I can’t remember not being a media-phile and know-it-all, but I didn’t always know how it would translate into a career. Always had varied interests – including politics, culture, style, food – and the great thing about journalism, per se, is that one can minor in all those subjects at once, if one wishes. More specifically, for me, most of my interests in all subjects pivoted around the people in various tribes, so winding up with the kind of column I write is no accident. I’ve always subscribed to Jonathan Swift’s famous dictum: “Character is plot,” i.e. I believe all great stories – be they world events, or tabloid tales, or what not – come down to people. Their vanities, their hang-ups, their childhoods, their reaches for validation, etc.
I will also add that I was always the guy who’d have anxiety attacks when I passed newsstands, fretting about what I hadn’t yet read, as well as the kid with the flashlight under the blanket reading a book way, way after bedtime.
Where would you like to be five years from now?
More books, for sure (my first novel, Boldface Names, came out a few years ago). I’d like to maybe take a stab at writing biographies at some point. Also, I want to continue to give back, socially-speaking, having played in this crazy playground for so many years – continue to contribute in causes such as AMFAR (I co-chaired its annual gala in Toronto for two years, through which we raised close to two million dollars). I want to go live in Venice, Italy for a spell, but in the winter. I see it very clearly: Venice. In the winter. When the hordes of tourists have poofed, and the city is supposed to be the most hypnotic (it’s when the moisture from the sea hits the chill, creating a haze off the canals that filters the suns into variations of pink and gold).
Also: I’d like to get around to making bread. But just once.
Any advice for people getting started in your industry?
Read and write. And write and read.
What are your favourite media outlets, not including your own?
I am a veritable Cookie Monster when it comes to media-consumption, so, in addition to many of the obvious (the Page Six-es and the Vanity Fairs) I’ll just throw a few things, at the top of my head, and in no particular order: some fun podcasts on KCRW, out of L.A., including Elvis Mitchell’s showbiz-insider, ‘The Treatment’ as well as the quite charming ‘Good Food’; Tatler out of the U.K. (required reading in my field); the weekend Financial Times (love the ‘Lunch With’ column, and David Tang’s high-larious advice column!); anything Camille Paglia or Ingrid Sischy or Bob Collacello; everything Daily Mail; the Daily Beast (much better curated than the Huffington Post); the Great Lives series on BBC4; columnists, far and wide, like Maureen Dowd, David Carr and Cathy Horyn in the New York Times, AA Gill in the London Times, Emily Nussbaum and Anthony Lane in The New Yorker, Mike Musto in The Village Voice; Arts & Letters Daily online; the Slate Culture Gabfest; Fashion Police on E! (I would never dare miss an episode!); Hardball; Rachel Maddow; the ‘At Issue’ panel on CBC’s The National; all the great aggregators on New York mag (The Cut, Grub Street, Vulture, etc); NewYorkSocialDiary.com (where the great gossipist Liz Smith still is going and writing!); Barbara Amiel in Maclean’s (I won’t even try to resist!)…NPR’s ‘Fresh Air’ (I worship Terri Gross!)…Adweek… Salon…Politico…Richard Lawson on theatlantic.com…Jason Gay on tennis in the Wall Street Journal…Roger Friedman’s Showbiz 411 column online…and it goes on. (Oh, how I miss Christopher Hitchens).
Special shout-out to Bon Appetit magazine, which, I believe, is the most-improved glossy, with Adam Rapport as editor. In many ways, it’s the best culture mag out there!
Best interview you’ve ever had?
Having tea with Jackie Collins, one-on-one inside the Plaza Athene in New York, was pretty nifty. But maybe ’cause it was just last month that I remember it so fondly. (I’ve been at this for a while!)
Linda Evangelista. What a bore! Definitely proof positive that models, in most cases, lose all their power when they speak.
Best advice you’ve ever been given?
Plus ça change. Also: “You’re never as good as your best review, and never as bad as your worst.”er
As Good As Your Best Review, And Never As Bad As Your Worst’ –
What rule(s) do you live your life by?
Oh, why the hell not?
What’s the most important tip you can give PR pros?
Best experience you’ve had with a PR pro? We love to hear about #wins.
All my best experiences with PR pros have occurred through genuine relationships developed over my years of doing this. Let me be frank: in the context of a social column, it’s all about back-scratching and, well, that thing called chemistry. A press release is probably the least effective way of getting my attention. A publicist who can craft a story angle, or at least lead the horse (me!) to water with it, will definitely get my attention faster. A publicist who has given me a scoop on a matter something/someone that’s not a client, or is occasionally the source of intel, will get my attention when they need something from me! More specifically: my particular column is all boldface-oriented, so a fast-thinking PR will mould a story, or a mention, in a way that has boldface potential. In New York or L.A., when I hear from PRs, they’ll often send me the pitch, in proper paragraph form, having boldfaced the names in themselves, so I immediately get the pic. This doesn’t happen often in Toronto.
Debbie Downers. And raisins.
People who can see and appreciate all the colours. And spicy food that makes me weep.
Crazy Rich Asians, an advance-copy of a novel that I think is going to be huge. It’s out in June. It’s kind of like a Chinese Dallas meets a Chinese Real Housewives meets a Chinese Royal Tenenbaums. I also have a pretty interesting biography on the go: Constance: The Tragic and Scandalous Life of Mrs. Oscar Wilde.
Best place on earth?
The Maldives – primarily because I’ve never been. (The mind provides the best excursions!)
Pool or ocean?
Voicemail or email?
Email. (Or tweet!)