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Spotlight On: Paul Wells

Spotlight On: Paul Wells

Canadians trust Maclean’s Magazine‘s Senior Columnist Paul Wells for the inside scoop on politics as one of the foremost commentators in the country. We took a moment to find out a few interesting things you never knew in our latest Spotlight On:

What inspired you to want to be a speaker?

In 20 years in Ottawa, I’ve covered some of Canada’s great orators (and hundreds who weren’t that hot). It’s the only city in Canada where everyone fancies himself a public speaker. And it’s a city where, after years of watching history in action, you wind up with some amazing stories you want to share.

Any advice for aspiring speakers?

Never tailor a speech to experts. The experts already know the things you want to say anyway. A speech is a chance to illuminate a subject for a much wider audience of people who are curious but who don’t know the intricacies of your subject. Even physicists tell one another: If you can’t explain what you’re doing in plain English, you may not really understand it. That goes doubly so for the rest of us.

What do you like to leave audiences with?

I hope to give audiences a better understanding of the nature of political power and the trade-offs anyone must make if they choose a life in politics. The people I cover are complex, human and flawed, but they’re not cartoon villains twirling cartoon moustaches. Most of them are doing their best to improve their constituents’ lives. That’s a side of politics we don’t hear enough about.

How do you prepare before a talk? Any special rituals? A good luck talisman?

I always remember the feeling of looking up at the Peace Tower of Parliament on my first day at work in Ottawa. That feeling of getting a front-row seat at great events. I try to pass along some of that feeling to my audiences.

If you had to choose a new career, what would it be? 

I always wanted to be a musician. It’s probably too late to get any better at playing than I was when I was 16, but I’d love a career that brought me closer to musicians and other creative people. Maybe I could be a roadie.

Any funny or embarrassing situations you found yourself in as a speaker?

Everyone gets nervous speaking. I’ve gotten better at hiding it. One time I stood up in front of a crowd, said, “My name is,” and I couldn’t remember what was supposed to come next.

Desert island album?

The albums I love best — like Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue — I wouldn’t need on a desert island because I’ve long since memorized every note. Maybe Bruce Springsteen’s live album from the Hammersmith Odeon in 1975.

Best subject in school?

I was best at music. I tried hard to be good at everything. That worked until my second year of university.

Last book you read?

The Blind Side, by Michael Lewis. I don’t care about football, but if Michael Lewis wants to write about something I’m gonna read it.

Last film you saw?

Captain Phillips, about Tom Hanks fighting Somali pirates. Terrifying. Those poor pirates.

Celebrity crush?

Scarlett Johansson.