The Cost of Celebrity-6

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More media people with strange stories to share

My series of posts on the cost of celebrity more than a week ago generated some feedback from readers who also had stories to share, reconfirming that Tracy Kellys (not her real name) experience is not unique.

Actually, Ive been in some scary situations too, in my journalism days. No, Ive never been stalked by an obsessed reader I think this is rare for print journalists, especially those as homely as myself but I have been physically threatened by someone who was not a fan.

But first, lets hear from Theresa Blackburn, a former journalist who now teaches radio journalism and media law in New Brunswick. Blackburn has worked with CBC in Cape Breton, Happy Valley-Goose Bay and Iqaluit.

I hosted a CBC morning show in Iqaluit for a number of years, she said, and just before I moved to Labrador in 2000, I had very scary phone calls from some individual who discovered what my phone number was (it was always listed in my husbands name - and my name is different).

At the time, Blackburn said, her husband and children had already left town, and she was finishing up work and finalizing moving details.

I was rattled... late night phone calls, a mans voice asking me weird questions, then telling me that he knew where I lived, and would watch me walk to work... My last three days at CBC Iqaluit were awful because of it.

Up to that point, Blackburn hadnt even considered the possibility that her work might attract the attentions of a stalker. You forget that you can be a target... we do a job, consider it a job, not a 'public' career as such - at least it's not what you're thinking about (during your daily routine).

Former CBC reporter John Murphy (now retired) contacted me last week, with a story that, coincidentally, also happened in Iqaluit. He was covering a police investigation, and wrote a radio story in which he named an individual who had been charged with murdering his girlfriend.

The cops gave us the name and I was the newsreader, so I named the guy in the story, Murphy said, in an interview. I stopped along the way home that night at the local bar, a little place, and I was talking to this other fellow, and this guy came up who was just stinking (of an alcohol-based solvent, which he had been drinking). They guy said something like, You talked about my brother on the radio. And I said, whos your brother? and when he told me, I said that, yes, the police said he had been charged. He said, If you ever talk about him again I will kill you. I thought nothing of it.

Later, he was advised that this individual had been arrested before for murder for taking an axe to someone and that his threats were to be taken seriously.

So I went to the RCMP and explained my situation. All they said was, When are you planning to leave town? I said in another 10 days. And they said, Can you make it sooner? Can you go sooner? If I were you, I would. Get out of town as soon as you can. So I spent the next three or four days with a knife in my pocket, going back and forth by cab from work to home. I was told to be very careful at night, because this guy tends to come at you at night. Ive never been so frightened.

To the point about being approached by strangers while out in public, I received a note from Christina Marshall, a former reporter with CBC Here Now, now working in Sarnia, Ontario. Whether aggressive overtures from the public should be expected as part of the job is a debatable point, but there is no question it does happen.

For Marshall, it happened while out with a male friend in a downtown bar. She was on her way to the washroom when a man stopped her.

He grabbed my wrist and said hello to me by my full name, Marshall said. When I say grabbed I mean held on tight and would not let go. I don't think he realized how hard he was holding my arm. As I yanked, and I mean yanked, my arm back, he went on about his love for me. How at his house, when I am on the TV, no one is allowed to talk. I looked at him and politely said, thanks for watching. He kept trying to carry on a conversation with me. But I politely removed myself and went back to my table (never making it to the ladies room) and sat down with my friend.

To her dismay, the man a prominent local businessman came over and made himself comfortable at their table.

He then went on and on about how much he loved me. He said that he had told other people I worked with at the time that he loved me. To be honest, I thought this a little creepy. This man is a figure that is known in public but I had never met him before.

At that point, Marshall pretended that her male friend was actually her partner.

It was a ploy to have the man leave. But I was wrong. He then went on and on about how lucky my former co-worker was, until finally I got so quiet that his friend came over and pulled him away.

Marshall accepts that the man was drunk, and that things like this happen when you have a recognizable face.

But still, it was awkward and weird for me. I later saw that same man when I was out on the job... he came up to me as I was working. I did not recognize him. He did remind me and I politely smiled and nodded To be blunt, the dude creeped the hell out of me, and when I ran into him again I was even more creeped out. I heard some of the stuff he said to a couple of my co-workers about me and it grossed me out.

As noted, I have never had overtures from smitten fans. I think its a phenomenon unique to broadcast journalists.

However, I have definitely been threatened.

There was that time in the washroom of a downtown bar. I had just finished washing my hands when a stranger a big man, a biker dude, dressed in black leather approached me. We were the only two people in the room. He stood close, too close, and said, Youre Geoff Meeker, right?

Yeah, I should have lied. Denied everything. But I said, Yes why?

He pulled out his wallet, opened it and carefully extracted a miniscule sheaf of paper, which he slowly unfolded.

You wrote this, didnt you? he said, holding the article under my nose. It was a firsthand account of one of those weekend-long biker rallies, in the woods along the Salmonier Line, that I had written in my nightlife column. He had been carrying it around for quite a few months, waiting for this opportunity. I was never so crestfallen to see my name in print.

He pushed me up against the concrete wall, grasping my collar tight in his left hand while waving a fist menacingly in my face. He lifted, until I was standing on my toes. This was not good.

He said I had mocked he and his friends, and that maybe he should give me a good smack or two. Or something to that effect.

Its amazing how concentrated the mind becomes in such situations. I saw his maybe as an opening. I thought fast, and talked faster, explaining that I didnt say anything in a mocking tone, merely reported what I saw and I did see some wacky things.

You have to admit that the guy who started firing his gun into the woods, in the dark, with all those people around, was pretty wild, I said, adding a few other examples.

I pointed out that I did enjoy the event, it was a wild time, and had said as much in the conclusion.

Slowly, his grip relaxed and my heels came to rest on the floor. He uttered more words of warning, but it gradually turned into something resembling a conversation. I left that washroom feeling more alive that is, more aware of the fact that I was breathing in and out, and life was damn good than I had in years. And things got better with the biker guy. I ran into him frequently whilst out on the town, and we developed a nodding acquaintance that was quite pleasant, given the alternatives.

And this concludes the Cost of Celebrity series. For now. If you have a story youd like to add, please do so in the comments section.

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  • wayne
    July 27, 2010 - 14:53

    i know the camera people who wait outside of court rooms to capture video for the evening news may not be the so called celebrities you write about in your blog-- but i feel if anything is going to happen bad-- the camera people might be the ones on the receiving end. it takes guts just to stand near the doorway when some of those people are lead in. more guts to videotape them. i think someday one of those nutcases we see the police leading through the doors will go after them. i actually think it's coming!