H&L What is next for Valerie?.
Valerie One of my dreams is to do a series on ‘The Trans-Canada Trail’ – east, west, north and south, on how it links Canada together. I’d like to do more Canadian stuff, maybe a series on the Great Lakes.
The ‘Antiques Road Show’ is on the road again. It’s a wonderful program to host, fun and charming. I didn’t even realize it had a host, I thought it was just antique experts. I’d been doing world travel shows and doing something Canadian was attractive. Going to little communities, having people show me their family heirlooms and treasures, to tell me their stories instantly appealed to me. I love talking to the people; I love the stuff and history. It has a social and community aspect I really love. It’s a sweet show.I’ve been lucky to have traveled all over Canada shooting either current affairs, travel shows and now antique shows getting a sense of the multi-culturism that makes up the fabric of our country. Every time I go somewhere in Canada I think, “These are the nicest people in the world.” I believe we really do live in a fabulous country.
H&L A career that spans over 30 years.
Valerie I’m a very, very lucky girl. And I hope it continues now that I’m a freelancer. I keep looking forward to what’s next. Will it be TV, producing, writing more or doing more volunteer work?
I’ve never had a 5-year plan. I’ve just kept working hard hoping that the next opportunity would fall into place. Although I did go into a stage of being terrified and sometimes I still get terrified about what’s next. I’m getting better at it though. I’d done daily news or current affairs shows from 1980 to 2001 – CFRB Midday and CanadaAM. I used to break out in a cold sweat, go to my husband and complain “What am I going to do?” He’d say, “Valerie listen to yourself”. “But I only know how to do news and current affairs shows,” I’d grumble. He’d be supportive with the classic advice, “You can do anything you want. The only thing you have to fear is fear itself, time to get over it.” Of course it is easier said then done. I was nervous about doing the travel series ‘Valerie Has Left the Building’. And it turned out to be the greatest job I’ve ever had. I learned something from that. There are two choices – either curl up in a ball and don’t do anything and nothing great happens, or do something. Either it’s fabulous or the worse thing is you fail. Not a big deal, you get to learn something and apply it in your next step. You can’t fear failure and should actually celebrate it. I’ve done that during the last five years. Now I get a project, work hard, it ends and I look forward to creating the next project. I don’t want to work fulltime or do another daily show like CanadaAM.My biggest fear is fading away and being useless. I think we all want to be useful and make a contribution.
H&L Is there a specific contribution you want to make?
Valerie For me it’s more about being charitable. Broadcasting is fun and I love to tell people about Canada. But it’s the volunteer stuff I do, whether it’s for the United Way, hospitals, the Aids Foundation or Ryerson, it’s getting them known because they need money and help. It’s about making the community a better community.
H&L Who’s had the biggest affect on how you contribute to the world?
Valerie I believe that comes from my husband and my parents. My parents were totally decent, kind and accepting – humble in that nice wonderful sense. And Andy has this sense of public service that sometimes exhausts me. He’s a full-time volunteer, does fundraising for AIDS, the environment, and education; he’s a powerhouse that way. Then I have five heroes I’ve interviewed and admire. June Callwood, I absolutely adore; Oprah Winfrey, she’s phenomenal for many reasons, inspirational and impressive; Jean Vanier the founder of the L’Arche communities; Oscar Petersen and Leonard Cohen. Not that I have any of their qualities but I hope that I’ve learned and been inspired from what I believe they have brought to the world.
H&L Is there a common thread among them.
Valerie What they contribute and what they do. They have a great humility and understanding of the world. I like that humility and the gentle and sometimes not so gentle attempts to make the world a better place.
I admire Oscar’s wide-open wonder of the world. His colour-blindedness, he’s fought against racism even though he’s suffered so much from it Jean Vanier’s inspiring message of love, spirituality and compassion, and that he lives his principles. A quote of his I love, “We tend to believe our greatest need is to be loved. But the even greater and more profound need is to belong.” The older I get the more I realize we really need to belong.
H&L What do you hope you pass along to your children?
Valerie When my kids were born I really hoped that I could give them confidence, empathy, self-discipline and humour. I think those are the greatest gifts. I believe confidence comes with time and by acquiring successes. They have most of these things and are fabulous people.Andy’s always said, love them unreservedly; give them the best education possible and never be judgmental.
H&L How do you like to have fun?
Valerie I love exercise and sports. I love to get outdoors and be active. I’m an exercise addict. I’ve exercised for years. Exercise is the most crucial thing I can do for my head and body. The belly laughter fun is with a group of women friends. We get together and just laugh and laugh. My husband is very funny and makes me laugh a lot – I call him ‘Mr. Fun’. I’m definitely attracted to funny people.
H&L How would you describe Valerie?
Valerie I hope that my true character comes out in what I do and not by articulating it in words. Being kind to people, making a contribution, being patient – well not always as patient as I would like to be (with a hearty laugh). I’d like to be like my Mom who was the most wonderful person in the world, non-judgmental, incredibly warm and a great person to be around. You always felt better after being around her.
H&L You’ve been married 33 years, what’s the glue of your relationship.
Valerie I admire Andy and he says he admires my balance. We got married on my graduation day from Ryerson. We’re lucky, but we work at it as well. There has to be compromise, communication and patience. Fundamentally you have to get a kick out of each other, admire one another and be connected. Then when times are rough you’ve got that base, otherwise you just spin off. We took holidays by ourselves even when our kids were little. Andy was very clear about this, “Our marriage has to last longer than our kids are around.” Marriage is the key to keeping the family and everything together so you have to nourish it. We made us a priority.
H&L How did you balance family and career?
Valerie I made choices about work. I never did any prime time jobs or shows that would take me away too much. I did morning or noon shows, Toronto-based, daily shows. I chose these shows and hours since Andy worked like a maniac. I may have been out of the house at the crack of dawn but when the kids were young I wanted to be home with them in the afternoon. When they were teenagers I could keep an eye on them and have those important conversations. It also gave me an opportunity to spend time with my Mom, to go golfing with her. I look back on those times now that she’s gone and thank God I had the brains not to say, “I’m too busy to do this.” And spending time with and staying in touch with friends, they keep us sane.
H&L What made you choose broadcasting?
Valerie When I was graduating from high school the guidance counselor asked me a very simple yet profound question, “What are you interested in?” I told him I love news, current affairs shows, reading magazines and newspapers. He suggested studying journalism and radio or TV at Ryerson. That was a pivotal moment in my life. It focused me into a practical career. I had no idea I would be on air. It wasn’t something I aspired to until later when I realized I could be the one talking.
H&L What was the most memorable …(she interjected quickly before I finished).
Valerie My trek to Mount Everest was the most spectacular thing I ever did on every level. It was inspiring, exciting and beautiful. The Sherpa people were magnificent, happy and gentle. The children were beautiful. I learned so much about the spirituality – Buddhism, the solitude, the magnificence and the history. I went with my sister who hadn’t experienced anything like it and was constantly moved to tears with the magnificence.
We trekked 18,000 feet to base camp, which was the extent of my ability and I’m pretty fit. People who go beyond base camp to the peak are climbers. They can tolerate the pain; have tremendous skill and a goal. Because of the altitude you have to trek slowly and that’s a luxury, especially in our fast-paced world. Thirteen days to get there, five days there and another four or five days to come down.
My oldest son is going to travel Asia for six months, I’m giving him a trip to Everest base camp as a birthday gift. I’m very excited for him.The trek and being in that place was the greatest thing ever. Maybe because it’s an accomplishment; being proud of myself; physically strong and empowered.
H&L You’ve interviewed some very interesting people including Oprah.
Valerie Yes, on CanadaAM. Oprah’s inspirational, luminous and sure of everything. I asked her how comfortable she is preaching and telling people what they should do with their lives. She said, “I’ve been preaching since I was in grade 3. I would tell the other kids that we have to collect money and do things for other people.” The response to her abusive, difficult childhood was, “Yes, so what?” I replied, “Well a lot of people spend their life dealing with that. What made you more able to get on with it?” She said, “I’m not any more intelligent but I have a very high ‘emotional intelligence’, a lot of confidence and empathy. I just knew that every experience teaches something. You have to be responsible and own yourself”.
H&L Other memorable interviews?
Valerie The most emotional interview I ever did was with the Mahaffey and French families after the brutal deaths of their daughters. That was so hard (her emotions surface as she remembers). I couldn’t bear what they went through. By the end they were trying to comfort me. I know they had a message to get out, but I don’t like to intrude in people’s lives to that degree. They were difficult yet noteworthy conversations.
H&L How did interviews like this impact your life?
Valerie I hope because I was exposed to so many people, things and difficulties that I’ve become more empathetic. Life’s complicated, not black and white. It can be tough. It’s really important to listen, not judge—and be kinder.
After so much time doing news, I did the ‘Travel Series’. Now I look back and see how funny I was because I was in trauma about doing the series, I was very unsure and scared. It was such a big change from the news. It seemed lame and I didn’t know what I was going to say or how I was going to make it interesting and different. I got over it pretty quickly on my first trip, which was to Bali. Traveling around listening to spectacular Balinese music, watching beautiful Hindu celebrations in each town, kids dressed On the next stage of this trip, traveling on the Orient Express I remember saying to myself, “Okay Valerie what part of this job did you fear? This is the greatest job in the history of the world.” It was so much fun. I did 33 episodes – 10 in Canada and the rest around the world. It was a fantasy come true. They asked me where I’d want to go and we would go there – the Cinque Terra in Italy, Istanbul, Dubrovnik, Berlin, and the South Pacific to name a few. There were days I had to pinch myself. Going to the Queen Charlotte Islands in BC, waking up at dawn to the ancient totems. Sailing into the strait and being surrounded by pods of humpback whales and dolphins. I kept a journal, and in it I wrote, “This is the greatest day of my life,” many, many times.
in amazing, colourful outfits. Watching women three feet high walk around with huge fruit in baskets on their heads. I asked one of the women how to do it. At the moment I was trying to balance the basket I realized that’s how I’d approach the series. I’d get involved in the daily lives of the people and try it on for size. The Balinese women laughed hysterically at me as the cameras kept rolling. I have to tell you it was hard!
H&L Advice on creating one’s dreams?
“ Spend time with your partner and don't feel guilty about your kids. Appreciate what you have. Always have a laugh. Get exercise. ”
Valerie There’s never one perfect path. My best advice is what I give to myself on a weekly basis – take a chance, don’t be afraid of failure or what other people might think. Enter the world one step at a time and engage with it. Do community work to stay connected and make other lives better. Spend time with your partner and don’t feel guilty about your kids. Appreciate what you have. Always have a laugh. Get exercise. Hopefully do a job that you’re interested and passionate about. We say to our kids, “Find something you love and then figure out what to do about it.”
To me the fundamentals of life are: do good, do the best you can, and reach for the stars sometimes. You have to constantly reinvent yourself. I have the same conversation with my children that I have with friends. Everybody goes through it – whether you’re 25 and figuring out what to do with your life, or 55 and figuring out what you want to do next and how to do it. Learn to navigate change with confidence and courage. It does take courage to make change, be sure to congratulate yourself on that.
I never planned what was to happen next. I knew what I loved and just took one step at a time – look what happened for me.