When Shinan Govani began his society column in the National Post 12 years ago, there was no Drake Hotel, the Distillery District was just starting, and, as he remembers, “Bistro 990 was the hottest place in town.”
Things have changed. Now there are new restaurants opening weekly, international stars who call Toronto home and an industry of society chroniclers.
And, as of this week, Govani, the godfather of gossip writers, has hung up his bowtie for now and retired his column.
After the dinners, openings, premieres, galas and functions, Govani has left the national newspaper. In chronicling celebrity culture in the city, Govani estimates to have attended 6623 events.
“I always took my fun seriously, and I think that was the key,” said Govani to Matt Galloway on CBC’s Metro Morning. “I had tea with Jackie Collins, dinner with Madonna, drinks with Gore Vidal, danced with Bjork and had hate-calls from Faye Dunaway. So it’s been fun.”
In that time, Govani also saw the city stake a claim as a global capital of culture.
“I remember one of the first things I covered was the Gucci store opening on Bloor Street - big deal! Now there’s brands a-dozen,” he said. “[Toronto] was a different place in the early 2000s. I think it was a more inward-looking place. We’re more comfortable on the world stage now.“
As much as Toronto has embraced the many festivals and galas Govani was writing about, the pursuit of celebrity is still seen as shallow, a view the departing columnist obviously doesn’t share.
“My work is an element of what makes a city tick. I’m very confident that what makes a great metropolis is not the buildings or institutions but the myths that come out of it. That’s how I saw my role, as chief mythology-maker,” he argued.
And over time, Govani’s myth-making ways made the city believe in itself, and perhaps even created some celebrities where there previously were none.
“What I took upon myself is to make characters of our people and tableaux of our restaurants. And I saw a horse-and-carriage effect. If you write about people as celebrities and socialites, then they act like celebrities and socialites.”
Govani is not sure what he’ll do next, but promises he’s “still dancing.”