Rick Hansen: You’ve interviewed people from around the world who have made a difference. Is there someone who stood out for you and why?
George Stroumboulopoulos: I like interviewing people who recognize their responsibility to others. I’ve interviewed Michael J. Fox several times. He has found a way to communicate his reality to people in a way I’ve never seen, it’s incredible. And of course you Rick have always been fantastic—so interesting, so thoughtful—I’ll admit right now I had a poster of you up on my wall when I was a kid, you’ve always inspired me. I also had a very moving interview with June Callwood, a beautiful soul, just a week before she died. That is available online; that’s an interview I’ll always remember. The more ‘interesting rooms’ I’ve been in, the more the commonality and threads become interesting. Of the really common threads of groundbreakers is that they are people who make their lives about service to others. People who do this are by far the most fulfilled, interesting and happy people I’ve come across. Never mind the fact that it’s just good to do it—your life is actually so much better if you spend less time focusing on yourself. I’ve been interviewing people for 20 years now and I would say that those who serve others are unquestionably the most enriched and least lonely.
RH: Who has impacted you during your life most? Who would you consider to be your difference maker?
GS: My mom. I was raised by a single mom in what we jokingly referred to as ‘complicated neighbourhoods.’ There are a lot of things we don’t agree on but what she gave me was this idea of doing everything with love. She hammered it into me to always operate from a position of love and gratitude. She was a teenager when she was pregnant with me. She had no education and three jobs—she delivered the Toronto Star at 4 am and would come back and make me breakfast and send me off to school and go work at this really sketchy greasy spoon in the deep fryer area. She’d grab shifts at Baskin Robbins when she could. In the summertime she couldn’t afford a babysitter so she would take me into the library and ask the librarians to keep an eye on me. At lunch she would come get me and we’d eat together, and then before she’d head off to another job she would take me to the Central Park Lodge, an assisted living home. She’d tell me to find an elderly person and to keep them company—just by being in the room, just by listening. This is the stuff she would keep beating with love into my head, that your only real value in this world is based on how you are to others. “Listen,” she told me once, “You’re special to me but you’re not special—and that’s good. You want a good name people respect through your action. You’re not better and not worse than anyone.” And she was right.
RH: What is it that calls to you to apply your celebrity status and talent as an incredible talk show host to make Canada and the world a better place?
GS: I don’t know that I think of it in that sense. You get a lot of undue attention when you’re the face of something. There’s a whole team and a lot of luck that goes into it. I’m largely uncomfortable with the celebrity focus. It’s a white hot light and if you don’t deflect it you will burn up under it; you don’t need it. I simply believe it’s my duty to be there for others as a part of the species—it’s the right thing to do as a human.
RH: You are a great study of people and character, what are some of the qualities you admire in people and would like to share with others?
GS: Humility. Gratitude. I really value calmness. I think that people are pretty wonderful when they’re calm. There’s value in frenetic energy too but someone who can remain calm and focused is someone really connected. All I strive for in my life is to be present. When you see it in others it’s really valuable. In dire situations you don’t just need empathy, you need to BE there.
RH: You are about to make a big career transition to host Hockey Night in Canada. Congratulations! What are you most excited about for your new role?
GS: If you were to tell me 40 years ago I’d have been the host I’d have laughed. I’ve had ten seasons of my show and now I’m ready to start something new. I didn’t ever want to be defined by my job and I felt that that may have inadvertently happened. I needed a change of some kind but I didn’t want to leave my show because I love it. So I thought to myself... where is TV even going? Then I realized the one thing I’ll always keep cable for: hockey. Sports are cultural. I actually started out as a sports reporter, so in a way it’s all full circle.
RH: Thank you George, it’s been such a pleasure speaking with you. Good luck in the new job, we’ll be watching!