During the 90 minutes I spend with Shinan Govani, Canada’s most celebrated gossip columnist, Victoria Beckham is being touted as the new Paula Abdul on American Idol, rumours are swirling about a pregnant Halle Berry, and Matthew Broderick and Molly Ringwald have spoken about John Hughes’s death. One sentence into this piece and I’ve managed to name-drop six celebrities. But I can’t hold a candle to Govani, whose first novel, Bold Face Names, is being released this month. By page 10, Govani has dropped the names of 66 famous people or star-studded events, including Julia Roberts, Hugh Grant, Jimmy Choo, Susan Boyle, Suri Cruise and even David Frum.
“How many names do you think you mentioned in the book?” I ask. “I haven’t counted,” he laughs. Govani’s main character is a gossip columnist named Ravi. “His trade is to drop names. To make it as absurd as possible, whenever he has the opportunity to drop names, he will.” Some names are real, some aren’t. “There are real people with their real names,” Govani explains. “There are real people with false names and there are just made-up people.”
There are, for instance, Lord and Lady Ivory, who “live in an impeachable ’hood in the Canadian metropolis of Toronto . . . all big bucks and mortar, situated on the very [same] street [as] Prince, the Purple One.” (Obviously, that’s Lord and Lady Black, I say to Govani, who arches his eyebrows as if he thinks I’m a moron for even asking.)
Then there’s a scene—spoiler alert!—at the Giller Awards at which a gun-toting character loses it, screaming, “My books were too hipster, too downtown-geisha, weren’t they? Too many apple martinis! Too much sex, you said! My books aren’t coming-of-age stories set in the Prairies, right? Well, screw you, literati! Screw all of you!” Which makes me wonder: is the character based on author Russell Smith? In Toronto gossip circles, it is well known Govani and Smith don’t like each other. “I’m not saying it’s not, but I’m not saying it is,” says Govani, grinning. Clearly, he loves this.
The book is great fun, if a little insider-ish. How many people will know from the sentence, “There’s Victoria and Bruce and Michael and Diane,” that he is writing about philanthropist Victoria Jackman and her architect husband Bruce Kuwabara, or that Michael is Michael Budman, co-founder of Roots. Sometimes it’s laugh-out-loud funny. Ravi, whose job is to put names to faces, even has trouble keeping straight Ed Greenspan (the lawyer) and Ed Greenspon (the former editor of the Globe and Mail). Opera star Measha Brueggergosman is described as “so good at her own PR she should really have been running Hill & Knowlton.”
In the book, Ravi is highly organized, with file folders for High-Importance Parties, Mid-to-High-Importance Parties, Only If Really Desperate Parties and Not So Important Parties but Not a Bad Idea to Attend for Political Reasons. That’s not Govani in real life: “I can’t even get organized enough to go to the bank machine across the street,” he says. (Gossip alert! I don’t think Govani brought a wallet for our meeting. There definitely was no even “pretend” reach to pay. Word is he never pays for anything so never carries a wallet.)
His biggest scoop to date was bringing actress Mary Jo Eustace to the MuchMusic Video Awards. Organizers hid them in a room because Tori Spelling, Eustace’s former husband’s new wife, was there. And Govani’s “fairly certain” he was the one who first announced Ryan Gosling’s and Rachel McAdams’s romantic relationship.
But he can also keep secrets. In the book, Ravi mentions how a young male socialite is nice to him because he once ran into him at a gay club, clearly hiding out while cheating on his girlfriend. “That’s a true story,” says Govani. “I’ve been at parties where one person on one side of me has told me something about the person on the other side of me and vice versa and they both don’t know.” When people are frosty toward him because he’s written about them, “I just feel like telling them, ‘It’s not what I’m writing about you. You should be grateful about what I’m not writing about you.’ ”
So how does he ever know who his true friends are, as opposed to those who just want some ink? “I don’t,” he says, uncomfortably. Not that it matters. What with the thousands of bold-face names, is he ever really alone?