged a joyful reunion at a restaurant in Paris.
‘It’s wonderful to be back together with Max after all this time,’ said Estelle, who is now an extremely youthful 52, and living in the French capital with her financier husband, Marc, and three children.
‘It’s a big pleasure, I’m so happy to see Max again.’
Twice-married Max, who is 85, and based in rural Burgundy with his partner, Martine, also looked back to the glory days with nothing but joy.
‘Our time together was very special – I loved every second working with Estelle,’ he said
‘We started more than 30 years ago, and now we feel as young as we were back then. It’s such a pleasure to share a meal, and to share our memories. It all feels like yesterday.
‘We also have huge admiration for Britain and the British, so it was quite something to find success and fame in a country we love.
‘I still get stopped by British tourists in France today – they ask me if I’m Nicole’s papa and want a picture and autograph.
Ooh la la: ‘Papa’ Max Douchin greets ‘Nicole’ Estelle Skornik with flowers outside La Rose de France restaurant in Paris
Enchanté de vous voir! Max Douchin and Estelle Skornik share their delight at seeing each other for first time in 25 years
Des fleurs, pour moi? ‘Nicole’ Estelle Skornik warmly greets her on-screen ‘Papa’ Max Douchin outside the Paris eatery
Comment allez-vous? ‘Nicole’ Estelle Skornik and ‘Papa’ Max Douchin get chatting outside the Paris restaurant
Ça fait trop longtemps! ‘Nicole’ Estelle Skornik and ‘Papa’ Max Douchin hug as they meet for first time in a quarter of a century
Quelle journée! ‘Nicole’ Estelle Skornik and ‘Papa’ Max Douchin pose up for a photo after MailOnline reunited the TV ad stars
Tu ne le croirais jamais! Max Douchin and Estelle Skornik waste no time catching up over lunch at La Rose de France in Paris
C’est très drôle! ‘Papa’ is up to his old tricks again it seems. Max Douchin and Estelle Skornik share a few laughs in Paris
Je suis très fatigué! The reunion appeared to be a little too much for veteran actor Max Douchin… perhaps a good opportunity for ‘Nicole’ to slip away once again, while ‘Papa’ caught 40 winks
‘And of course, they always then ask, “Where’s Nicole?”’
The on-screen chemistry between Max and Estelle was instant when they first started filming in the South of France, and eight instalments aired from 1991 until 1998.
Polls at the time suggested that Nicole was more of a household name than John Major, Britain’s then Prime Minister, while 300,000 Clios were sold over the seven years the ads ran, also featuring Paris and the French Alps.
Meanwhile, the name Nicole became one of the most popular for new-born British girls.
Remarkably, the actors only uttered four words throughout the campaign – the names Nicole, Papa, and Bernard – who was Papa’s capped and uniformed chauffeur – and Maman, French for mum.
Viewers never got to see Nicole’s screen mother, with the implication being that the roguish Papa was always slipping off to see mistresses.
Nicole, meanwhile, took any opportunity she could to meet up with a hunky boyfriend, especially when Papa was apparently having a snooze.
The signature payoff line in all the ads was Nicole sounding shocked as she said: ‘Papa?’
In turn, Papa would always reply slowly and equally enigmatically, “Nicole…”
Robert’s Palmer’s Johnny & Mary catchy pop tune always played in the background, without the lyrics.
Recalling the grand finale of the series, when he tried to give Nicole away in marriage, Max said: ‘Yes, Papa was quite a character, but people obviously liked him.’
Some 24 million people watched the moving wedding when – in a parody of a scene from The Graduate – Nicole ditched comedian Vic Reeves at the alter and drove off into the sunshine with Middlesbrough funny man Bob Mortimer.
There were farewell parties organised by Renault and advertising agency Publicis at the end of it all, but Max and Estelle have not seen much of each other since those halcyon days.
This made their meeting on the Île de la Cité, the picturesque island at the very centre of Paris, all the more enjoyable.
They shared a long lunch at La Rose de France restaurant, after Max first greeted his on-screen daughter with a bunch of flowers, and lots of hugs.
‘Yes, it’s just like the old days – like nothing has changed,’ said Nicole, who nowadays mainly uses taxis and public transport around Paris, because of the amount of traffic.
Asked how they both remained so young looking, Nicole said: ‘Be happy and love people. No alcohol, no cigarettes.’
Max remains brand loyal, driving a Renault Megane to get around the Burgundy countryside.
‘The reason I don’t have a Clio anymore is because I had an accident in Normandy,’ he revealed.
‘A car came in to me from the front. It was the other driver’s fault, and the Clio was written off.’
Max was born and brought up in rural Normandy and remembers the wartime D-Day invasion in 1944, when he was seven years old.
Bons amis! ‘Nicole’ Estelle Skornik and ‘Papa’ Max Douchin enjoyed a leisurely lunch during their reunion in Paris
Sourire pour la photo, Papa! ‘Nicole’ beams with joy as she poses up next to her on-screen father Max Douchin in Paris
Bonne santé! ‘Nicole’ Estelle Skornik and ‘Papa’ Max Douchin during lunch at the La Rose de France in central Paris. The pair starred in eight adverts together during its popular run during the 1990s
Tu m’as manqué! ‘Nicole’ Estelle Skornik lives in Paris with her financier husband, Marc, and three children. She revealed her secret to staying young is ”being happy and loving people. No alcohol, no cigarettes’.
Superbe! 52-year-old Estelle Skornik was one of the most recognisable people in Britain during her height of fame in the 90s
Boyhood memories also include surviving artillery fire, and hearing about German commander Erwin Rommel being shot up by a British Spitfire close to his home village.
‘I moved to Paris when I was 15, and then went on to the Sorbonne university, where I studied Maths and Physics,’ he said.
‘I’ve always had a passion for acting. I started drama at school at the age of 11. Then at the Sorbonne, I joined the Théâtre Antique where I was trained professionally.
‘Papa’ is ‘papped’: Max Douchin and Estelle Skornik in a 1997 Father’s Day promo shot for Renault Clio
‘Pape’ and ‘Nicole’: Max Douchin and Estelle Skornik – the father-daughter double-act who helped Renault sell 300,000 Clios
Actress Estelle Skornik, who has also appeared in productions of The Days That Made History and Les Lyonnais
Estelle Skornik with Ioan Gruffudd in 1999. She played love interest Mariette in the naval series Hornblower, which had eight feature-length episodes over five years, from 1998.
Seasoned French actor Max Douchin starred in French-Italian TV series Les Héritiers De Patmos
Renault Clio TV ad star ‘Papa’ Max Douchin, 85, with his partner Martine Dupuis, 74. The pair live in rural Burgundy
Max Douchin currently starring in his One Man Show in Vézelay, in the Bourgogne region, eastern France, where his now lives.
‘At university, I also played rugby for the Paris University Club, including against Oxford University, and then carried on playing the game for 33 years.’
Max became a classical actor, and then moved on screen, appearing in 15 films and 60 TV programmes.
‘When I got a call from my agency telling me about the Clio campaign, they didn’t think much of it.
‘I needed to have the physique of a gentleman farmer, and to be elegant and spontaneous, but they didn’t think the ad would work. All of us were very surprised and happy when things turned out so well.’
Like Max, Estelle’s life was also touched by the horror of war. Her paternal family were Polish Jews who fled to France during the Holocaust.
Au revoir: ‘Papa’ and ‘Nicole’ part ways after their lunch meeting organised by MailOnline at a Paris restaurant
À bientôt! ‘Nicole’ Estelle Skornik and ‘Papa’ Max Douchin pose up for a farewell photo after their lunch meeting
Estelle’s father, Jacques, was smuggled to a safe house in Lyon when he was 15 by her grandfather, Lazare, who escaped from Auschwitz concentration camp three times before being shot dead by the Nazis.
Estelle insisted on keeping Skornik – her Polish surname – as a tribute to the extraordinary bravery of her grandfather.
‘It has made me glad to be alive and made me even more ambitious, so I give everything to my work,’ she said.
After the Clio ads, Estelle went on to star in TV hits including Hornblower, alongside Ioan Gruffudd.
Estelle is also a highly successful classical and movie actress, who has portrayed a range of lead characters, including Marie Antoinette, the last proper Queen of France.
The Clio supermini is into its fifth generation, meanwhile, with stars who have promoted the car since Max and Estelle including Arsenal and France football legend Thierry Henry, who popularised the catchphrase Va-va-voom!
Would Nicole and Papa like to make a comeback on behalf of the Renault Clio?
‘Of course!’ said Estelle and Max in unison, ‘We would love to!’