Encounters with the rich and famous

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By Joel van der Veen

Decades ago, pop artist Andy Warhol predicted that in the future, every person would be world-famous for 15 minutes.

He had no way of knowing just how accurate his prophecy was, for it has become almost literal truth in today’s world of YouTube celebrities and videos going viral.

Still, though, there’s something exciting about having a genuine brush with fame — meeting someone who’s made a name for themselves through their skill or accomplishments.

I’d imagine most of us have our own stories about chance encounters with a politician, actor or athlete. Take my parents, for instance.

My mom grew up in Kapuskasing, Ont., a small northern town where her father worked in the pulp and paper mill, and where the odds of running into a famous face were scarce.

However, she did shake hands with Pierre Trudeau when he came north during an election campaign. To him, she was just another face in the crowd, but my mom still clearly recalls the moment close to 40 years later.

My dad was raised in Willowdale, a community north of Toronto that was later amalgamated into the city. He spent a summer or two working for a landscaping company; among his customers was one Fred Davis.

Many readers won’t recognize the name now, but for 38 years he was a familiar presence in Canadian homes as the mild-mannered host of the CBC panel show Front Page Challenge.

As a reporter, I’ve had the opportunity to talk with several famous folks. Sometimes, it’s a challenge to stay objective, and not to be overwhelmed by the person’s renown or eminence.

My favourite encounter happened during a family trip to Toronto. We took a tour of CBC Broadcasting Centre, checking out the sets for Air Farce, The National and an Anne Murray special.

While we enjoyed the displays, we kept hoping we’d run into a star. And just as we were wrapping up the tour in a crowded hallway, all of a sudden I heard my mother call out, “There he is!”

I turned just in time to see a white-haired man dart past us. It was Peter Mansbridge.

My dear mother has taken enough ribbing over the years for that outburst, for even the most aloof among us might have difficulty maintaining our composure in the presence of such a luminary.

Perhaps we could be forgiven; after all, we’re North Americans, we can’t help it. And until Warhol’s prediction comes to pass — and you and I can briefly enjoy the same level of fame as the presidents and tabloid targets of the world — that’s the way we’ll stay.

Now hang on a second — did I just see Rex Murphy walking down the street?

Organizations: CBC Broadcasting Centre

Geographic location: Toronto, Kapuskasing, Willowdale

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