Marianna Simeone in studio at CJAD radio.
What is most striking about meeting Marianna Simeone in person is how much energy she exudes. It isn't difficult, therefore, to imagine her in her many roles: businesswoman, journalist, broadcaster, corporate board member, community activist, actress, wife, mom and most recently, author. She is putting the finishing touches on two books on her experiences as a commentator (one in English and one in Italian).
Equally at ease in Italian, French and English, Marianna Simeone began her career as executive director of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Canada before undertaking a career in broadcasting. She was host and commentator on Montreal's CJAD radio for five years before hosting 7 Giorni, a weekly, 30-minute news and public affairs program on Global's CHTV. As a frequent guest and guest host on Global TV, CTV and CBC, she has earned a reputation as an outspoken critic, a sharp wit and an incisive political commentator.
Marianna Simeone was born and raised in the St. Michel district of Montreal's east end. She attended John F. Kennedy High School and graduated from Concordia University with a degree in Italian Literature. Her parents, Anna Rinaldi and Lupo Simeone, emigrated from the province of Benevento in the 1950s. In the early eighties, following her father's death, she moved to Italy to pursue her studies.
Though she can appear to be "all business," she is friendly and genuine. When people approach her in the street, she takes the time to chat. Her success in business and media, she will tell you, are due in large part to the love and support of her family. To Domenic Pappadia, a prominent Montreal businessman, she is a life partner. To Alessandro and Massimiliano, she is simply Mom. Recently, between a speaking engagement, a board meeting and a move to a new home, she graciously took the time to answer my questions.
ACCENTI: What's a typical day like for Marianna Simeone?
Marianna Simeone: I am usually up very early, taking the boys to school and getting our home organized for the day. Typically I arrive at the office around 9:30 and look after my correspondence, place my phone calls. Then I tackle the projects I am working on. This often means preparing for a meeting, holding a conference call or doing research for a written work. If I am not preparing to comment on a newscast, I am writing my speech for a speaking engagement or preparing for a board meeting. I like to be available for my boys in the afternoon when they return from school, to help them with their homework and make their dinner. That, unfortunately, does not occur every night, for at times my work requires that I be out between four and six in the afternoon. In that case, my mother takes over. God knows how precious her support is. I owe a lot of what I am to my mom. She has supported me unconditionally in my work, my studies, and with my family. On weekends, the pace is much slower. The family has time to hang together, and it does. We have our meals together, we shop together, we play together. In the last few months I have made a great effort to separate my professional life from my personal life. My office was, for the longest time, in our home. I have recently separated the two and find that I am now more productive at work and less preoccupied with work at home!
ACCENTI: As a journalist and TV host, who do you look up to or respect in the business?
Marianna Simeone: Barbara Frumm was a true inspiration. She personified my love for information, for honest, intelligent and thought-provoking journalism. She was a shining example of a woman succeeding in what was then typically a male-dominated profession (and she wasn't even a blonde). Today I enjoy what Anna Maria Tremonti is doing on CBC Radio each morning. The Current is truly a wonderfully informative and thought-provoking show. Evan Salomon has stolen my heart (as that of many ladies I am sure). His style is refreshing and his interviews are always far reaching. In print journalism I enjoy Lysianne Gagnon and Chantal H补rt. I have always admired Michaꫬe Jean's style and command of the French language. Ooops
is that too many women! Right now Bernard De Rome is the only anchor who can deliver my evening newscast.
ACCENTI: You work in three languages and navigate within three cultures. How do you accomplish that with ease?
Marianna Simeone: First of all, it's not as easy as I hope it looks. Each language requires a different social consciousness. That means that I read the French and English papers every day, that I write in both official languages and in Italian regularly. But it is not merely a question of semantics or grammar. It is a question of culture and society. That means you have to understand why "Tout le monde en parle" has become such a television talk show sensation. You have to read Nathalie Simard's tell-all book on her sexual and mental abuse. You have to understand MacPhearson and Ibbitson. And you certainly must stay connected to Italy. And because we operate in a highly technical and advanced society, in our business it means we need to work more and work faster. Easy access to information in its original language demands that you, as a journalist, also produce information at that speed; and as a commentator or interviewer, you need to metabolize information from a disparate selection of sources and need to form a critical opinion in record time. We suffer from "information overload" in our day and age, and if we do not manage it, we will probably be complete failures. When a television network calls you for a live on-air commentary or discussion on the latest developments in Ottawa or Quebec City, you not only need to know the issues but you have to understand your audience. The comments you may have will mean nothing if you do not relate to the audience.
ACCENTI: What gives you the most pleasure in your work?
Marianna Simeone: Talking to people, just talking. In English, French or Italian. I love to bring information to the table, to tell a story, to relate to that story or to have people tell theirs. That is why I will be the most prepared, the most inquisitive and the most attentive interviewer you will ever meet. Individuals and their stories fascinate me. People often wonder why I am so interested in politics. Often my audiences have expressed cynicism or complete indifference with my passion for politics. Politics not only affects our lives every single day, but it is the most fascinating and entertaining display of human nature at work. There is no greater pleasure, however, than that of a viewer or listener who lets you know how he or she feels about something you've said. At various times viewers have let me know how I have touched their lives. That is the best gift a broadcast journalist could ever receive.
ACCENTI: From 2000 to 2005 you were the much admired and respected host of 7 Giorni on CHTV Montreal. The show was cancelled in August 2005. How do you feel about that?
Marianna Simeone: I am very disappointed. I was forced to leave a show I loved to do. Let's get one thing straight: 7 Giorni was my idea. I insisted on the concept and I convinced the broadcaster to air it. I conceived it, researched it with a young journalist, wrote it, hosted it and delivered it. 7 Giorni did what no other Italian language television show is doing today. It filled a much needed void and delivered news and current affairs honestly, insightfully and, I dare say, with a certain flair that is typically Italian. In its four seasons, 7 Giorni welcomed the most authoritative, prestigious and informed guests and newsmakers, the likes of whom, the broadcaster had never seen. And what made our show special was that all these outstanding interviews were done solely and exclusively in Italian. We made an exception only for the premier of the province, the mayor of Montreal, the leader of the New Democratic Party and a number of other political party leaders. CHTV Montreal evidently did not value the show and felt that it was not worth keeping. Although I am saddened by its disappearance, I take solace in the countless testimonials of appreciation from viewers who truly miss the show and want me back.
ACCENTI: What went through your mind as you taped the last show on August 26th, 2005?
Marianna Simeone: That I wanted to hug each and every one of my viewers and tell them that I will miss them so.
ACCENTI: As a TV personality you are often recognized in the street. How do you balance the public image with the private woman?
Marianna Simeone: I find that part of my work really very easy and very enjoyable. Every time someone, anyone, recognizes me and says hello or hesitates to say hello, I immediately oblige and chat them up, asking about them. I have no problem balancing the public persona and the private woman. If I am out doing my groceries in sweat pants and running shoes and people recognize me, I find it even more flattering that they can actually see the real person, doing real things just like they do. Some of my most interesting encounters with the public have taken place, in fact, at the Jean Talon Market. On those odd days when my energy is low, I make sure I stay home!
ACCENTI: Where would one see the more relaxed Marianna Simeone?
Marianna Simeone: Picture this: Saturday morning . . . coffee in one hand, newspaper in the other. Hair tied back. Pyjamas are de rigueur! That is my idea of relaxing.
ACCENTI: What are your hobbies?
Marianna Simeone: I enjoy walking and running when I have the strength. And I like to scour the city for interesting sites, architecture, history relics. I cook - it may sound cliché but I love to cook. Theatre is also a favourite pastime. I have taken that hobby to the next step. I perform with a local Italian theatre troupe!
ACCENTI: Who was most instrumental in shaping the person you have become?
Marianna Simeone: My father comes to mind immediately. So does Piero Bassetti and Barbara Frumm. The person, however, who has encouraged me the most and thrust me towards my full potential is without a doubt Domenic Pappadia, my partner in life. Whenever I thought I couldn't do something, he knew I could. Whenever I was afraid to try, he dared me to give it my best. I owe my entrepreneurial qualities to Domenic. Knowledge, contacts and hard work do not amount to much if one does not believe in oneself. My father shaped my heart. I lost him when I was very young and quite immature. Not withstanding, I seem to recall every single word of advice, caution and life philosophy he so freely dispensed. My sense of compassion and my belief of justice and fairness - at times ingenuous - come from him. My father was a Nazi concentration camp survivor. My business sense and my italianità were awakened and stimulated by an icon of Italian politics and business, who helped me discover that, yes, Italy was an economic powerhouse and that, yes, one can be Italian and be a citizen of the world. As director of the Italian Chamber of Commerce in Montreal, I had the good fortune of working closely with Piero Bassetti for about six years. I refer to that time in my life as my training for an Executive MBA! Barbara Frumm, of course, was my mentor. And my children have made me a kinder and more generous person.
ACCENTI: What are the disadvantages of being in the public eye?
Marianna Simeone: There are a couple: misconceptions would be by far the most serious of disadvantages. You see, the public believes that our work is glamorous. But, in fact, it is very far from glamorous. Television stations and radio studios are not places of luxury and comfort. As news people, we tend, for the most part, to work alone. Another problem is that of generalizations. People tend to generalize, and at times I have been the subject of unfounded rumours. At first you dwell on them, but you quickly learn that to survive in this business you can't let anything get under your skin. The moment that happens, you know it is the beginning of the end.
ACCENTI: You attended the installation of our new Governor General, Michaꫬe Jean. Can you share your emotions?
Marianna Simeone: September 27th, 2005, was a truly memorable and emotional day for me and my husband. How could it be otherwise? Her Excellency was outstanding. Her presentation in the Senate during the installation was breathtaking and inspirational. I must tell you, I cried throughout her entire speech. Tears just kept streaming down my face, as I could see my dad's face in every single word she pronounced. How happy he would have been to hear her speech. She confirmed that his immigration to this land was not in vain.
ACCENTI: What are you working on now?
Marianna Simeone: I am quite involved with the Italian Chamber of Commerce, as a board member and as an active committee member. I am continuing my work with Le Maschere Theatre Troupe - as an actor and as a member of the executive, and I have just embarked on a new, wonderful writing project. I am working on two books - one English, the other Italian. I always dreamt of penning something. During my years with CJAD, I wrote extensively. The same goes for my commentaries aired on 7 Giorni. I realized that some of that writing should be published and preserved.
ACCENTI: What would you like to accomplish in the next ten years?
Marianna Simeone: I would love to produce a documentary, publish a tabletop book of Montreal's church steeples, go back to school, and have my very own television talk show or anchor the evening newscast.
ACCENTI: If you could produce your own TV show, what would it be like?
Marianna Simeone: It would depend greatly on the language of the show. An Italian language current affairs show would look like this: News plus in-depth news reporting, followed by interviews with newsmakers. After the information, there would be a discussion that I would like to open up to the public, perhaps with a pre-selected in-house audience. If I were to produce a Canadian show, I would produce an English-language show to explain French Canada to the English and a French-language show to explain English Canada to the French. It would be a current affairs show, with in-depth reporting, interviews and discussions dealing with politics, life, society, etc. It always astonishes me how little the two founding peoples know about each other's culture. And of course I would produce "Pasta & Politics." This would be a weekend news and current affairs show that would feature a personality of the week, a politician or a newsmaker, in my kitchen, discussing the politics of the day while preparing his or her favourite recipe - a very relaxed atmosphere that would allow for some frank talk on serious issues, and a glimpse at the more personal and intimate side of personalities.
ACCENTI: Despite your many successes, what do you wish you had done differently?
Marianna Simeone: I wish I would have done a graduate degree. I wish I would have studied abroad for a longer period of time. I wish I would have had two more babies!
Licia Canton is editor-in-chief of Accenti Magazine.