Deirdre Kelly

Past & Future

Past – A Lifetime of Achievement:

When first hired at the Globe, I was the youngest ever critic and the only female in a newsroom that, let’s say, was eons away from political correctness. I felt like a long-necked swan in a den of wolves.

But those hard-boiled reporters taught me a lot about how to write and how to survive the vagaries of our very subjective craft.

From the get-go, I was enterprising and productive and was soon promoted to having my own national column, bearing my name in big bold letters.

I was known as a good interviewer, and was sent out to cover all the celebrities who came to Toronto. I met everyone who was important … all the great dancers, from Rudolf Nureyev to Mikhail Baryshnikov. I wined  Bob Geldof and rode in a limo with Paul Simon and the back of a car with artists Frank Stella, a Globe and mail exclusive. I have partied with Sandra Oh, Ally Sheedy and Molly Ringwald (not in that order) and sat at the feet of Arthur Miller and lunched with Raymond Burr, a distant family relation, or so my mother says. I won the respect of Camille Paglia (known to hate her interviewers) and hung out with Joni Mitchell in her Bel-Air mansion. I have fended off the advances of Christopher Plummer and Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes (a not so charming story) but almost died inside when I met up with Jon Bon Jovi, barely able to concentrate on my notes for the tightness of his pants. One time, when interviewing Shirley MacLaine, the high priestess of Hollywood did a past life reading on me, telling me I had been a Russian ballet dancer in a former life. Which explains a few things. I told her. I never was strained as a dancer. But everyone — including her– tells me I look like one. My love of dance came to me early in life, and unbidden.

But while happy to rub shoulders with the famous and the talented, at one point in my career I wanted to shift gears, do stories not dictated by a press release, or some celebrity’s visit to Canada. And so, in the late 1990s, I created a new beat for myself as an investigative reporter specializing in visual arts. Art crime, in other words, theft and fraud on often an international scale. This stands as one of my proudest achievements.

I wrote on the repatriation of native artifacts from Canadian and foreign museums, and I helped find Nazi looted art in the holdings of Canadian art institutions, among them the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada Along the way, I unearthed that double agent Anthony Blunt had been the spy who had acted as Canada’s art consultant after the end of World War Two. Fascinating.

With my investigative reporting skills, I also honed in on the National Ballet of Canada, writing a series of front page stories for my paper on the firing of a ballerina whom the artistic director called too old at age 38. The story made national and international headlines. My in-depth reporting on what was more a labour story than an arts story sparked a heated debate across Canada on the role of artistic directors in today’s politically correct atmosphere. I was interviewed  on CBC television about my groundbreaking story. It was my work that enabled the Globe and Mail to “own” this contentious story. I also write on Glenn Gould, and recently (December, 2009) the City of Toronto honoured me by erecting a historic plaque to Gould with my words engraved on it. My contributions to Canadian culture via the newspaper will thus live on, well past me.

In 1999, I went to Belgrade to report first-hand on the break-up of Yugoslavia, writing a series of stories for the news section on the impending break-up of Yugoslavia, and its victims.

Returning from my first maternity leave in 2000, I was reassigned to fashion, becoming the Globe’s reporter covering the collections in Paris, Milan and New York.

While in New York reporting on the fashion in September 2001, I  was close to ground zero on the day the twin towers of the World Trade Centre were the target of terrorist attack. I reported on the crisis, dictating stories into my cellphone (one of few working that day — Americans were routinely offering me money to use mine to call their loved ones to say goodbye — all of us wondered if it was indeed the end)  because power in New York City was mostly cut off on that terrible day. I delivered a number of exclusives while stranded for days on the island of Manhattan, unable to get home. Next to once covering a Mafia hit on a Canadian in Moscow (a murder story I wrote freelance for Toronto Life),  being in New York on 9/11 counts as the most harrowing experience of my journalistic career, to date.

Following my second maternity leave, I returned to the Globe in January, 2006 as features writer, reporting on a number of sections, among them real estate.

Intermittently, I still write on the arts, including this past summer (July, 2009) when I covered the Paul McCartney concert in Halifax, even scoring a drive-by encounter with the Fab One as a result of me reporting on the groundswell of aging fans who had been following his every move. I have the photograph to prove it!

I am lucky that my job allows me these ongoing encounters with some of the greatest artists of our day. I find it inspiring. Which is why I recently found time, in between being a mother of two young children with a full-time job, to write my first book: Paris Times Eight. I want to be the artist, now. I want to push my creative powers to the next level.

Future – Defining my perfect future:

A perfect future definitely includes writing more books, and it involves winning accolades for my achievement (journalists are suckers for seeing their names in boldface… sorry, hazard of the trade.)  I strive also to be a good mother, giving my children love as well as opportunities for expanding their own horizons. And if I did win the career lottery? it would involve me serving outside Canada as a foreign correspondent, living and working in different language. That would be a great challenge.

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