When Justin met Sophie
Behind the scenes as a Canadian prince marries his princess
LIANNE GEORGE | May 31, 2005
As a rule, Canadians aren't anxious to celebrate our social elite. We don't cultivate Kennedys or Windsors -- and you don't see us tripping over ourselves every time a prime minister's offspring passes his bar exam. But if, hypothetically, we were to design a quintessentially Canadian prince, he'd probably look something like Justin Trudeau, the eldest son of Pierre Trudeau, the country's first-and-only pop star prime minister. With his mother's good looks and joie de vivre and his father's staunch idealism and Montreal-bred je ne sais quoi, Justin is, for many, as close as it gets to Canadian royalty. Last weekend, in front of some 180 guests, Trudeau, 33, married his girlfriend, Sophie Grégoire, 30, in what was, by Canadian standards, a sweet and appropriately understated fairy-tale wedding. "It's just so happy," said Margaret Trudeau, mother of the groom. "The past two times my family has come to Montreal for family occasions it's been extraordinarily sorrowful. This time it is joyful, so we're all savouring the fact that we're here to celebrate such happiness in our family."
As crowds and camera crews gathered outside the Sainte-Madeleine d'Outremont church, the bride donned her dress in the penthouse suite of Hotel Le St-James, a posh boutique establishment in Old Montreal. She made her entrance to cheers and applause, and some of the bridesmaids started to cry. Later, after posing for photos, she rode to the church in a 2004 Rolls Royce Phantom which, according to the chauffeur, is the only one of its kind in Canada(starting price: about $400,000). Following the ceremony, an intimate Catholic service in which the newlyweds handed the communion wafers to their respective families, they descended the church steps through a cordon of bagpipers, Mounties and jubilant guests.
Then they climbed into Pierre Trudeau's iconic 1960 Mercedes-Benz 300SL roadster and, with Justin at the wheel and motorcycle police providing escort, drove to their reception at Le St-James. There, invitees -- including Jacques Hébert, founder of Katimavik, the youth volunteer organization of which Trudeau is now chair, Alberta Senator Joyce Fairburn and Trudeau's brother and best man, Alexandre -- were treated to an evening meal featuring Alberta beef and local cheeses and organic vegetables, and a range of musical acts including a gospel singer, a Brazilian band and a club deejay for late-night dancing.
It was important, says Trudeau, that the couple keep the wedding intimate and personal. "We knew we didn't want to go the route of inviting dignitaries and prime ministers or anything like that," he says. "For me, the guest list was either going to be under 200 or over 1,000 -- and there was no way it was going to be 1,000." They also wanted it to be traditional, but not too traditional. "No cake!" Grégoire told Maclean's. A personal shopper for Holt Renfrew and a former Quebec TV personality, she speaks English with ebullience and a very mild French-Canadian accent that surfaces when she becomes emphatic. "I find that people never eat it. You take this tacky picture cutting the cake. So I said, 'No! Let's do something different!' "
They opted for a long table laid out with a variety of elegant desserts, organic teas and coffee. Grégoire's wedding dress, which she was instrumental in designing, came from a local boutique called Les Noces Couture. Margaret Trudeau called it "ethereal" and, "like Sophie, totally original." "It's not your typical, prissy white dress," says Grégoire. "I love it! I adore it! I feel like it's me!"
And who exactly is she? Originally from Sainte-Adèle, Que., and raised in Montreal's Town of Mount Royal, Grégoire is the only child of a stockbroker and a former nurse. She and Trudeau became acquainted as adults in June 2003 when they were co-hosting the Mercedes-Benz Grand Prix ball, a fundraiser for the Starlight Children's Foundation, but Grégoire had known the Trudeau family for years. She'd been a childhood friend and classmate of Trudeau's youngest brother, Michel -- who died in an avalanche in 1998 at the age of 23 -- and has fond memories of playing at the Trudeau family home on Pine Avenue as a girl. "They had a really cool pool with a trapeze and ropes and we could play Tarzan for hours," she says. "We would hide in the closets to have our first kiss."
The night of the Grand Prix ball two years ago, Grégoire reintroduced herself to Trudeau and, as they both giddily recall, they hit it off immediately. "We laughed, we joked and there was a definite chemistry between us," says Trudeau, a former teacher who has recently made a career of speaking on youth and environmental issues. "And I sort of realized, okay, this is someone I have to take seriously." But it was summer in Montreal and he was in a "very socially active phase" at that time, as he puts it, and wasn't ready to take anyone seriously. So when Grégoire emailed him several days later to express her pleasure in meeting him, he never replied. "I got the email," he says, "and I said, 'Nice. Okay. Good.' And I didn't answer it. I didn't delete it, I just decided, 'No, I'm better off not starting anything that I'm not willing to go through with.' "
At this point, Grégoire was unimpressed with our Canadian prince. "I was kind of like, 'Okay, he has no class.' I mean, yes, I did think Justin was cute; but the email was really just a note from one professional to another." Then, at the end of the summer, they bumped into each other on the street. Grégoire said hello and kept walking, but by that time, having had his fill of casual dating, Trudeau chased her down. "I said, 'Look, I really want to call you. I want us to get together and go for dinner together.' I felt it was time." He asked for her number, but she played hard to get, telling him if he'd saved her email, he'd have no problem getting in touch with her. "I was with a friend," she says, "and she was looking at me like, 'What the hell is wrong with you?' " At that point, Grégoire figured she'd never hear from him again. "She sort of had my number as a bit of someone who was overly social at that moment," Trudeau says.
But he emailed her that night, and later they agreed to go on their first date -- to an Afghan restaurant.(She insisted that he take her to a place he'd never taken anyone before, he recalls, still bemused by her moxie.)After a romantic dinner, it was off to a dingy karaoke bar to sing Elton John and Beatles tunes at each other in a private booth. Outside, Trudeau, punch-drunk on the romance of it all, walked head-on into a post. "I thought, 'Oh my God. You nerd!' " Grégoire says, laughing. "And he kept explaining for 30 minutes, 'Sophie, Sophie, I never do this.' "
If you ask Trudeau what it was about Grégoire, it's clear he's given this some heavy consideration. "First of all," he says, "you've seen the pictures. She's absolutely gorgeous. But there's this sweetness to her and a realness, with this edge of an intelligence that is very, very strong and anchored in some values that are unassailable."
That night, the couple ended up back at Justin's apartment, sitting on the couch and talking for hours. And then, as Oprah would call it, the "Aha! moment." "I looked at her," says Trudeau, "and I just felt this strength and peace come over me." He is now carefully enunciating each syllable. "And I said, 'Well, it's about time you arrived. It's been 32 years and I was beginning to think you would never show up. I've been waiting for you all my life. You're it!' I knew it right then and I announced to her that we would be spending the rest of our lives together." How did she respond? "We both burst into tears because we're both such big sensitive souls," he says. "Big tender hearts."
As Grégoire will tell you, becoming Justin Trudeau's girlfriend involves a bit of a lifestyle adjustment. As a former TV personality, she was used to occasionally being recognized in Quebec, but nothing like this. "Wherever we go," she says, "in a restaurant or on the street or on a ski hill or even travelling, people come up to see us and they're just so friendly. They always have a super story to tell us concerning his dad or when he was young and I'm always interested to get to know stories about Justin and his family." Much of their leisure time is spent indulging a shared enthusiasm for extreme sports. "I have this wild side to me," she says. "We did some ice climbing. We've done some crazy skiing. I also do water-skiing and barefooting and I've done parachutisme."
The marriage proposal came about a year later, on Oct. 18, 2004. It was to be a surprise, on what would've been Pierre Trudeau's 85th birthday.("God, I would have loved to sit with him and have great conversations, but that never happened," Grégoire says. "I remember him being as if he was part of the group of kids, laughing and goofing around.")On that fall day, they went to the family tomb in Saint-Rémi-de-Napierville to pay their respects. Then a radical change of pace: Trudeau took Grégoire to Hotel Le St-James for his-and-hers spa treatments. "We did the whole double massage thing," he says. "It was wonderful." When they came out, their clothes were gone -- all part of a master plan. They were taken to the Royal Suite in their robes, ostensibly to locate their clothes. "But there was champagne and oysters," says Trudeau, "and I got down on one knee in front of the fireplace in this beautiful ornate room and asked her to marry me."
Grégoire, without a hint of irony, gushes as she recalls the moment. "I call him my prince," she says, "because he treats me like a princess. He really went out of his way. There were candles and rose petals everywhere. I felt like I was a princess."
At first, the couple tried to keep their engagement a secret, but as Margaret warned them, that would be impossible. Canadians have always taken an interest in Trudeau, particularly since he delivered his impassioned eulogy at his father's funeral in 2000. "I have tried to prepare Sophie for, how can I put it, the pain and hurt the media may cause her," says Margaret. "I'm telling her that I'll be there because I've been there, I've been through it myself."
Sure enough, word of the engagement made front-page news all across the country, and soon strangers were coming up to them on the street, inquiring for details. "People are really interested and care about it," says Trudeau, "and I'm touched." But for Grégoire, the notion that the public could be interested in her wedding seems surreal. "There's such an aura around the Trudeau name and I understand that," she says. "But it's also so weird for me because I'm still a normal bride and, you know, it's a cliché to say, but Justin is just my Justin."
Children are central to the couple's vision of marriage. "Before any other dream career I could have -- and God knows I have many projects -- I want to be a mum," says Grégoire. They have "mild disagreements" over how many children they should have -- in the way adolescent lovers disagree over who should hang up the phone first. "I want at least three," says Trudeau, "but I'll be perfectly happy with three. Sophie was an only child so she says one is just fine, two is good, too, but three, you're starting to push it a little bit. But I'm very confident that once we get into it, I'll be able to convince her that three is fine."
The question that still hangs in the air for the newlyweds is whether Trudeau will finally take the plunge into public life. "How strong a possibility that is depends on what day you catch me more than anything else," he says. "But it's certainly a good ways off." He has decided to return to school: in the fall, he'll begin a master's program in environmental geography at McGill University, focusing on issues of fuel consumption. "I was loath to go back to school yet again," he says, "but I'm involved in this stuff, and it'll at least keep me away from politics that much longer."
How does Grégoire feel about a political life? "I know that it may be a path and it may not," she says. "To me, it's too far away to put myself emotionally in that situation. But I have total faith that I will be able to handle it and adapt. I do agree that Justin has integrity, honesty and amazing judgment, but sometimes I think he's just maybe too sensitive, and that's kind of scary."
Less far away is the month-long honeymoon they'll be taking to a secret destination somewhere in Africa that not even the bride knows. "She was quite pleased when I told her to bring lots of bathing suits," says Trudeau. "It'll be a combination of beach and adventures." Last week, however, the only thing on the bride's mind was, as she put it, "party time!" "Bottom line, the wedding is a party," she said. "That's all we want. I don't want to see anybody leaving before 2:30! Is that clear? It happens once in a lifetime and the adventure begins." And for better or worse, the nation will be watching.