Volume 94, Issue 36

Thursday, November 2, 2000


A conversation with Valerie Pringle

Last Days of April get Bamboozled

A conversation with Valerie Pringle

By Matt Pearson
Gazette Staff

Valerie Pringle lets out a squeal.

"I've talked to a lot of royalty; they're so excruciatingly boring, you could just die! Never say 'yes' to a royal," advises Pringle, the pre-eminent interviewer and longtime co-anchor of Canada AM, arguably the most popular morning show in the nation.

Born in Windsor, Ontario on Sept. 5, 1953, Pringle spent her formative years in Toronto. Although the idea of a career in journalism didn't strike her until she was in her final year of high school, she completed the Radio and Television Arts program at the then Ryerson Polytechnic School by the time she was 20 and was ready to embark on her career.

Always fascinated by news and current affairs shows, Pringle found her calling in 1974 at the Toronto radio station, CFRB. After a few short years, she landed her own news and current affairs show, aptly called The Pringle Program. In 1984, she moved to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, where she co-anchored Midday until joining Canadian Television's Canada AM in 1993.

Besides three maternity leaves (she has one daughter at university and two sons in secondary school), Pringle has worked solidly since her graduation from Ryerson. This coming February marks her 20th anniversary as the host of a daily news and current events show for either radio or television. "Sometimes I think I don't know how I've actually done that," she admits. "There aren't that many people who have."

Like her on-air personality, Pringle exudes optimism in conversation. Oblivious to the fact that her alarm rings at 4:30 a.m. Monday through Friday, Pringle doesn't feel like the overall hardships have been too heavy. "I don't think of it in terms of sacrifices. I've worked hard and I take pride in that; I've been a professional. You get lost along the way and aren't sure what to do next, but it still feels like fun," she admits.

In terms of her career, Pringle has always had a number of strong women to look up to and emulate. Female interviewers were common when she was at CFRB and upon joining CBC, the renowned Barbara Frum became a colleague. "She was fabulous," Pringle says of Frum. "I was a huge fan of Barbara's," she beams, adding that women like Adrienne Clarkson and Joan Donaldson also earned a significant amount of respect from her during her early days in broadcasting.

Upon her move from CBC to CTV, Pringle noticed some differences between the networks. "There was a massive difference in terms of facilities and size. CTV was a peanut compared to the CBC," she laughs. "It's funny how small [CTV] is, but how large it projects."

Gazette File Photo
"THIS IS MY SERIOUS FACE – I LEFT THE PERKY ONE AT HOME." Canada AM host Valerie Pringle shares her insight into the world of news in an enlightening conversation.

As for the ingredients that make Canada AM the success that it is, the show's energy tops Pringle's list. She also remarks how fascinating it is for her to be directly involved in news events as they happen. "It's a privilege to be part of peoples' lives," she says, adding the range of colourful guests she meets keeps her on her toes.

"I am so lucky to talk to some of these people – they're so interesting," she enthuses. Some of her recent guests have included J.K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series and Oscar de la Hoya, the boxer-turned-crooner. While this sounds too easy, make no mistake – Pringle has had her share of challenging guests.

For example, she recently interviewed a pedophile who had been run out of a Toronto suburb and was looking for another area to call home. "His lawyer decided the best thing to do was get him into the public and de-fang him because there was so much controversy. That was very challenging, but it was interesting," Pringle explains. "I felt quite anxious, but this guy's a human being – I couldn't just bite his head off."

For Pringle, conducting an interview requires a considerable amount of effort and research, regardless whether the subject of the interview is a world leader, or the 17-year-old captain of Canada's national junior hockey team.

"I do have a method. Some [interviews] require more thought than others. Information is always your major tool, so more research gives you a flavour and a sense of the person. The more you read, the more ammunition you have."

Of all her interviews, Pringle notes a conversation with actor Robin Williams was her favourite. "It floated that perfect line between him being hysterically funny and being very human and real," she explains. As for her most challenging interview, Pringle wastes no time thinking, earnestly admitting it was former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher.

"That was the last time I remember being nervous. I'd seen her give Barbara Frum and other reporters a hard time and you knew she'd just correct you and harangue you. She didn't suffer fools or anybody, really," Pringle recalls.

On air, Pringle's relationship with her co-anchor of six years, Dan Matheson seems jovial and quite relaxed. Pringle admits their relationship is crucially important. "Dan's lovely. He is so solid and professional and consistent. He's terrific to work with," she enthuses.

Still, like all co-workers, Matheson has one or two annoying habits. "He talks a little bit too much about golf," Pringle begins. "There are some mornings when I can't listen to one more description of one more stupid hole – and I even like golf," she jokes.

Having been directly involved in the news for almost two decades, Pringle has witnessed a number of landmark events, of which two of her most memorable involve Canada directly.

The first, the 1995 Quebec Referendum, left Pringle and a wide array of Canadians feeling tense. "The Referendum was difficult to cover. The tension of coming that close was excruciating," Pringle recalls.

The second event was the recent funeral of former prime minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau. "I was hugely moved by the funeral. After we went off the air, I tried to find a place in the crowd to watch the screen and see the basilica. Even if you hated the guy's politics, he was a giant of a man and he had a huge impact on the country. The changing of the guard and the changing of the times was very moving," she says, thoughtfully.

Despite this momentary gaze into the past, Pringle remains positive about what's to come. Yet her advice for those who feel drawn to the vocation of journalism is quite straightforward:

"If you've got a passion for it, if you love it, if you feel you've got stories to tell or ways to tell them or you're just prepared to do the work, then there has to be a place for you because places have to be made. This business is tough and it consumes people, but if you're driven to it or by it, then it will happen."

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Copyright The Gazette 2000