As the frontman for Bell Canada’s “Let’s Talk” campaign, Seamus O’Regan wants all Canadians to understand the importance of mental-health issues (and tweet with the #BellLetsTalk hashtag on Jan. 28 to help raise money and awareness). We sat down with the former CTV morning man to discuss his own connection to mental illness, Olympic fever, and why we need to get serious about city politics.
Your face is on billboards all over the city to promote Bell’s “Let’s Talk” campaign. How does that feel?
Oh, god. It’s terrific just because Bell’s done a superb job on this. People are talking about it, which is the entire point. I get people posting photos of the poster on Twitter. It’s not just in Toronto; it’s all over the country.
Have any of your posters gotten the graffiti treatment? You know, like a silly moustache?
Ha. Not as far as I know. For the picture, they had me pose with my head tilting up. Maybe that’s so it’s harder to draw a moustache. I hope this isn’t going to give anyone any ideas.
I hope it won’t as well. Okay, let’s talk about the campaign.
Bell first asked me to get involved in 2013, while I was still working at Canada AM. Over the years, I had seen how people were becoming more [courageous] when talking about mental health. Afghanistan really changed everything. Soldiers suffering from PTSD spoke so openly and bravely about their experiences. I believe the “Let’s Talk” campaign has raised more than $62 million so far, and that’s just the money. The other point is to educate and raise awareness. Mental illness is so pervasive. One in four Canadians is affected by it in some way. A lot of people out there aren’t diagnosed and may be fearful of what they have. It might be minor, it might be major. Either way, a minor illness still deserves to be treated. You still go to a doctor. You still figure it out.
You wouldn’t tell someone not to worry about just a little bit of cancer.
There are a lot of worthy causes out there. Do you have a personal connection to mental health?
When I first got together with Bell, they asked if I or anyone in my family suffered from a condition. I said no. I felt I could fit into the campaign because of how it focuses on communication. As someone who’s listened and talked to thousands of people over my career in journalism, the importance of open and honest dialogue really spoke to me. Then, over the course of the past year, with job changes and so much going on, I went into depression.
Oh, I didn’t realize. I’m sorry to hear that.
No, no. It’s fine.
It’s great that you’re talking about it.
That’s the point. I am lucky that in my case it’s nothing chronic. I went through what a lot of people go through when they’re in-between jobs or in transition. Sometimes it just gets a little overwhelming. I went to CAMH and saw professionals there. They provided me with treatment—I’m feeling better and it’s great. Now, at least I feel like I’ve earned my place on that billboard.
Four years ago right now, you were gearing up for Olympic correspondent duties in Vancouver. Are you a little bit envious of the CBC gang heading to Sochi?
Of course I am. It’s such an intense and amazing patriotic experience. To be in Vancouver was extraordinary, because obviously it was on Canadian soil. It was one of the highlights of my professional life, for sure.
What events are you into? Do all gay men have to love figure skating?
No, no. I’m not big on figure skating. My event is hockey. I’ll be following it religiously. I also I love skiing.
Any thoughts on Obama’s decision to send a group of gay athletes as part of the American delegation?
I think it was an inspired choice. I wouldn’t say it’s a provocative act, simply a statement of principle that sends exactly the right message.
It’s been more than a year since you left CTV. What are you up to now?
I’m working on a couple of independent television productions. I’ve been doing a lot of radio on Newstalk 1010—filling in on John Tory’s show. I’m also going to be working as a visiting media innovator at Ryerson University. We’ll be developing apps and bionics—just crazy stuff. I’m a geek. I really believe from a public policy point of view that [tech innovation] is so important for the future of this country.
That’s great. Speaking of the future of this country, over the summer there was a rumour that you were going to run for Bob Rae’s city centre seat.
Yeah, it was on the front page of the Globe! I thought it was great. But no, there was absolutely no truth to that rumour. Justin [Trudeau] is a very good friend of mine and has been for a long time. I stood up at his wedding, I’m incredibly proud of him.
You could always consider a mayoral run.
I think there are a number of good candidates who are coming out of the woodwork who have a lot more experience in that field than I do.
As a newsman, did you take a perverse pleasure in watching the Rob Ford drama unfold?
It was so crazy. As a citizen, you just want people to do their jobs. This city is growing, and it’s so boisterous and vivacious. We need leadership, and we need people talking about serious issues. Frankly, we need media talking about more serious issues, too. But I get it. As a journalist, you couldn’t take your eyes off of this story.
Okay, well then, let’s end on a serious issue: You have the longest eyelashes I have ever seen on a man. On a human! Do people tell you that all the time?
People have commented on them from time to time. They’re falsies, but they hold.
Late nights or early mornings?
Desert island album?
Led Zeppelin IV.
Pizza or poutine?
Making my tongue wider than my mouth.
Favourite news anchor?
Treasured item of clothing?
Word you most overuse?