She grew up in small-town Saskatchewan, and now Joan Kelley Walker is one of the women putting Toronto on the reality-TV map. The red-carpet reporter, writer and philanthropist is starring in The Real Housewives of Toronto(Tuesdays, Slice), the newest addition to the ever-growing list of shows in the Housewives franchise.
While the cast was only recently revealed, Joan tells Hello! she couldn’t wait to share the news with her friends and family. “It’s exciting,” says Joan –who is married to Magna International CEO Don Walker, with whom she has two children and two stepchildren. “I posted on social media and everybody has been saying, ‘I can’t wait to watch.’”
As for the drama that follows most of the franchise’s stars, she says, “People who know me know how I will be on the show. I think! We’ll see!” Here, she reveals why the show was “a gift,” what makes it different from her real life and what she learned about herself from filming the series.
Joan, how did you adjust to living your life on-camera?
I think I have an advantage because of all the on-camera work I’ve done throughout my career. Like any other TV gig, we know when we’re on camera and when we’re not. You know when you’re on, so you behave accordingly.
As an on-camera personality, was it difficult for you to be yourself and not the host of a show?
Well, that was one of my personal goals for this show, to really be true to who I am. We’re still very private, but I’ve been sharing more about myself. It was definitely challenging at times, but I didn’t want to be influenced by what people expect Real Housewives to be. I can’t speak to the other people, but I have nothing to hide.
Did you know any of the women before you started filming?
Jana and Grego were and are my dear friends. I was so happy when I found out they were on the show. I didn’t know anything about Grego [being on the show] until I was doing my first on-camera interview and they asked a question about her. I said, “Grego? My Grego?” I was freaking out. It was awesome. It was a very nice surprise.
Fans of other Real Housewives series are used to seeing the cast attend lots of events and parties. When the cameras aren’t rolling, is that what your life is like?
I definitely did a lot more of that this summer [while filming] than I normally would. I don’t go out for lunch with the girls every day and I don’t throw a party a week. Most summers, I’m up at the cottage [in Muskoka] and we do a lot of socializing there. We end up doing a lot of hosting just because we’re central on the lake and have a lot of room, so we have a lot of friends come up.
Which of the other Real Housewives franchises is your favourite?
I’ll always stop and watch The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills if I come across it and I have time. I don’t know Lisa Rinna well, but I’ve met her a few times. We have some mutual friends. To be honest, I really didn’t want to be influenced by other people’s perception of what they think a “Housewife” is or what the other housewives were doing, because I think each city has its own feel and vibe. Toronto is unique because we have unique women. I think something Toronto has done is really raise the bar. The women in Toronto are very diverse. It’s elevated.
What did you learn about yourself through the process of filming?
I learned that I make a big effort with people. Sometimes it goes unappreciated, but I usually take quite a gentle stance with people.
‘The show is a life experience ... it’s been super interesting, kind of bizarre, and challenging in good and bad ways’
In your years as a red-carpet reporter, who’s the coolest person you’ve interviewed?
I was pretty thrilled with some of the people I’ve talked to, like Jennifer Aniston, Julianne Moore and Drew Barrymore. Jennifer Garner is so lovely. The bigger the star, the more professional they are.
Were there any stars who surprised you?
George Clooney actually put his hand on my arm and said, “Did you get what you want? Was that OK?” I thought that was very sweet. One time, Al Pacino arrived late for a première and there were 80 outlets on the carpet hoping to speak to him. He made it about a third of the way through before he had to leave to introduce the movie. He said, “I’ll be back.” Do they ever come back? No. He actually came back and finished the whole carpet. I was very impressed.
You were awarded a Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for your charity work. What did the honour mean to you?
I was completely shocked when I read the letter. I was just tickled pink. You don’t do that type of work expecting an award. It was a huge honour. I received it at the same time as Jann Arden. I was excited to meet her, I have to say that much!
When you were growing up, did you ever imagine this is what your life would look like?
I had no idea. I’m from such a small town that it’s not even a town, it’s a hamlet. One street is paved and there’s one stop sign. I was interested in modelling, spreading my wings and seeing what I could accomplish. I always felt very safe because I could fall flat on my face, go home and nobody would criticize me. I had a lot of support. My goal was to work in this business and to explore as much of it as I could. I’ve been very fortunate. My goal was not to have a huge house; things like that were not important.
Are you continuing to devote time to philanthropy as well as your work?
I’m going to keep up all of that stuff. That’s very important to me. I have a very vibrant life going into this show. This show is part of my life, it doesn’t define me. I think that’s really healthy, to keep perspective, to remember what’s important. My priorities remain my family, my husband, my kids, my parents and my sister. They are by far the most important.
Have you seen the show yet?
No. I’ve seen the sizzle reel and the commercial just like everyone else. I can’t wait!
Will you be watching when it airs?
Absolutely. I might get together with a couple of the other wives and watch. Hopefully Jana and Grego!
Knowing what you know now about being part of a reality-TV show, would you do it all again?
I’m looking at it like a life experience. It’s a gift. This whole process has been super interesting, kind of bizarre, and challenging in good and bad ways. All in all, I would do it again. Everybody’s asking me which is my favourite purse, what I can’t live without – I really don’t care. I’d rather have an experience, like this show, because it’s been a heck of a ride.