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TV Host: Ben Mulroney MAG
This interview took place with Ben Mulroney, son of Canada's former Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney, this fall in Toronto.
I've heard you say that your upbringing was surprisingly normal. In what ways do you feel your childhood resembled that of an average Canadian kid, and, in turn, how did it differ?
Well, obviously it differed because I lived in the residence of the Prime Minister of Canada. We had official functions in the house and there was always the presence of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. There were security issues, and visibility to the public, but that was really secondary to what made it normal, which was that I always felt that there was a family presence. I was very close to my brother and sister, and even though my parents travelled quite a bit, I always knew they were a phone call away. I always felt that they were there. I think that's what makes a family normal, when you feel connected.
When you were a child, were you aware of the immense importance of your father's position, or was having the most powerful man in the country as your dad something you just grew up with, and never thought about too much?
It was a little bit of both. I didn't sit there in awe every day, but I really did get jazzed up when I saw him on TV. I recognized that it was very unique; my friends didn't get to do things I got to do. He never acted like a prime minister in front of us, he never pulled rank onus.
He was always "Dad" first and foremost. If he was ever in a meeting at our house and I had a problem, the meeting would be put on hold until he addressed my problem, and then he would go back to work.
What kinds of activities were you involved in growing up?
A lot of skiing in the winter, summer camp, tennis and canoeing, baseball in the spring, debating team, everything ... judo, piano lessons - I did eleven years of piano lessons -anything I could get my hands on. When I got bored I'd try something different.
I've noticed that you have always handled criticism of your father with grace and equanimity. Your father began his term as Prime Minister when you were 7, and finished when you were 16. Was it difficult for you to be exposed to these criticisms when perhaps you did not fully understand the controversy surrounding his politics?
No, it didn't bug me at all because my father was very up-front with his friends and family, telling us, "I have a job to do, I have certain plans, and I'm going to get them done, whether people end up liking me or not. This is something that I feel in my heart and I feel it with conviction and I'm going to see it through to the end. " I always knew that everything else was incidental. It was all accessory to him getting the job done. If someone wrote a negative editorial, I didn't mind, because it was part of the job he had.
There must have been many perks growing up in a family of such political prestige. What is the coolest thing you got to do that you know would not have happened if your dad wasn't PM?
Meeting amazing people. I was one of the first people in North America to meet Nelson Mandela when he got out of prison and came to Canada. I saw him speak in front of the House of Commons.
I met the Queen at Buckingham Palace; I met Boris Yeltsin, George Bush, U2; I would not have been able to meet all these people had I not been in that position, and so I juggled, I juxtaposed having security all the time with the fact that I got to meet these incredible people.
And I realized that one day I would not have security anymore, so I might as well enjoy the fact that I get to meet so many amazing people.
So how about the flip side? What couldn't you do?
Well, there you go - my privacy was pretty much shot, but that was okay because I made peace with it and recognized that it was the price I had to pay for leading a truly unique existence.
You are well known in the public eye not only as the former PM's son, but now as a TV host. Is it ever difficult for you to decide whether any of the things that happen to you (i. e. , hanging out with Miss Canada at the Toronto Film Festival, or even being hired at "Talk") are due to your success and talents as an individual, or because of your father's prestige?
Oh, I have no doubt that I got my job, all of my jobs, because of my last name, and I'd be an idiot to think otherwise. I think I'd be insulting you by telling you otherwise. Everyone knows that the name carries a certain cachet, that people watch because of the name.
On the other hand, my contract recently went up for re-negotiation, and it would not have been extended if I couldn't carry my own weight. So I think that my initial success is pretty much entirely due to the family name, and that everything after that is, largely, if not entirely, due to what I bring to the job.
What prompted you to pursue a career in television? Did you ever see yourself in this kind of job while you were completing your law degree at Laval University?
I never saw myself with this job. I had no idea I was going to do this. I was actually thinking of going to Los Angeles and working in film production or for a talent agency. I never looked for this job, it found me. So I'm as surprised as anyone.
I've read that you were very shy growing up. Obviously this is no longer an issue for you, but was it difficult at first being in front of the camera?
Well, I am still shy. Not at work, because I know everyone, but I don't like to make a big splash when I go out, and I don't tend to go up and introduce myself to as many people as I would like to. But no, on air I don't find shyness a problem.
Since I was very shy growing up, my mom put me in acting classes to help me get over stage fright, but it never translated into a desire to go into acting. I tried it for a while when I as a kid, realized I had no talent, moved behind the camera, and had a very good time there, and then this kind of came out of the blue and I figured, why not?
Opportunities like this are few and far between, and there are people who have studied to be on air their entire lives, why shouldn't I do it. So that was it, no training, just dumb luck.