First Person: Alexandre Svoboda

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Never in a million years did I dream that I’d work on France’s most famous landmark. In fact, before this job, I’d only visited the Eiffel Tower once, as a small boy. I started my working life as an electrician, but before long I went to work as a chef on a campsite in Provence. It was easy, seasonal employment that gave me plenty of time off – I’d spend five months of the year skiing in the Alps, living off what I’d earned in the summer.

But in 1982, I met my first wife and we couldn’t sustain a family on my salary. I had to get a regular job, so when I saw an ad for an electrician at the Eiffel Tower, I applied.

I’ve been here 25 years now and I wouldn’t work anywhere else. For me, the Eiffel Tower is the symbol of France. I am the son of immigrants; my dad was Czech and my mum a Russian-Ukrainian. France is the country that welcomed my family and made me who I am today. I get a great sense of pride working on a monument that promotes France’s image so positively. Almost everybody on earth has seen the Eiffel Tower lit up either on television, in photos or in films.

Without us electricians, none of that would be possible.

My favourite part of the job is working outside. If a bulb needs changing or there’s a short circuit on the structure, we get out our harnesses and climb out on to the girders. Nobody has ever had an accident because we are always very vigilant, but you do need a good head for heights and excellent balance. It is scary at first, but once you get used to it, it’s invigorating. In fact sometimes I feel like a superhero, watching Paris from above, waiting for something to happen.

Occasionally, when we are changing bulbs, tourists can see us from inside the lifts. Even after all these years, I still laugh when I see their shocked faces. A few years ago, on a hot day, my colleague and I stayed out longer than usual to soak up the sun. A new employee who was riding up in the lift spotted us and mistook us for tramps. She called security to tell them that two vagabonds were eating sandwiches just off the second floor. She was hugely embarrassed when she realised what she’d done and we never let her live it down.

The great thing about my job is that nobody is indifferent to it – even small kids. Sometimes I go into schools and give talks or I show classes around the tower. The children are mesmerised by it and often say that they’d like to have my job when they grow up.

When I talk to British people, they always ask me how many people it takes to change a light bulb on the tower.

I think it’s their sense of humour.

If a bulb has blown – and there are more than 20,000 of them – it first shows up on a centralised circuit-board, linked to a computer. Then we go up in twos – one to locate and change the bulb, the other to chase off the pigeons. No, I’m joking – the second person is there to make sure that everything is secure: the ropes, material and his workmate of course. There are 43 of us in total, so I suppose that you could say that it takes 43 people to change a light bulb. Each person has a specific role in keeping the tower in working order and lit up like a 324m-high Christmas tree, 365 days a year. It’s this teamwork that makes the Eiffel Tower such a special place to work.

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