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Reporter’s blog: Yes, interviewing celebrities is as cool as it sounds (except when it’s not)

I’ve interviewed well-known people throughout my career, from Margaret Trudeau to Robert Munsch to John Fogerty, and I have a few stories to tell

One of the interesting aspects of our job as journalists is interviews with celebrities – people I probably would never have spoken to if I’d had chosen something else to make a living.

Most of these well-known people were just plain nice (or at least know how to deal effectively with reporters), while a small minority were grumpy or even rude.

I’ve learned that you need to do your research and be prepared (and that goes even if you’re talking to someone who isn’t a celebrity) – people don’t  -preciate it if you haven’t done a job.

I don’t really count politicians among the celebrities, although I’ve met many in my time. Journalists are expected to hold those in power accountable.

I have played with two different incumbent Prime Ministers on several occasions and, along with my colleague Jenny Lamothe (who could probably be a column of its own), attended Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent election freeze in Sudbury.

When I talk to politicians and celebrities, I always have something in the back of my mind.

When I was a student at Laurentian University, I attended a lecture given by a Sudbury Star reporter at the English Arts Club.

He said something that I always remembered: Don’t let it go to your head that you are by the first name of the mayor, for example. It’s just your job; You yourself are an ordinary person.

On the subject of Trudeau, this ordinary girl has interviewed both the mother and brother of the current Prime Minister over the years.

In 2014, I asked Margaret Trudeau, who was speaking about her mental health issues, for a comment on Greater Toronto Mayor Rob Ford (the late brother of current Prime Minister Doug Ford of Ontario) who was struggling with addiction.

Your comments on my article have been picked up by national media including the Huffington Post.

After interviewing Margaret Trudeau, I asked her to sign the copy of her mother’s biogr -hy that I read in preparation for reporting on her talk. She signed up and wrote, “You have a beautiful daughter”.

My former professors at Laurentian University held events in honor of the birthday of Canadian author Margaret Atwood.

I had an interview with Atwood once. When I spoke to an intellectual like Atwood, I really made sure I did the research back then and we had an interesting conversation. I’m not exactly a fan of her books, but she does have an interesting take on the day’s events.

I still have the reporter’s notebook Atwood signed for me.

There are a few people I interviewed who fall into the “childhood heroes” category.

I could hardly stop myself from fangirling when I dialed my phone and heard the answer on the other end of the line: “Bob Munsch”.

Unfortunately, Canadian children’s author Robert Munsch recently announced that he has dementia and lives in a nursing home. Thanks for the stories, sir.

Two years ago I interviewed Sharon Hampson from the children’s music group Sharon, Lois and Bram. Hampson, a breast cancer survivor, was in Sudbury as a guest speaker at the Luncheon of Hope.

She ended her talk with a round of the group’s signature tune, “Skinnamarink”. Hardly an eye remained dry in the audience. You can see the photo I took with Hampson that day.

At the beginning of my career I interviewed the Canadian actress and filmmaker Sarah Polley about her film “Away from Her”, which was shown at the Cinéfest.

We’re close to old age, both of us in our twenties at the time. As a huge LM Montgomery fan, I couldn’t help but ask about her time as a child actress on the 1990s television show Road to Avonlea.

I can’t remember her exact words, but she pointedly asked me something like “How would you have loved to have spent your childhood working?” Polley has since criticized some aspects of “Avonlea” and her experiences on set.

In 2011, I had a phone interview with Stuart McLean, the host of The Vinyl Cafe on CBC Radio. As I was preparing to write my story, I joined the Vinyl Cafe Facebook group.

McLean had posted on the page saying he wanted to write a story about Halloween and asked about people’s stories. I wrote about a childhood Halloween experience and, to my amazement, McLean used my anecdote as the basis for his story.

I wrote a separate column about this when McLean died in 2017.

Speaking of CBC personalities, I also interviewed Peter Mansbridge, the host of CBC’s The National, early in my career. It’s a little strange when journalists interview other journalists.

Anyway, I was sent to find Mansbridge, who was hosting The National from Sudbury that night, and found him in Science North Cave.

He kindly answered my questions and also had an informal conversation with me. A friend from the journalism school was working for The National at the time, and I asked Mansbridge if he knew her. He said he didn’t but my friend later told me Mansbridge left after our interview and found her.

Sometimes an interview gets a little out of hand if you ask about something that the other person does not  -preciate.

An example: I asked the Canadian musician John McDermott about the financing of his first album by the newsp -er magnate Conrad Black and I probably stuck to the topic for too long. He asked me pointedly: “Who is this interview about, me or Conrad Black?”

(That slight bump aside, I have to say that McDermott is really nice to interview).

I would say the most famous people I have ever interviewed are famous musicians Buffy Sainte-Marie and John Fogerty.

Both are absolute professionals when it comes to answering journalists’ questions. I could forget that I was talking to an incredibly famous person on the phone and conduct my interview just like talking to a local musician.

With the global pandemic canceled so many events and with our focus on covering the effects of COVID-19, I haven’t spoken to many celebrities in the past 18 months.

I’ll probably get this chance again when things get back to normal, and of course I’ll take you all with me.

Heidi Ulrichsen is the Associate Content Editor of Sudbury.com. She also writes on education and the arts for Sudbury.com.

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