Being a local media celebrity is a wonderful thing, right? Raking in the big bucks, face on TV every night, big fish in a small pond, and all that.
But it can have a frightening downside.
A few weeks ago, I sent a note to several of the most recognizable female media personalities in the province. Not all, by any means, but a good cross-section. Here is part of that note:
I am writing a blog item about what it's like to have a high public profile in a small place like NL. There is an upside to being a local celeb, which people can generally imagine, but I expect there can also be a downside.
When you are out in public, are people generally polite? Do total strangers assume that, because you have a public face, it's okay to approach you, start talking, ask for pictures, etc.? Do you mind when this happens? At what point is it going too far? Have you ever had a private dinner out interrupted in this way?
Do you ever receive strange messages, even gifts, from strangers, who want to date you?
Have you ever had to deal with a stalker situation? Have you ever actually felt endangered?
Some did not respond beyond "let me think about it." Two shared stories that were fairly innocuous; such as awkward moments in public, where strangers stop them to say, "I know you, don't I," and try to figure out how. Harmless stuff, really.
However, two responded with experiences that are darker, and far more chilling. Both said they were eager to talk about it to reveal the lesser-known downsides of celebrity but they would not use their real names. One was fearful of rousing people who now leave her alone, while the other was asked by her employer to remain anonymous.
One was extremely guarded in what she would say, even anonymously, fearful of revealing potentially identifying details. Therefore, some of the details in her account have been changed.
"I guard my privacy carefully, and don't want anyone to recognize me from this," she said, "especially not the people who I talk about here."
Those people include strangers who have lurked outside her house, waiting for her to emerge, then calling her by name and asking How are ya getting on.' It is not a coincidence; these people somehow knew where she lived and were waiting for her. She handles such approaches firmly but politely, saying It's nice to meet you but I have to go now.'
On one occasion, someone recognized her in a supermarket and began tailing her through the store. "I actually had one of the cashiers escort me out of the store, because it was late at night and this person was following me," she said. "It might have been completely innocent, with no malice, but it did rattle me."
Another time, a stranger knocked on her door while her husband was out asking to borrow some money. The person knew her by name. He was unkempt looking, but not behaving in a threatening way. She turned and crouched to pick up her dog, which was barking behind her, and when she turned back the person had stepped inside and closed the door. She calmly ushered the individual back out again.
"The impact of what might have happened never occurs to me at the time," she said. "It always hits me afterward."
Like many prominent media people, she receives phone calls at work from people suggesting story ideas. "Sometimes you know who they are, and sometimes you don't, and sometimes they are quite mysterious," she said. "I started getting calls from one person, all cloak and dagger, whispering that I should check out what was going on in this or that government department. I wasn't buying a lot of what he said but I listened anyway. At the time, being naïve to these things, I gave him my home number. So he called me at home and kept calling, and calling, and calling. I tried to tell him, politely, that I didn't have time for all these calls. Finally, he said he had some documents he wanted to show me, and wanted to meet in person somewhere to hand them off. I said, Why don't you drop them off at the office?' And I never heard from him again. I can only read between the lines here, but I assume he was trying to meet me. It was creepy and weird."
This is part one in a four-part series. Tomorrow, in part two, I introduce another prominent media personality who has felt imperiled on numerous occasions, and has had threats made on her life.