By CAMPBELL CLARK
Globe and Mail Update
Ottawa Catherine Clark insists she is a reluctant media star. The daughter of Progressive Conservative Leader Joe Clark has suddenly seen the spotlight beamed at her in a way that political children rarely have in Canada, and she is wary of what comes next.
Already, Ms. Clark had seen her picture snapped at political events since Mr. Clark returned to politics in 1998, and this election campaign has thrust her onto front pages and into the public eye. Headlines blared last week that she was "Joe's secret weapon."
"I'm not so secret, and I don't think I'm a weapon," she said.
There's no doubt that photographers try to get the attractive 23-year-old with the bright blond mane into their pictures, sometimes without including her dad, the candidate. Newspapers have recounted her fondness for leather outfits. One tabloid has started a Catherine Clark-watch, detailing what she wears each day. Usually they report her glamour; one day, they described the fashion effect as "what's wrong?"
"That (the attention) brings with it what is inevitable, which is the criticism," Ms. Clark said in an interview. "And I, as I say, am a very private person. I prefer not to be picked out of a crowd... And the inevitable side of good publicity is that there would be bad publicity. So you can imagine that my preference would be to avoid publicity in general."
Private? Avoiding publicity? Not by any usual definition. Ms. Clark has been the social sidekick on this campaign, shaking hands and slipping into small talk in crowds with an ease beyond her political veteran father. She stands at the side of the stage during speeches, waves to people in crowds, is often mentioned by her father and is always picked out of the crowd. If you trail behind, you can hear people chattering about Catherine.
"I was raised in a political family," she says. "When you know nothing but having to greet people and meet people in a variety of situations and a variety of locations, one becomes fairly comfortable with meeting people anywhere. I'm not going to pretend that I'm shy."
She also insists she is not exploited for her tendency to make shutters click. The people who suggest that are from other political camps or the media, she says. She knows that people wonder, as she says "am I just a photo-op?" And she says that when she reluctantly agreed, after much hounding — her "protective" parents were not keen, but all three felt she could at least get her own side into inevitable stories — she felt people might realize "there is a brain behind all of it."
Turning 24 next week, she is a well-spoken art history grad who works in public relations for Hill and Knowlton. She has a boyfriend, but doesn't want to talk about him in public. She doesn't know if she wants to remain in public relations, or whether she would go into politics — even though many people say she is a natural. She's seen it up close, "and that's part the reason why I just don't know."
She says right now she just wants to help her dad, from picking out ties to helping with lines in speeches, and she hopes that her presence will make young people take more interest in politics.
However, she acknowledges that one of the reasons she garners attention is her looks.
"I don't think that that hurts," she says. "I never, ever — I don't think I was a particularly attractive teenager — thought of myself as someone who was appealing to look at, and so you can understand how my reaction to people thinking 'wow, you know, there she is on the cover, and she's fairly attractive,' is one of slight surprise."
"Obviously, I'm flattered. If that helps, then great, what do I care?"