Jonathan Crocker

Editorial Director | Journalist

Travel: Muscles From Brussels

Posted by Jonathan On April - 6 - 2009

affligemBelgium’s favourite son, Jean-Claude Van Damme, remembers where it all began…

“They call me ‘The Muscles From Brussels’,” smiles Jean-Claude Van Damme, almost coyly. “But really, I am just a normal man from Belgium, who once was skinny like a toothpick, reading comic books and dreaming of being a star.”

Back then, in Berchem-Sainte-Agathe, they called him Jean-Claude Van Varenberg. Few would have guessed that a Brussels municipality so peaceful it’s known as “the village in the city” would raise the star of action blockbusters like Hard Target, Universal Soldier and Timecop. But it was there that young Jean-Claude grew up and ignited his dreams at the local cinema. “My father took me to see movies like Ben-Hur and Lawrence of Arabia,” remembers Van Damme. “In Belgium, the sky gets dark at six o’clock and those movies made me dream about blue skies and heroes saving people.”

“My parents sent me to a farm in a village called Affligem, in the Flemish area of Brussels. In that village is a church. And one night I just woke up, like an epiphany. And walked to that church and started praying that I would become one of these guys like Laurence Of Arabia.”

Affligem, famous for its traditional beer brewed from its beautiful ancient Abbey, inspired Jean-Claude to chase the dream: he became a martial arts champion, bodybuilding’s Mr Belgium and even studied ballet for six years before wowing Hollywood with his skills. “I sent everyone this unbelievable picture of me, jumping above a car in the splits position!” he laughs. “And I went from a sleeping in a box and stealing food to the best penthouse and private jet.”

Back in Belgium for his new autobiog action-comedy JCVD, Van Damme puts his success down to his prayers being answered. But who knows? Maybe there’s something special in Affligem’s abbey beer…

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Jonathan is a London-based journalist, critic and editor. He currently works for data visualisation agency Beyond Words.

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