All stories by Courtney Shea

The Informer

Features

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Sin City with snow: secrets of Toronto’s VIP club scene

When hip-hop and NBA stars want a good time, they call party queen Mona Halem. Inside a decadent world of $700 champagne, secret guest lists and hordes of beautiful women

Toronto's Party Queen

Mona Halem at Uniun nightclub in March

On a Monday night last August, half the hip-hop world showed up unannounced in Toronto: Lil Wayne, P. Diddy, Kanye West, Big Sean, French Montana, Mase, TLC. All had agreed to perform as surprise guests at Drake’s annual concert, OVO Fest, which, like all things Drake, has become wildly successful. The ability to produce a roster of acts that reads like a fantasy Grammy lineup speaks to Drake’s clout, but the secrecy involved presented a practical problem: with no advance notice, nobody had organized an after-party. For this group of career ballers, it was a rare case of all blinged out and nowhere to go. Even Drizzy, who lives in Toronto for at least part of the year, was at a loss. Then someone suggested the obvious: call Mona.

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The Informer

Features

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Well, Hi There: Jian Ghomeshi, live and off the air

Jian Ghomeshi’s climb to the top of the CBC required plenty of ambition, glad-handing, star-chasing, stubble maintenance and serial dating, plus a couple of workplace meltdowns

Well, Hi There: Jian Ghomeshi, live and off the air

One day, roughly five years ago, Jian Ghomeshi got a severe headache and felt sharp pains in his chest. “I thought I must have a brain tumour or be experiencing a heart attack—that I must be dying,” he says now. A few days later, he started to feel dizzy, had trouble breathing and headed for the nearest emergency room. The doctor took note of his symptoms and asked if he’d done any coke (he hadn’t). It turned out to be a panic attack, and he was eventually diagnosed with an anxiety disorder. He now visits a midtown psychologist once a week. When the demands of hosting Q, Ghomeshi’s CBC radio show, don’t allow him to leave the office, he and his shrink talk over Skype. The sessions help him cope. “I’ve worked through a lot,” he says. “Feeling like an outsider because of my Iranian background, trust issues. A lot of not feeling good enough.”

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The Informer

People

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Q&A: departing National Post columnist Shinan Govani on life with the city’s glitter girls and power players

After 12 years and 6,623 parties, Toronto’s gossip guy of record is parting ways with the National Post. Here, Shinan Govani dishes on on his favourite celeb encounter, why Toronto could totally support a Real Housewives series and whether he’s ever puked into Hilary Weston’s shoes* (*he has not)

shinan-govani

Govani with Tanya Kim (left) and Katie Couric (right)

You have met innumerable celebs on the job—who sticks out as being the most amazing?
It was pretty groovy when I went to a little party a few years ago and Liza Minnelli sang in my face. There are probably a lot of more au courant movie stars I could name, but…

More au courant than Liza!?
Ha! But really, she was more than a star. She is so iconic—it was like the Eiffel Tower coming to life.

The Toronto “scene” is sort of it’s own beast, wouldn’t you say?
Yes, though there’s been sort of a flat-lining of the things that distinguish one large metropolis from another. Everyone watches the same media and gets information at the same time. Today some kid in his basement in Ajax can see the same things they’re seeing at Milan Fashion Week. This globalization has led to a more acute sense of strutting and peacocking here in Toronto.

But aren’t we a little more reserved here? People say the Real Housewives franchise wouldn’t work in Toronto because our rich people here are so discrete in terms of dirty laundry.
I don’t really buy that. Nobody had heard of Bethenny Frankel or Countess LuAnn before the Real Housewives turned them into stars. It’s not like actual high society types are doing that show in any city and I think it’s overly pious to think that ambitious star fuckery doesn’t exist here. It does.

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TIFF Talk

TIFF Parties

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TIFF Party: Jessica Chastain is the girl everyone wants to meet at the InStyle/HFPA bash

Jessica Chastain poses with fans outside the InStyle/HFPA party (Image: George Pimentel Photography)

Penguin suit? Fuggedaboutit. Mark Wahlberg attended the hyper exclusive InStyle/HFPA party at the Windsor Arms last night, and while many of his Hollywood cohorts sported predictably elegant duds, Marky Mark kept it casual in a Nike T-shirt and jeans. The every-dude duds probably had something to do with Wahlberg’s TIFF agenda: hawking the new Toronto location of his burger chain Wahlburger at the Soho Metropolitan on Wellington.

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TIFF Talk

TIFF Parties

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TIFF Party: Webers burgers, foul language and a charitable dunking at the star-studded APJ fundraiser

TIFF Party: Artists for Peace and Justice

(Image: George Pimentel Photography)

A hodgepodge of Hollywood elites and local royalty gathered at the Forest Hill home of Michael Budman and Diane Bald (otherwise known as Mr. and Mrs. Roots) for yesterday’s fundraiser for Artists for Peace and Justice, Paul Haggis’s charity for impoverished children in Haiti. To accommodate the concert-meets-cocktail-party-meets-live-auction format, the backyard was transformed into the champagne-and-caviar version of the Molson Amphitheatre: a sprawling concert stage, dozens of food stations and a grassy hill where guests soaked up the perfect sunny weather (apparently Budman even has ins with God). Rufus Wainright and Michael Bolton were the headliners, while A-listers like Colin Firth, Maria Bello, Adrien Brody, Olivia Wilde and Jason Sedeikus posed for pics with adoring fans. Here, a handful of highlights from the star-studded bash.

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TIFF Talk

TIFF Parties

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The uber-hunky Hemsworth bros keep it all in the family at TIFF

Liam Hemsworth

(Image: Christopher Drost)

Where was Liam Hemsworth when on-again, off-again fiancée Miley Cyrus released her super-NSFW music video for “Wrecking Ball”? The answer: here in Toronto, supporting big bro Chris Hemsworth, whose movie Rush deputed yesterday at Roy Thomson Hall. It was a full-on family affair for the lookalike uber-hunks, who hung with mom, dad and older brother Luke at the Rush after-party on the Thompson Hotel rooftop. Later, the Aussie clan swung by the Worldview party at King West pop-up Live at the Hive, where Reese Witherspoon held court along with an impressive mish-mash of Hollywood elites, including Taylor Kitsch, Cindy Lauper, Harvey Weinstein and Eli Roth. The Hemsworth crew hung well into the wee hours. No word if anyone dared twerk in their presence.

TIFF Talk

TIFF Parties

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TIFF Party: Keira Knightley dazzles and Adam Levine slams vodka shots at the after-party for Can A Song Save Your Life?

TIFF Party: Keira Knightley dazzles and Adam Levine slams vodka shots at the after-party for Can A Song Save Your Life?

Some stars disappoint in real life. Not so with Keira Knightley, whose light-bulb luminosity is the kind that chemical peels and potions just can’t buy (not that we’re bitter or anything). The human swan glided into King West resto-lounge Patria last night to celebrate the screening of her new film, Can A Song Save Your Life? Sporting a dreamy watercolour frock by London designer Mary Katrantzou, she joined co-star Adam Levine (the latest graduate from the Justin Timberlake School of How to Transition from Boy Bander to Serious Thespy) in an outdoor booth, where Knightley sipped a black cherry cocktail and Mr. Maroon 5 went the rock-star route: vodka shots!! Despite the slamming music (note to TIFF DJs: when in doubt, play Michael Jackson), Levine left without breaking out a single move like Jagger. Maybe next time.

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TIFF Talk

TIFF Parties

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TIFF Party: Nicole Kidman holds court and Colin Firth is downright dashing at The Railway Man after-party

TIFF Party: The Railway Man

(Image: George Pimentel/Getty Images)

Sure, confirming that Colin Firth is dashing doesn’t exactly rank high on the revelatory scale (in other news, the sky is blue, tiny tacos are delicious). But still, the man is as dashing, maybe even more dashing, than all of us Mr. Darcy fans ever expected him to be at the after-party for the TIFF screening of his new movie The Railway Man, held at the Live at the Hive on King West and hosted by Moet and Chandon, one of the 2013 film fest’s buzziest party locations (bee pun intended!). 

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The Informer

Features

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Better than Weed: the latest drug craze is a fake version of pot that might even be legal

Better than weed

(Image: Left: Adam Wookey, the 28-year-old designer drug peddlar; Right: The Izms comes in different flavours and strengths and sells for $10 to $20 a packet)

Last January 19, around 10:15 p.m., a man walked into the Love Shop, an erotica store in downtown Hamilton. He approached the cashier, said he had a gun, and demanded that she hand over the store’s supply of the Izms, an imitation marijuana product. The cashier gave him several dozen candy-coloured packets, each containing 1.25 grams. By the time the cops arrived at the scene, the man had fled. His unusual demand caught the attention of a few police divisions in the GTA, who raided convenience stores and confiscated Izms supplies. On March 8, Hamilton police charged Adam Wookey, the 28-year-old Toronto man who distributes the product across Canada, with trafficking a controlled substance.

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The Goods

Best Dressed

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Sarah Gadon is ready to heat up Hollywood

Some Like It Hot: Sarah Gadon

Dress, Tanya Taylor; earrings, Jean-Louis Blin, and ring, Robyn Rhodes, both available at Elle Hardware; shoes, Manolo Blahnik, available at Holt Renfrew. Photographed at Allan Gardens Conservatory

Sarah Gadon lies motionless in a bed, luminous as a light bulb against a backdrop of crisp white linen. Her lips are painted a rusty red, her blonde hair frozen in perfect ringlets. Even with her eyes closed she radiates intensity. It’s a scene from Antiviral, the post-apocalyptic morality tale from Brandon Cronenberg (son of David), and Gadon is playing the biggest movie star in the world. The film is about a futuristic society in which obsessed fans buy diseases from ailing celebrities in a desperate attempt to connect with them. Gadon’s character, Hannah Geist, is the object of their obsession. The idea’s not that far-fetched—over the past couple years, Gadon has leapfrogged from minor Canadian TV guest actor (recurring roles on Murdoch Mysteries, Being Erica and The Border) to auteur’s muse and Cannes regular.

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The Informer

Features

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Sex Without Borders: the complicated couplings of Toronto’s pleasure-seeking polyamorists

Stephane and Samantha’s open marriage includes shared girlfriends, bacchanalian house parties and always asking permission before taking on a new lover. A portrait of Toronto’s new generation of polyamorists

Sex Without Borders

Stephane Goulet (middle) and Samantha Fraser (right) at home with one of their girlfriends, Gayle

Samantha Fraser and Stephane Goulet are the kind of married couple who have always talked openly about people they find attractive. She’d comment on the hot waiter at a restaurant, he’d admit that he was turned on by a woman on the street. When sex clubs were legalized in Toronto, they fantasized about going to one; they didn’t actually go, but talking about what the experience might be like became a regular part of their sex life. One night, a year into their marriage, they hosted a raucous house party. While Samantha flirted with other men, Stephane made out with another woman during a game of spin the bottle. “I remember thinking, this is fun,” Stephane says.

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The Informer

Culture

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The Bachelor Canada recap, episode 9: to cast a Bachelorette

THE BACHELOR CANADA Episode 9

Dear Bachelor Canada producers,

First off, a big congrats on a strong first season. We admit we were scared that Bach Can was going to be a budget version of its American inspiration (the Sass Jordan to their Paula Abdul), but instead you produced something that was equally glamorous, gossip-worthy and cringe-inducing (what is The Bach without a little cringe?). Plus, for our money Brad is cuter and funnier than any dude the U.S. franchise has been able to scare up, so congrats…now back to work! Because while the “After the Final Rose” episode confirmed that a) Brad and Bianka are still blissfully happy, and b) Whitney is still totally crazy, we know that you’re already looking to the next season—which means picking a Bachelorette.

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The Informer

Culture

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The Bachelor Canada recap, episode 8: and the lucky lady is…

THE BACHELOR CANADA Episode 8

Dear Brad,

The journey certainly has been interesting, and we’re so (sooo, sooooooo) glad that you made the right decision, because 1) Bianka seems like a pretty cool girl and 2) she is not Whitney. Thank the Lord, thank the stars and thank you, Brad, really, for allowing us to maintain some faith in mankind.

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The Informer

Culture

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The Bachelor Canada recap, episode 7: a different kind of rose ceremony

THE BACHELOR CANADA Episode 7

Dear Brad,

Tonight you finally had to face the firing squad during the Women Tell All episode and, as usual, you handled it like the good Canadian boy you are. We can’t wait until next week, when you make the choice that will affect the rest of your life (or at least the current dating season). A few words on that below, but first, since we have watched you bestow roses on your chosen chiquitas for the past six weeks, we figure it’s our turn. 

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The Informer

Culture

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The Bachelor Canada recap, episode 6: living by the rules

THE BACHELOR CANADA Episode 6

Dear Brad,

Oh, Brad, Brad, Brad—on the one hand we sort of feel like launching you up into the air like a clay disc and blasting you into a million bits. Getting rid of Kara was a horrible decision, and by doing so you are all but guaranteed to wind up with a high-maintenance diva who will eventually eat you alive. On the other hand, we get that when you’re not feeling it, you just can’t fake it, no matter how fun and hot and perfect-for-you a person is. So in that sense, way to go—you’re following your heart. Or maybe you’re following your libido. Hard to say, since we obviously don’t share the same taste.

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