A Malian immigrant dubbed ‘Spiderman’ for scaling four storeys to save a child dangling from a balcony in Paris has told how he has become a celebrity in France as he begins a new life as a firefighter.
Mamoudou Gassama was made an overnight star and met President Macron at the Elysee Palace for single-handedly hauling the four-year-old to safety after scaling the facade of an apartment block in the capital’s 18th arrondissement.
A few months on from that incredible feat where he risked his life to save the boy, Mamoudou has told how his life has been completely transformed – as armed officers are among the fans who regularly queue up for a picture with one of the most famous and popular men in Paris.
Speaking from his home in the Paris suburb of Montreuil where MailOnline tracked him down, the 22-year-old hero admitted: ‘My life has changed enormously, and it’s getting better every day.
‘Soon after the rescue, I was a guest of President Emmanuel Macron who gave me a medal and French citizenship.
‘I’ve since been honoured by everybody from Brazil international footballers like Marcelo to the American music industry, and have my own flat.
‘Now I’m about to start a new job in the fire service, and I can’t wait. I’m humbled and overjoyed.’
As he talked in the main square in Montreuil on a baking hot August day, fans appeared every few seconds.
They ranged from mothers with tiny babies to policemen, and also included worshippers from a local mosque, and boys who had been playing football.
Ever the gentleman, Mamoudou had time for everybody, posing for selfies as he laughed and joked.
‘I’ll never get tired of this,’ he said. ‘There are times when everybody seems to be my friend. They have all seen the Spiderman video, and just want to say thanks. A beautiful day like today in my new home town makes me very happy.’
Such scenes contrasted with Mamoudou’s descriptions of his perilous journey from Yaguine, the town in the Kayes region of south-west Mali where he was born and brought up.
The rural area is racked by poverty, prompting those living in the former French colony to try and find work abroad.
War in the north of the country involving France’s armed forces and groups such as Al-Qaeda and Tuareg rebels have made the situation even more unstable for young men such as Mamoudou.
He first left Mali when he was 16, spending three years in Ivory Coast, selling tomatoes and peppers around its capital city, Abidjan, in between work on building sites.
When he reached his 20s, he decided to travel the 3,600 miles from Yaguine to Paris, where family members including three brothers were already based.
Coach journeys through Burkina Faso, Niger and Libya followed, and then Mamoudou endured an horrific sea journey to Italy.
‘Libya was the worst,’ said Mamoudou. ‘The country was in chaos following the war in which Colonel Gaddafi was killed.
‘I spent a lot of time hiding from armed militias who beat me and locked me up at one point. Then there were days on the Mediterranean where everybody was ill and in fear of drowning.
‘We finally got to Italy, where I was able to find work in Rome for a while, before travelling on to Paris in September last year.’
Mamoudou finally found a hostel room, which he shared with one of his brothers and other friends, but he was always worried about the authorities arresting him.
‘Like so many immigrants, I suffered terrible hardship,’ he said. ‘Casual work was very hard to find, and I was always worried about being held by the police.’
All of that changed in May when Mamoudou risked his life to scale four storeys to save little Raphael, whose surname cannot be released for legal reasons.
His father was initially taken into custody, and still faces prosecution for allowing Raphael to drop from the fifth to the fourth floor, before eventually ending up clinging on to a balcony.
The father was out shopping, and then spent some time playing Pokemon Go before returning home.
Raphael’s mother was meanwhile away visiting family on the French island of Reunion, in the Indian Ocean.
‘Another neighbour in the flat next doorat first got hold of the boy, but all I was worrying about was that he was safe. My job was simply to save the boy’s life, and I’m delighted that happened,’ said Mamoudou.
It was Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo who first called Mamoudou then ‘Spider Man of the 18th’, and then President Macron gave him a Medal of Honour (Médaille d’honneur) – an award for exceptional bravery during a rescue.
After becoming a French citizen, Mamoudou was awarded a 10-month contract with the Paris Fire Brigade, and his training begins next month.
‘Life has been a whirlwind since then,’ said Mamoudou, who was flown to Los Angeles to receive a Humanitarian Award from the BET (Black Entertainment Television network).
Soon afterwards he travelled back to Mali to meet Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, his country’s president.
‘We discussed other Malians who have made something of their lives in Paris,’ said Mamoudou.
Despite the high-profile lifestyle of recent weeks, Mamoudou is now determined to earn a permanent job with the Paris fire brigade.
‘I have to go through training, and then a probation period, all lasting ten months, but am ready to give it my all,’ said Mamoudou. ‘It’s a huge challenge, but challenges are what I’m used to!’