Jiggs’ dinner with salt meat? Justin Bieber loves it, says a local man. Ronnie Mercer of St. John’s says he’s known the Biebs since he was just a little kid, growing up in Stratford, Ont. Mercer lived in an apartment across the hall from Justin and his mother, Patti Mallette, and became close friends with them.
Justin was a typical kid, Mercer said: he’d often visit Mercer’s apartment for meals and take his dog out for walks, would spend his weekends playing video games and going to church, and liked riding his bike. He was also a bit of a prankster.
“I remember one time he stacked a bunch of empty boxes in front of my apartment door and called out to me to come out quick. The boxes were supposed to have fallen in on me,” Mercer said with a laugh.
Though he was known for being a good singer, Justin was popular around Stratford because of his skills as a hockey player, Mercer explained, adding if Justin hadn’t made it as a pop star, he could have had a shot at being a professional hockey player.
“He always had young girls running after him, long before he was famous,” Mercer said.
“We’d be out walking or he’d be on his bike and the girls would be like, ‘Hi, Justin!’ Even the older ones,” Mercer said. “He’s not bothered by all the attention he gets from girls now because he’s used to it.”
In was in 2007 that Mallette started putting videos of Justin singing covers of various R&B tunes up on YouTube, and a year later, American talent manager Scooter Braun came across them. Not long after that, Justin was signed to Raymond Braun Media Group, owned by Braun and R&B star Usher, and moved to Atlanta, Georgia.
“I remember he was in my apartment one morning eating breakfast and he had the cordless phone with him. The phone rang and he answered it, and once he got off, he said, ‘That was Usher,’” Mercer said.
Though Justin went on to become a pop star and teen idol, with an American Music Award and a number of Grammy nominations under his belt, he and his mom have kept in touch with Mercer, who said he speaks to them at least once or twice a week, either by email or phone. Mallette didn’t respond to a Twitter request from The Telegram for comment.
Mercer, a heavy equipment operator, last saw Justin in 2010, when he came to St. John’s for the Junos where he won the Pop Album of the Year award for his CD “My World 2.0” as well as the Fan’s Choice Award. Mercer was given an all-access backstage pass, and got to spend time with Justin, Mallette and Justin’s dad, Jeremy Bieber, backstage and in their hotel rooms.
“It was strange, having big waves of young girls running towards you, screaming,” Mercer said, “But being famous and having a lot of money hasn’t changed Justin. It couldn’t have happened to a nicer young fellow. I tell you, if all young people had the respect for their elders that he has, the world would be a better place.”
Justin and his family had planned to spend a few days sightseeing around St. John’s, but the threat of a cloud of volcanic ash from Iceland causing flight delays forced them to leave right after the awards show was finished.
Rumours began circulating that Justin had chosen to leave because he didn’t like St. John’s, but Mercer said that’s simply not true.
“I was there when they told him they had to go, and he said, ‘Awww, I want to stay,’” Mercer said.
Mercer’s also got the scoop on rumours about Justin and his girlfriend, actress Selena Gomez: “As far as I know, they’re still together,” he said.
Before he left town after the Junos, Justin gave Mercer a few things, including a couple of hats, a pair of sunglasses and a pair of jeans. Mercer also has Justin’s old hockey cards from Stratford, school ID cards, and some other items the pop star gave him before he moved to the States.
He recently gave one of the hats, a DC toque with a brim which he said still had strands of Justin’s hair inside, to the VOCM Cares Foundation to be auctioned off for the Dr. H. Bliss Murphy Cancer Care Foundation. He’s not sure what happened to it.
“I tried to give it to two charities in the past year, to be auctioned off to raise money, but they wouldn’t take it, I guess because they didn’t believe it was Justin’s,” Mercer said, shrugging. “This was going to be my last try. I figure it could raise a lot of money.” The DC hat wasn’t autographed, whereas some of the other things Mercer has are.
Mercer said he’s a fan of Justin’s music and owns copies of his CDs. He’s planning to buy Justin’s documentary DVD, “Justin Bieber: Never Say Never,” which hit the stores last week, in the next couple days.
“Just to see if I’m in it,” Mercer said with a chuckle.