We were sitting in a small Pizza Restaurant on Stafford Street in Winnipeg just around the corner from my skin care business. It must have been either 1981 or 1982. Miss L. from CBC Radio had asked me for lunch. Ms. L. had interviewed me several times and we liked each other. Actually I admired her, – she was smart and she was a good interviewer. At one point she said ‘Giselle, I know I am not pretty but I am good at what I do. If I had a choice to be either beautiful or intelligent – next time I would choose ‘beautiful’. Right now I deal with being intelligent.’ Thinking about it I thought that it suited her but it would have been a difficult question for me. I thought ‘I am glad to have both….’ without saying it. Her next comment totally floored me:
“Giselle, tell me the truth. How, when and where did you meet Omar Sharif? Is it true you two met in Las Vegas? ”
I was flabbergasted. Omar Sharif? I did not know Omar Sharif. I told her so. She did not give up. “Come on Giselle, this affair of yours is a great news story, come on my program and let me interview you about it. And don’t deny it, – it’s all over Winnipeg. I know it from a reliable source.”
“But L., it is not true! I only know him as an actor from the movie “Dr. Zhivago” and also from the bridge section in the Free Press. Why would a famous man like him be interested in me? Besides, he is a very heavy smoker and a well-known gambler at the Monte Carlo Casino often making a fortune and at other times losing it again. Everything I know about him would not in the least fit my lifestyle.” I was trying to make light of it by telling her how I had cried when he collapsed and died of a heart attack on the sidewalk running after Lara at the ending of the movie “Dr. Zhivago” with my eight month old son on my lap.
I could not convince her. She said she thought I had more trust in her and left disappointed in me. I felt upset and said “L., I am telling you the truth. I would like to know who your ‘reliable’ source is.” Naturally she would not reveal this information. “Why don’t you phone him and then give me a call. Let me know if he is okay with you telling the story.”
A few days later I walked, as I regularly did, through my store greeting my customers in every section; first the manicure tables, then the facial and massage cabins and last the pedicure room. This was an open area with five special chairs side by side. As always, all the chairs were occupied. One of the ladies tried to keep me close by asking all kind of questions relating to my business, my frequent travels for lectures and conventions. I did not really know her but did knew of her; she was a freelance journalist and really into society gossip. I wasn’t quite sure where she was going but finally she asked me the question switching on a light in my head: “You know what, Giselle? I would love to go to Monte Carlo with you. Let’s make it a fun trip. Maybe we can meet Omar Sharif and you can introduce me to him. What do you say? I am serious!”
This was much the same as with Ms. L. from CBC. The woman laughed and just did not believe me. “Sure”, she said, “I would not admit it either!” The other three customers sat there looking at me with big eyes, none of them getting involved in the conversation. The four employees kept their eyes on the customer’s toes. When I finally walked away I was thinking about the implications, more people spreading this ridiculous rumour. I was shaken by this second time a journalist brought this up. Me, – having an affair with Omar Sharif? How ridiculous. I decided it was time to check with my lawyer. He grinned and then asked me ‘Giselle, is this true? Did you meet him in Las Vegas at the last convention you attended? Why not admit it, why should he not be a good friend to you?’ I was insistent in denying all of it and finally he advised me:
“You know what? Let them talk. The next time you are asked, smile and say ‘no comment’ and let it be. I must say I get a kick out of it and, if nothing else, it’s good for business!”
He was right. We had more business, new people booked for treatments hoping to catch a glimpse of me. For a short time I was a bit of a celebrity. My second daughter was going to get married and when she invited me, asked “but please, don’t bring Omar Sharif.” I looked at her and said, “You too? You don’t believe it, right? It’s so ridiculous…” Without looking up from the manicure she was doing, her answer was “Oh yes, I believe it.”
After a few weeks everything died down and nobody ever mentioned it again. I tried for weeks on end with little comments, statements or questions to find the ‘reliable’ source within my employees. To my surprise I succeeded several years later. It was my expression “Oh my…” when reminded of a phone call that had been on hold for ten minutes that started it all. Weird, eh? Translate that into “Omar..” and since there was only one Omar known worldwide the rumour was born and quickly escalated. Moral of the story: Be careful how clearly you pronounce your words, Giselle!
This whole episode came back to me after I read the news of Omar Sharif’s passing of a heart attack in Cairo on 10th of July, a few days ago. RIP my good old friend!