“You might think that what you’re about to hear is a little bit dirty.” So teases Elaine Lui in the opening seconds of her TED Talk, delivered late last year at TEDxVancouver. The global speaking series is known as a platform for brainiacs-Stephen Hawking, Jane Goodall and hundreds of lesser-known luminaries. It’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find a person who spends her days decoding a Gwyneth Paltrow newsletter or explaining what it really means when Reese Witherspoon parades her baby around after getting busted for DUI. Lui is an unabashed, über-articulate “gossip crusader” (her term). With her insanely popular blog LaineyGossip, she has spent the last eight years covering the world of celebrities in a way that is incisive enough to, for starters, land her a TED Talk.
Over the summer, Lui made the move from her long-time base in Vancouver back to Toronto. The homecoming was prompted by her latest career coup, a gig co-hosting CTV’s new daytime chat show The Social. If the format is familiar-four women discuss the day’s buzziest topics and interview celebrities-the real-time host/audience interaction via social media will be fresh. “I’m excited about the chance to discuss things that I don’t really get to focus on with my blog,” says Lui, who is also a sports nut, a lit junkie and a political enthusiast (particularly when politicos like Rob Ford and Anthony Weiner behave in ways that would make Lady Gaga blush).
Her new colleagues are CP24 news anchor Melissa Grelo, eTalk’s Traci Melchor and life and relationship coach Cynthia Loyst. The network tested a dozen candidates, but the group that triumphed featured these four, the first to audition. “I wouldn’t say we jell so much as we have chemistry,” says Lui, hinting at possible heated discussions to come. “Lainey has strong opinions, and she doesn’t back down,” says The Social’s executive producer, Michelle Crespi, who worked with Lui on her first TV gig as a correspondent for eTalk Daily.
Lui’s career in gossip began as a side project-a group email that broadcast her take on celebrity headlines-when she was working as a fundraiser for the University of British Columbia and for Covenant House, an organization for at-risk youth. In 2006, she switched to blog format when the mailing list grew too big for email (today, LaineyGossip gets more than a million unique visitors each month). She got her first on-air job thanks to a fan, a physiotherapist who mentioned her blog to a client who was producing eTalk. Lui’s initial assignment was 30-second news blasts reporting on the celebrity rumour mill and the story behind the story. From the start, her appeal has been tied up in her ability to be the BFF you wish you had, though cultivating that effortlessness took practice. “For several months I would vomit before
I went on air. Every time,” she says.
Lui has since developed an iron stomach, stalking her prey from the French Riviera and ComicCon to the Oscars and the Toronto International Film Festival. She often does junket-style interviews for eTalk, but for her blog the approach is more David Attenborough than Barbara Walters: she would rather spend a night learning about George Clooney by watching him interact with his girlfriend than approach him for a one-on-one. Loitering in Clooney’s sightline may sound glamorous, but churning out 3,500 words a day five days a week year-round takes an unshakable work ethic. (Lui jokes that compared to her own Chinese mother, the infamous Tiger Mom is a lightweight.) She saves weekends for her husband and their two beagles, but lately Sundays have been spent working on a book-the biography of her mother, which comes out next year. Is she frustrated that in spite of a punishing work schedule and worldwide fan base, some people still view her as “just a gossip”? “If the assumption is that I’m having a good time doing what I love to do-even if there’s no understanding of how many hours go into it-that’s okay. That’s the goal.”