1106 Words

It's not easy being Wendy Mesley

The CBC journalist talks about her TV newsmagazine ‘Undercurrents’, being a homebody and, yes, we went there, her bad hair days

Supplied publicity photo, 2000
CBC 'Undercurrents' journalist Wendy Mesley Supplied publicity photo, 2000

If there’s one phrase to describe CBC TV journalist Wendy Mesley, it’s “down to earth.” She’s not your typical news anchor, constantly checking her hair in the mirror. At the same time, you understand she’s well known. Famous.

There are typically three things that come up when you mention Mesley’s name: she’s the ex-wife of National anchor Peter Mansbridge, she’s an attractive woman, and finally, she’s a very good journalist.

“It should be the other way around, don’t you think?” Mesley comments.

Born in Montreal and raised in Toronto, as a child, Mesley displayed an early interest in reporting. Her father was a journalist, but he left the family before she was a year old. She got her first break in her late teens, leaving her part-time job scraping cafeteria dishes to answer phones at a local radio station. It was there when she got the chance to do an interview; she was hooked. Taking the next step, she enrolled in the journalism program at Ryerson’s Polytechnic University and later became a print reporter on Parliament Hill. A few years later, she worked her way into television, becoming a reporter for CBC's The National, and an anchor for various CBC programs. She’s now the host of CBC’s Sunday night current affairs program, Undercurrents.

Despite her hard news credentials, Mesley has had to fight to be taken seriously as a journalist. Though regarded as one of Canada’s top reporters, her physical features are still discussed as part of her public persona.

Vince Carlin, chair of Ryerson’s School of Journalism, who first hired Mesley at the CBC, confirms this enviable struggle, that, yes, she’s had the “disadvantage of being attractive.”

“Let’s get real,” Mesley says, “no one ever complains about being too good-looking. Give me a break. It drives me crazy when people talk about the way I look instead of my journalism.

“I used to go out of my way [to dress down]. When I worked in Ottawa, you couldn’t tell that I had a chest, let alone a waist. I dressed like an old woman because I was trying to look older, but also because I didn’t want anyone to dare suggest that I got there because of ‘womanly wiles.’ Now I’m in my forties and there’s only a few years left where you can still look like a woman. So I figure, ‘The hell with all that!,” she laughs.

As a public figure and a journalist, Mesley is now used to being scrutinized. She’s a regular satirical target on CBC’s Royal Canadian Air Farce, and creepily, even has a love song written to her by a band called Show Biz Giants, titled “I’ve Got a Crush on Wendy Mesley.” She’s also a frequent target of Canadian tabloid magazine, Frank, which once featured, among other lowbrow reports, a pictorial series on her bad hair days.

“Well, I did have pretty bad hair,” she jokes, then self-deferentially pointing to an old publicity photo in her office featuring her at the anchor desk with a large perm. “That’s when I was married to Peter. Look at that! Not that I’ve got great hair now, but at least it’s a little more real.”

As a young reporter on Parliament Hill, Mesley was known for her 20-pound File-O-Fax which she carried everywhere. As the host of Undercurrents, a show that analyses media and information technology, it’s no surprise that Mesley has since upgraded her reporter's notebook.

“That was my old wallet,” she says. “I’ve got rid of all that junk. I don’t even carry around my checkbook anymore because I got a PalmPilot for Christmas.”

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