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The Vancouver anchor reminisces on her 18-year career at CTV, overcoming cancer and receiving the Order of B.C.
Sitting down for a cup of tea at a Main Street bakery in late July, Tamara Taggart looks happy and relaxed. The CTV News at 6 anchor, who recently received the Order of British Columbia and also finished treatment for GIST – a rare form of cancer – in February, has had some tremendous experiences as of late. But when asked about what’s on her mind, it’s the past she wants to talk about.
“Tomorrow is my 18-year anniversary at CTV. I can’t believe it. I’ve never done anything for 18 years,” she says with a chuckle.
Back in 1997, Taggart was a young journalist working with the promotions department of CTV News, just trying to pay her rent. For a little context, that was the same year Titanic topped the box office and the Spice Girls’ Wannabe was ubiquitous. Never in her wildest dreams did Taggart believe that would be the first step in a long and rewarding career.
“If someone told me 18 years ago I would be anchoring the six o’clock news, I would have never believed them.” And when looking at some of the highlights that have dotted her career – a nine-year stint at the weather desk, numerous “Best TV Personality” awards, and a co-hosting spot on Live! With Regis and Kelly to name just a few – it’s clear that even the most optimistic of journos couldn’t have predicted such a run.
Recently, a longtime co-worker left the station and an investigation was kick-started to see who the longest-standing member of the team was, and Taggart was surprised to find that it was she who had the most seniority. It speaks to her ability that Taggart has not only endured, but flourished, capping an impressive rising of the ranks in 2011 when she sat in the anchor chair next to Mike Killeen to host the six o’clock news, a professional accomplishment she says is one of her proudest. But the anchor is quick to defer to her colleagues, both past and present, as an integral part of her longevity and success.
“We have a really solid team. When I say team, I mean everyone working from the promotions department to writers, reporters and assignment editors. All of us. It’s not just the people you see on TV that make it happen, there are dozens and dozens of people behind the scenes that make that happen every day, and we all work very well together and we all have a common goal.”
And after a record-setting July for CTV, a month that saw the station produce its best ratings ever, the station’s humble beginnings aren’t far from Taggart’s mind. “Eighteen years ago, the idea of working towards the No. 1 news program in the province seemed like a pretty big dream. Because we were No. 4 [in ratings]. Now we have beat the competition a number of times and it feels really good, I’m not going to lie.”
But her 18 years in the industry haven’t been without pitfalls and struggles, something Taggart readily acknowledges. But she wouldn’t change a bit of it, as it helped shape her into the person she is today. “Even the not-so-great times have helped me in the job I have today. I have a way thicker skin than I did 18 years ago. I have a way thicker skin than I did five years ago. You need to have a thick skin, and I couldn’t have grown mine had I not had some tough times to get through.”
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These tough times include the recent death of her 11-year-old Airedale Terrier, Stanley. And because the animal-loving anchor believes that no home is quite complete without a pet, she was happy to announce that the family has just gotten a new puppy. At the time of the interview, they hadn’t yet picked out a name, but Taggart said, in this instance, it wouldn’t be a democracy. “I asked Poppy if we had a boy dog what she’d name it, and she said ‘Boo Boo.’ And I was like, ‘Alright then, we’re done here. I won’t be asking you,’” she laughs. (They ultimately settled on George.)
Even for a long and storied career like Taggart’s, there’s still room for surprises, like when she was named a recipient of the Order of B.C., an honour that she says both delighted and shocked her. “I still can’t believe it. Honestly, I still pinch myself. It’s pretty wild.”
The Order highlighted the news anchor’s 20-plus years of volunteering efforts and the promotion of the well-being of children and people with disabilities, as well as her intensive fund-raising efforts – she is the chair of BC Women’s Hospital’s “Hope Starts Here” campaign and is committed to raising $17 million for an intensive-care unit for newborns, for example. Still, even after the countless hours spent advocating on the behalf of others, Taggart had no idea she was being considered. When the call came in from the Lieutenant Governor, she says she nearly didn’t pick up the phone, thinking it was a telemarketer. But she did pick up, and soon found herself on stage with a medal being put around her neck.
The experience, she says, conjured up a whole new kind of nerves, a telling statement from someone whose face is broadcasted to hundreds of thousands of people every night.
“I was trembling, and I never tremble. I was trying to take it all in. It’s almost awkward because the spotlight is on you and everyone is staring and talking about you. For the entire weekend, I was definitely walking about three feet above the ground.”
If the 18th anniversary of her time at CTV was the perfect reason to reminisce on the good times, it’s impossible not to reflect on the last three-and-a-half years of Taggart’s life, when her career took a back seat to health issues that will forever colour her life. After passing out and being sent home from work in January 2012, Taggart was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumour, or GIST. After surgery to remove a 10-centimetre tumour that had ruptured veins surrounding her small intestine, Taggart was forced to confront an all-new lifestyle: living with a rare condition that affects only 15 out of every one million people.
But on February 18, 2015, after three years of medication and the side effects that came with it, Taggart found herself staring at the final two pills of her treatment, a moment she decided to share on Instagram.
“It was funny, I was by myself and my husband was out of town and the kids were sleeping, and I thought to myself: ‘Am I really going to do this alone right now?’ I took a picture of the pills and phoned my best friend, who had breast cancer. She was with me on the phone while I took my last two pills and then I posted the photo. I really wanted to be honest with how I felt.”
Taggart shares that since those last pills, she’s feeling great, and a recent CT scan – she will have one every three months for the foreseeable future, and at least once a year for the rest of her life – showed that everything is fine. She says that she feels no anxiety about the tests, and that she’s surprised herself with how little she thinks about her health.
“I don’t ever think about it anymore. I rarely think about it, and I’m so surprised by it because it was so consuming for three years for me, and every morning and every night I took those pills I was reminded of it, and I couldn’t ever escape it.”
Now that her treatment is over, Taggart says that she wants to put that time in her life out of mind, even as she knows it will always be a part of her. “I finished my treatment and I don’t want to think about it anymore. And I definitely don’t want to be defined by it.
“Every three months I have to go back to the cancer agency to have a CT scan and I have to walk through those doors. And I’m humbled and reminded about how fragile life is.”
For Taggart, her professional life has become intrinsically entwined with the personal, a fate that awaits most public figures. So it’s only natural that a discussion about her 18 years at CTV would stir up memories pertaining to both. When asked how she would celebrate the milestone, Taggart just smiles and shakes her head. “I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ll probably just post a picture of my wee young self when I was just a small child starting out all those years ago.”
A small tribute to that wide-eyed kid with big dreams who was just trying to pay the rent.