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Sophie’s Way

She saves orphan chipmunks, cries when she talks about her mom, openly discusses her darkest moments, and is 'not afraid to use the word love.' She's also a trained communicator and integral part of the Trudeau brand machine. Sarah Hampson goes in search of the authentic Sophie Grégoire Trudeau

Portrait by LM Chabot

They first met at a Liberal fundraiser in Ottawa nearly seven years ago, and the moment they clasped hands during a casual meet-and-greet, Sophie Grégoire Trudeau burst into tears.

"It was a really deep, immediate connection," explains Dawn Bramadat in a soft voice, her amber eyes fixing me with a calm gaze.

I am sitting in her home in Montreal, a spooky pioneer cottage, built in the mid-1700s. It sits at an irregular angle on the edge of an overgrown yard, sandwiched between apartment duplexes in the west-end neighbourhood of Notre-Dame-de-Grâce.

Ms. Bramadat is a spiritual guru who runs meditations and visualizations at HeartRoot Farm near Lac-Mégantic, Que., which she believes to be "a portal for the New Earth," according to her website.

"It's just time in the evolution of humanity," the 61-year-old says in a lullaby cadence. "And this is part of Sophie, the phenomenon that is Sophie." I watch her in the darkened corner of the main room, filled with books, musical instruments, a Buddha statue and spiritual amulets on the original cast-iron wood stove which serves as a makeshift altar.

At one point, Slugger, one of her three cats, crosses the worn wooden floorboards with a mouse in his mouth. Ms. Bramadat gently coaxes him to release it into her hand. The cat obeys. "Sophie investigates herself. That is her main spiritual practice," she muses, holding the wriggling mouse by its tail so she can set it free outside. "It is not just yoga so that you look nice. Yoga is part of her spiritual practice, and the discipline is [the] awareness that we are light; and [that] anything that is not love is not who we are."

A small smile rises on her serious face; and tears come to her eyes. She then gets up to free the mouse.

Do they discuss Ms. Grégoire Trudeau's spiritual practice?

"No," she says, looking at me placidly, like a cat herself, now curled up in her chair. "We don't need to. We just started from a deep place of knowing. I just reflect things back to her. I feel that I am supporting her."

She has visited the family at Rideau Cottage, its temporary home while the official residence undergoes repairs, and at Harrington Lake, the Prime Minister's official summer retreat. She is friends with Ms. Grégoire Trudeau and has not spent much time with the PM, she explains.

I ask how she thinks Ms. Grégoire Trudeau helps her husband.

"She's his home base." She pauses for a moment as she looks out the front window. Her face softens suddenly. "This image that just came to me – the warrior who comes back and leaves his weapons at the door, and comes in and gets fed, fed in all those gentle ways, so that he doesn't go out angry into the world."

An hour later, I emerge from the house, blinking in the late summer sunshine, feeling oddly hypnotized by Ms. Bramadat's witchy presence in the stillness of her inner sanctum. But I'm also stunned: The wife of the Prime Minister was the one who had given me Ms. Bramadat's name and contact information.

Nearly one year after the Liberals swept to power, it's clear that Ms. Grégoire Trudeau colours outside the lines of expectations for a wife of the Prime Minister – a non-title she says she dislikes. In many ways, she's an extension of the carefully packaged "Trudeau brand" with its panda-hugging, warm-and-fuzzy images and heartfelt expressions about the goodness of Canada's humanitarian soul.

But she's also a character all her own. Her openness about her alternate spirituality can be seen as part of a young-feminist trend for self-exposure, as well as an outcome of the oversharing encouraged by social media, which has helped blur the lines between the private and public realms, making authenticity the new golden virtue.

Yet it also raises speculation about her potential liability as a political spouse who distracts from and possibly weakens her husband and his government's image.

Ms. Grégoire Trudeau sweeps into the hotel room like a hostess eager to attend to her guests, standing tall, smiling, greeting her visitors warmly, hands outstretched. She comes up close to those she is addressing, stepping into their personal space a little bit as if to read their molecules, pinning them in place momentarily with a searching look in her hazel eyes. It is the same intense gaze she summons when she's being photographed, a look that suggests she is telling herself to project all her energy out through her eyes.

It is April, and Ms. Grégoire Trudeau is in Montreal, promoting FitSpirit, a charity that encourages teenage girls to pursue an active, healthy lifestyle. Newly named its spokeswoman, she spent part of the morning running around the block with other dignitaries for the televised event. Now, having freshened up, she is dressed in fitted jeans, a flowing lavender peasant top, heels and a moonstone pendant, her long, golden hair in a high ponytail.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau in a Montreal hotel room.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau in a Montreal hotel room.

LM Chabot for The Globe and Mail

We settle to talk on a sofa with a team of people from the Prime Minister's Office sitting behind us at a table, looking preoccupied with their computers and smart devices – one senses they're not oversharing – as they listen in.

The Trudeaus have recently returned from their trip to Washington for a state dinner with the Obamas, a first for Canada in over 20 years, during which Michelle Obama called Ms. Grégoire Trudeau "my soulmate" and the bromance of President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Trudeau blossomed. I ask her what the through line is between her private self and her persona as the wife of the Prime Minister.

"Sophie stays Sophie … whether I am between [Henry] Kissinger and Frank Gehry in Washington at a luncheon or whether I'm talking to a farmer who is telling me what the trouble is with his dairy farm. For me, I live from a place where I do not believe in a fundamental difference between human beings."

But surely there must be things she realizes that she can and cannot do – or shouldn't do?

"Yes, I am more aware. But do I change who I am, to respond to what people want to see from me? No. But I know how to behave," she says, putting emphasis on the last word in a stern tone. "And adapt."

Ms. Grégoire Trudeau is like Jennifer Aniston: the perfect kind of beautiful, because she's relatable. Her beauty is not intimidating. Many women can imagine looking like her if only they could lose 25 pounds and have better hair. And they easily connect with her approachable, call-me-Sophie quality, in part because she tends to share her feelings as though she's tapping out a confessional blog post in her bedroom.

"Sometimes, I would like to be alone in the woods and run and roll on the ground and play with my kids," she says, when asked about the rigours of political life. "And I do, and that's what keeps me grounded. But sometimes, yes, if I'm walking down the street with my husband and everyone is looking and taking pictures – it's love, so we take it in.

"But would I like to be alone with him somewhere? Of course I would, right? Everybody needs that intimacy. But we still get it, in little moments, so those moments are sacred," she says, her voice dropping to a whisper.

"And I think that our relationship is more stable, more emotionally mature, more open –" she stops herself, throwing a look over her shoulder to her government minders – "not open marriage," she giggles, in an effort to be clear. "Calmer, and I would say wiser in a way, and lots of humility. We don't think of ourselves as really wise people. But there's more wisdom, more calm, right? And a lot of sharing, because when you don't see the person you're building a family with that much, the moments that you spend together must be filled with either depth or complete laughter and having fun."

But the public's gaze is not always fawning – it can be critical, I point out, thinking of mean-spirited online commentary I have read. "I [have] the capacity to distance myself from the negative energy that some people hold. … It's out there. Do I read it? No."

There is no hesitation when she answers questions, no sense that she is calibrating the perfect response inside her head before she utters it. She seems to simply leap into each one, as if unspooling thoughts that she has been accumulating for months, eager finally to spread them out for others to see.

Sitting forward, almost on the edge of her seat, elbows on her knees, she is not like one of those traditional political wives, all prim and stiff and severely coiffed, nervous – or steely – in the face of the media. Ms. Grégoire Trudeau is a communications specialist, of course, having worked in PR, advertising, and as an on-air TV personality in Quebec – a career that gives her confidence, but could have also made her professionally scripted. She is not. She exudes a certain fearlessness about what she is willing to say. The PMO publicists seem more of a babysitting requirement she has agreed to, but doesn't feel she needs, rather than a welcome safety net.

I ask about the challenge of raising their three children, Xavier, aged 8, Ella-Grace, aged 7, and Hadrien, who is 2, and holding their marriage together when Mr. Trudeau is in such high demand. "When he's in his head," she says, hushing her voice again, "sometimes, I'm like" – she snaps her fingers in the air and points to herself, suggesting that she occasionally needs to remind him to pay attention to her – "and he's like, 'Okay, sorry.' But he knows. And we've been through so much together. … We are pretty aware of our dynamics, and we have more tools, more maturity, to deal with the dynamic of a married couple."

They've been open about the ups and downs of their marriage. Is it difficult when people gush over what a romantic dreamboat he is? She laughs, throwing her head back. "Oh, no," she says, waving her hand in the air to dismiss the notion. "It's charming for five seconds."

But some have watched the way they look soulfully into each other's eyes, and they wonder what that's about, suggesting a mutual neediness.

"Why? Is it too intense?" she says, laughing again. "When humans look at each other and look long enough into their eyes, some people are totally uncomfortable with that. I am not. We've even done couples therapy where you need to look at each other's eyes and stand there until you become vulnerable enough for your truth and your suffering to come out. Wow, it's cathartic!"

They do the same with family members and others, she says. Mr. Trudeau's hugs and eye-locking with certain people, including with his cabinet members as they were sworn in, are presumably part of this approach. "Humans need to touch each other. We need to look at each other. … We are human creatures, meant to be linked. … So, yes, it's a gift for me to be able to look at somebody that I know or don't know, that I love or maybe not love, and to be able to connect."

Are you rolling your eyes? Sighing? I know. There's a high-minded earnestness to her; a thrumming hippie vibe. And perhaps you're hearing a Maggie Echo. That's what I call it when people mention that Ms. Grégoire Trudeau reminds them of her mother-in-law, Margaret Trudeau, who was also unconventional and free-spirited while married to Pierre Trudeau.

Maggie and Pierre are part of Canada's collective consciousness, right up there with moose and maple sugar. For some people, part of the current Prime Minister's draw is an unspoken nostalgia for his father and his leadership style.

It's an emotional ace that Mr. Trudeau is unafraid to play. To wit, those campaign photo-ops in a canoe; and, once in office, his decision to pull his father's old desk out of storage. And just as comparisons between Mr. Trudeau and his father are made, so, too, is Ms. Grégoire Trudeau sized up as a latter-day Maggie. Critics' raised eyebrows and bugged eyes silently scream, "Here we go again! It's the Trudeau Political Wife Syndrome!"

But the comparison between the two goes far beyond the obvious difference that Ms. Grégoire Trudeau is much older and more mature, at 41, than her mother-in-law was at 22, marrying the leader of the country, who was 30 years her senior.

Ms. Trudeau's wildness was part of her then-undiagnosed mental illness, as she has described in her memoirs. She was bipolar and depressed. Ms. Grégoire Trudeau has also had mental-health struggles – the eating disorder bulimia nervosa; and depression. But hers were diagnosed and treated when she was a teenager. Her wildness – if that's what we call her unconventionality – is her willingness to talk about her suffering and the deep spirituality that came as a result of her healing. (More on that later.)

There is indeed a Maggie Echo, but if listened to carefully, it speaks to attitudinal and generational shifts about psychological topics once considered taboo. Openness about mental illness is now encouraged, of course.

The Maggie Echo also says something about the current Trudeau marriage. In his 2014 political autobiography, Common Ground, Mr. Trudeau writes about how his mother, then separated from his father, once showed up at his school emotionally distressed and desperate to talk to him about a boyfriend who had dumped her. He consoled her, rubbing her back and telling her everything would be okay, like a parent. He was 11 years old. Later, he encouraged her to seek help and was supportive when she decided to talk publicly about her problems.

A strength he nourished in his mother is one he found in his wife.

Margaret Trudeau, left, holds hands with her grandson Xavier and his mother Sophie Grégoire Trudeau at the swearing-in ceremony of Justin Trudeau and his cabinet last fall.

Margaret Trudeau, left, holds hands with her grandson Xavier and his mother Sophie Grégoire Trudeau at the swearing-in ceremony of Justin Trudeau and his cabinet last fall.


Traditionally, we look to political spouses to humanize their partners. We assume that the person in office – it is usually a he – is too reserved and circumspect to show an emotional side or to uncover his own psychological motivations. But Ms. Grégoire Trudeau is not so much a foil to her husband as a direct reflection of him. In many ways, he is the opposite of his father, whose emotional reserve and personal motto of reason over passion were legendary.

"Justin will talk about something emotionally … and he was in no way ashamed of it," explains Jonathan Kay, editor of The Walrus magazine and a ghostwriter for Common Ground. "Justin went through therapy, cognitive therapy," he says, revealing that the decision to include this information in the book was much debated by Mr. Trudeau's handlers, out of concern that his opponents would use it as a sign of weakness.

"People who have gone through that learn by necessity to be very out and open with their emotions because they learn that, if you bottle these things up, it leads to self-harm."

The love story of Sophie and Justin is now the stuff of Canadian political legend, exploited during the campaign as a narrative on the Liberal website to convey admirable qualities – his certainty about his wants, his vision, his commitment. But in details that Ms. Grégoire Trudeau revealed when I first interviewed her for this newspaper in 2005, shortly after their wedding, that love story also shows how much Mr. Trudeau needed someone like her in his life.

As a girl, she had gone to primary school with his younger brother, Michel, who died in an avalanche in 1998. She had play dates at Pierre Trudeau's Pine Avenue mansion in Montreal. For her graduation from high school, she attended an after-ball party with her boyfriend at the Trudeau cottage in the Laurentians, north of Montreal, near Morin-Heights. "I remember Justin serving us beer, but I mean, he didn't even notice me," she recalled.

When they reconnected at the 2003 Starlight Children's Foundation gala in Montreal, where they were co-hosts, they hadn't seen each other for 15 years. "We had a chemical something happen," she confessed to me.

She consulted her girlfriends about following up with him. In the end, she wrote him a professional note, as was her habit with others she had met. But he was still in laddish mode and never responded. When they bumped into each other on the street a few months later, she kept walking, refusing to give him her e-mail when he asked for it.

"He had been very flirtatious [at the charity function], that's why!" she explained to me 11 years ago. "So, I said, 'Cross-check! No way. Off my list!'"

He looked up her e-mail and asked her out. But after that mythic first date – the dinner, the karaoke, the ice cream, and the long discussion back at his place on the couch when, she recalls, he suddenly declared, "I've been waiting for you all my life. You're never getting out. You'll be my wife" – it was she, the one who is thought to be more spontaneous, who wasn't sure. "It took me more time than him to really decant everything," she said. Still, she moved in with him three months after their first date.

Their meeting came at a "very emotional, sensitive, vulnerable point of inflection in his life," offers Mr. Kay. "By his own admission, he was drinking too much, to deal with the emotional pain around people dying" – his brother and, two years later, in 2000, his father.

"When you're with someone who knows the important aspects of your background, you feel a sense of calm, because you don't have to explain those things. … The fact that Sophie had some passing peer-group knowledge of [Michel] – how many other people in the world could Justin meet who had that?"

The pair also had the connection of having studied at Montreal's Brébeuf College (a place, says Mr. Kay, where "people tended to marry their own"). Pierre Trudeau and all his sons – Justin, Sacha and Michel – attended the Jesuit high school and CEGEP institution.

Mr. Kay is among those who have seen the strong commitment the Trudeaus have to each other and their marriage. "I would be working with him on the book," he says. "Things would be going really well. And it would suddenly be 6 p.m. And he'd say, 'I have to go now.' And I'd say, 'Do you have a meeting?' And he'd be, 'Nope. This is when I come home to Sophie.' That regimentation struck me. That's very unusual."

Ms. Grégoire Trudeau herself told me that they talk about politics in their private time. "He puts a lot of pressure on himself. … I say, 'Hey, you did the best you could according to your values. And with what you have listened to from people, you did the best you could. Let go.' "

Last year, "she crucially advised Justin on the tone that the campaign should take," Mr. Kay says. "Because she is sort of new-agey and Earth Mother, she has no tolerance for negative energy. And so I think she took a hard line against Trudeau being negative in his political campaign and his messaging. Those are crucial elements of Trudeau's brand."

In fact, Mr. Kay insists that "she was foundational" to many aspects of her husband's political career – including the decision to run for the Liberal leadership in 2013. "Even if she did nothing now but sit on a sofa and eat bonbons, she would have already had a profound and crucial effect on Justin."

An only child, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau grew up about an hour north of Montreal in the small Laurentian town of Sainte-Adèle, where the Grégoire family owned a lakeside property. During the first five years of her life, her father, Jean, a successful stock broker, and her mother, Estelle Blais, who worked as a nurse, commuted daily to Montreal.

When that routine became too exhausting, the family moved to the Town of Mont Royal, an upper-middle-class neighbourhood of Montreal. Every weekend, they would return to their house in the Laurentians, a place Ms. Grégoire Trudeau credits for her love of the outdoors.

"I remember the sensory world of it," she tells me. "And I find it every time I go back to nature. Nature saved me."

Last week in Ottawa, she was named a Woman for Nature by the conservation charity Nature Canada.

"The Grégoire family is a very athletic family," says Annie Grégoire, Sophie's first cousin and the brand director of Vichy Canada for L'Oréal in Montreal. "We grew up in that kind of environment. On the weekends, our dads would come and wake us up at 6:30 a.m., saying ' C'est le jour! We're going to do things!'"

A close-knit group of three first cousins – Annie Grégoire has a twin, but no other siblings – they spent a lot of time together hiking, skiing and paddle-boarding.

Still, she struggled with loneliness. "I was super independent and very creative," Ms. Grégoire Trudeau says. "So I was always doing something. [But] yes, my God, did it feel lonely at times! You know if your parents fight at one point, you're the only one feeling that energy and trying to figure it out."

Her parents encouraged her to be outgoing and meet other people. "She told me that her dad would have liked to have a boy, so I think she was always a bit more daring because of that," says Virginie Bussières, who was a bridesmaid at the Trudeau wedding. "He sort of pushed her to do extreme sports."

During her years at Montreal's Pensionnat du Saint-Nom-de-Marie, a private school for girls run mostly by nuns, she became a perfectionist and struggled with teenage existential angst. It was then that she developed bulimia.

"I [had] read about the condition," Ms. Grégoire Trudeau says. "I knew what was happening, but I couldn't stop it. And I remember at one point, after a couple of years, I was in my bed, suffering – suffering physically and suffering mentally – and sad. I was just so sad.

"My mom did ask me at one point, because I had lost a little bit of weight, 'Is everything okay with you?' And I was, 'Yeah, yeah, it's fine.'" Then one night she had a revelation not unlike something out of The Power of Now, the bestselling book by the Oprah-endorsed spiritual leader Eckhart Tolle. "I remember going to bed that night, and feeling that this disease is a disease, and it is not me. I did not want to associate with it. The real me was speaking to the ego, where I said, 'Hey, intelligent, magnificent creature that you are, because you are a woman, you're going to love yourself and this will be your recipe for happiness.' I didn't put it in words like that. My language is more spiritual now than it was then. … [But] that moment of self-love was, I think, my biggest life lesson."

Over the years that I have interviewed Ms. Grégoire Trudeau – I also met with her for The Globe in 2008, when her husband was first running for a seat in Parliament in the working-class Montreal riding of Papineau – she has frequently talked about her "mission" and desire "to serve" in a way that suggests the motivation stems from her spiritual awakening.

When she was working in public relations, and later as a host on local Montreal TV shows – following her graduation in communications from the University of Montreal and an extra year in training at broadcast school Promedia – she began supporting charitable organizations. "One of the things she talked a lot about was to be a TV host to give voice to the disadvantaged. She was approached by various causes, and it really connected to her values," says Ms. Bussières, who met Ms. Grégoire Trudeau when they were students at the U of M.

On the night of her first date with Mr. Trudeau, she told him that she had decided to go public about her eating disorder. "I have to tell you this, because it's coming out in a magazine, that I suffered from an eating disorder and I want to talk about it because there's so much stigma around it," she recalls telling him.

In 2005, I challenged her on whether the Trudeau name was influencing her decision to do good works; at the time, she was aligned with Clinique BACA in Montreal, which raises awareness about eating disorders, and was a spokeswoman for Dove's Real Beauty initiative.

"True!" she shot back. "I would love if I said that wasn't true. Of course, I had to weigh the options and see what I was going to do. … I always had to have meaning to my life … and [being married to Justin] makes me feel even more driven, even more responsible. But it wasn't, like, 'Now, I'm married to Justin Trudeau!' No! It was 'Now I'm Sophie Grégoire married to Justin!' I had a life before, you know."

At the Press Gallery dinner in Ottawa this summer, an annual event at which journalists, politicians and government officials roast one another, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau stole the show, according to reports. Partway through her husband's speech, she came on stage. When he told her that everyone wanted to know what she was wearing, she offered a drawn-out explanation of her clothes. She poked fun at her hand-on-heart emotional displays, then burst into a contemporary R&B song, It's All About Me, explaining that she felt it would be worthwhile given how well received her last public singing effort had been, at a Martin Luther King celebration in January – a spontaneous display that was widely panned.

A 2014 Trudeau couple selfie.

A 2014 Trudeau couple selfie.


Later in her performance, she addressed the kerfuffle that ensued after she told a newspaper reporter that she needed "a team to help me serve the people" – quipping that she also required a team to help her perform a yoga pose. Summoning key personnel, including Mr. Trudeau's senior political adviser, Gerald Butts, onto the stage to help arrange her yoga mat, she deadpanned: "I need to feel fully supported."

It was a bold (some would say cheesy) display of self-awareness. There was something about her that was very Céline Dion. Of course, it was strategically defensive, too – you can diffuse criticism, current and future, by joking about your perceived faults. But mostly, it was defiant, a strong signal that she will not be cowed by her critics.

Some of the unkind scrutiny of Ms. Grégoire Trudeau's boldness is an English-Canadian issue, says Mireille Lalancette, a professor of political communication at the University of Quebec in Trois-Rivières. "Within Quebec, there's not much criticism of her being outspoken or being more of a public figure," she says.

On a broader level, many young feminists, wherever they live, are determined to stand up to those who might shame them for not fulfilling some patriarchal ideal about what it means to be feminine, and for expressing their deepest truths. Lena Dunham, best known for her body-positive crusade on the award-winning HBO series Girls, addresses a range of women's issues in Lenny Letter, the online magazine she co-founded. In Love Warrior, a new (also Oprah-endorsed) memoir, Glennon Doyle Melton writes on many aspects of her private life, including what she's thinking about during sex and while watching pornography. Comedian Amy Schumer (Train-wreck, The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo) talks openly about ambition, body weight, sexuality, money and success. There is little these women won't reveal.

Is emotional exposure any different? Many might hesitate to share their private feelings, worried about affirming uncharitable feminine tropes. But not Ms. Grégoire Trudeau. "We are filled with spirituality, outside and inside," she says to me when asked about her willingness to talk about subjects others might deem soft or "flaky" – the word many of her detractors use. "You see it or you don't. You accept it or you don't. … I'm not afraid to use the word love. I'm really not," she asserts. "And that resonates. People are ready to hold this kind of language. Why? Because we need it so desperately."

Such honesty has long been her trademark. Speaking in March at a festival to mark International Women's Day, she said that when she had to have a cesarean with Hadrien, she insisted on wanting "skin-to-skin [contact with the baby] right away," even though the hospital discouraged it.

Among other things, during the interviews I had with her in years past, she told me that she knew she was pregnant from the "minute of conception," that at five months into her second pregnancy, her belly button was "already out there," that she loved being pregnant, "the blossoming of it all," and that it had become "a joke" between her and her husband. "He's like, 'Can you always be pregnant?'"

Uncomfortable as it may make some people feel, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau's commitment to being herself is very much in vogue. "The new norm is that privacy is somehow miserly," says R. Jay Magill Jr., author of Sincerity: How A Moral Ideal Born 500 Years Ago Inspired Religious Wars, Modern Art, Hipster Chic, and the Curious Notion that We All Have Something to Say (No Matter How Dull). "The things that were far away, and only accessible via the imagination, entered the public sphere at an incredible pace through the 20th century, basically blurring the boundaries between what is private and what is public." Among the pioneering efforts, he says, were Franklin Delano Roosevelt's radio fireside chats, which often began with his addressing the American public as "my friends" (a phrase Mr. Trudeau is fond of using). "Social media," observes Mr. Magill, "is the end result."

In the American political primary season, the unscripted authenticity of Donald Trump helped to propel his improbable rise. And Hillary Clinton's reluctance – or inability – to be relatable and transparent hinders her popularity. Many have encouraged her to "show her heart," in the words of Vice-President Joe Biden.

Over nearly eight years in office, the Obamas have perfected the sharing of this kind of folksy humanity. They dance in the Oval Office. He submits to video spoofs with selfie sticks, and cries in public. Now there's even a Hollywood version of their love story, Southside With You.

At an event in Washington in March to raise awareness for girls’ education, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau embraces Michelle Obama, who described her as ‘my soulmate.’

At an event in Washington in March to raise awareness for girls’ education, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau embraces Michelle Obama, who described her as ‘my soulmate.’

Cliff Owen/The Canadian Press

In this touchy-feely climate, some see Ms. Grégoire Trudeau as a valuable cog in the Trudeau brand machine. "Politicians do things that are in their own interests," notes Alex Marland, a professor at Memorial University in Newfoundland who specializes in political marketing and communications. "Obviously, Justin Trudeau has determined that it's to his advantage to have his spouse in the public eye. One of the reasons, I would argue, is that he wants to promote a sense of gender inclusiveness."

It's an undeniable risk. That Ms. Grégoire Trudeau acts as a de facto First Lady when our political system doesn't support such an official role irks some, raising concerns about the "presidentialization of our [parliamentary] system," according to Prof. Marland. She may not have an independent Twitter handle like Michelle Obama's @FLOTUS (@WOTPMOC, in any case, doesn't have quite the same ring) but she presents herself as a sort of Unofficial Minister of Heartstrings, an ambition that brings to mind the 2008 "Mom-in-chief" declaration of Ms. Obama, whose charitable efforts skew to the family-friendly.

PMO spokesman Olivier Duchesneau insists there are no plans to add staff to support Ms. Grégoire Trudeau's charitable efforts, despite the fact that requests for media interviews, appearances and support of various causes have been high since the election. Among her other roles in the arts and well-being industry is that of national ambassador for Plan Canada's "Because I am a Girl" initiative. Keeping abreast of girls' issues, she told me, is important to her. On her reading list of late have been the No Ceilings report from the Clinton Foundation and Girl Positive, Supporting Girls to Shape a New World, a new book by Tatiana Fraser and Caia Hagel.

"I want to make sure I'm in tune with their language and their reality," she explained to me this week, in advance of an upcoming Toronto media appearance for International Day of the Girl.

But even when Ms. Grégoire Trudeau is compared to American First Ladies, she doesn't quite follow that model, either. "Michelle Obama does [her role] very well. But you always feel that Barack is in charge," says Huguette Young, author of the unauthorized biography Justin Trudeau: The Natural Heir. "I am not sure if we feel that about Sophie." That outlier quality may also be part of her defiance. Perhaps she intuits that people are willing to accept new iterations of how to be a political wife, when – in the age of Hillary Clinton, Theresa May and Angela Merkel, not to mention Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg and Yahoo!'s Marissa Mayer – they're digesting diverse representations of female ambition, personality and leadership.

"Oh, Sophie is a love ball!" Chantal Kreviazuk, the Juno-award-winning singer-songwriter, exclaims on the phone as she is driving to an appointment in the weeks before the release of her new album, Hard Sail. Friends with Mr. Trudeau for over 20 years, she has come to know Ms. Grégoire Trudeau very well. They compare notes on motherhood (Ms. Kreviazuk and her husband, Raine Maida, of the band Our Lady Peace, have three boys), remedies for children's ailments, and their yoga practices. (Ms. Grégoire Trudeau can do stand-up yoga on a paddle board. "She will kick anyone's butt. She is so strong," Ms. Kreviazuk says.)

"The most powerful thing I can say about Sophie the mom is that after we have been together for a couple of days, my kids are more affectionate for a good three or four days after. I can see that they've been so nurtured and double-loved that they are literally physically more affectionate. And I will look at my husband and say, 'That's [the influence of] Sof.' And then [that affect] tapers off and we are back in the chaos!" she says with a laugh.

"I see her as someone who is quite enlightened," Ms. Kreviazuk continues, adding that the Trudeau couple know "each other at a 'next level' basis," because of the therapy and self-examination they have done. "I don't see it as damaged or affected or a touched person. I see someone who is incredibly healed. She has been so thorough and careful and so thoughtful in how she has approached her journey, her brand of suffering, because we all have one."

In her effusive description of her friend, she notes that Ms. Grégoire Trudeau's enthusiasm is often channelled into artistic pursuits. At the birth of her first child, she took up the guitar. "She's a walking song … like a fountain of joy and artistry. She is always singing. And she is always writing [songs]," Ms. Kreviazuk says, adding that they have had brief conversations about professional aspects of the business and the writing process. Ms. Grégoire Trudeau also paints, recently completing a portrait of Xavier.

Among the many people I spoke to for this story, no one had a bad word about her. I heard tales about date nights in Ottawa before Mr. Trudeau was Prime Minister, when they would go up to the restaurant's chef to congratulate him on a good meal; how they attend concerts at the National Arts Centre on their own and with their children. During university, she once whisked Ms. Bussières off on a surprise hot-air-ballooning trip for her birthday. She is fluent in Spanish. She is humble (of course). She plays practical jokes.

Father Roger Brousseau, who conducted their marriage ceremony, officiated at the baptisms of their first two children. He, too, describes an immediate and profound spiritual connection with her when they first met. For the baptisms, Sophie, Justin and other family members stood barefoot in a Laurentian lake, once at the Trudeau cottage and the other time at the Grégoire family property. "Michi's water," which Margaret Trudeau retrieved from Kokanee Lake in British Columbia, where Michel Trudeau drowned, was used in the ceremonies.

Jeffrey Feldman, who was a producer at eTalk when Ms.Grégoire Trudeau was hired as a Quebec cultural correspondent in the wake of her marriage, told me that she never complained while working through her first two pregnancies, often arriving at the Montreal studio on her burgundy Vespa. She helped him improve his diet and encouraged him to recycle more effectively. Her agreement to work for the celebrity-based entertainment show was contingent on her goal "to seek out stories that gave profile to celebrities who were using their fame for a good cause," he said.

After I spoke to him, Mr. Feldman got back to me to say he had recalled an anecdote he wanted to share, as it revealed Ms. Grégoire Trudeau's "true character." Once, during her pregnancy with Xavier, the eTalk production team was returning to Montreal from a shoot and had stopped for a visit at her parents' house in Sainte-Adèle. On a dirt road in the country, Ms. Grégoire Trudeau suddenly insisted that they stop the car when she spied "an orphan chipmunk" by the side of the road. She wanted to rescue it.

"How did she know it was an orphan chipmunk?" I dutifully inquired.

"It was young and crying," he said. "She is at one with nature; a very simple, giving person."

"Oh, well, gee, thank you for that," I mumbled.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau on the role of destiny in her husband’s ascension to the Prime Minister’s Office: ‘I saw the man who I love work his ass off to get where he is’.

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau on the role of destiny in her husband’s ascension to the Prime Minister’s Office: ‘I saw the man who I love work his ass off to get where he is’.

LM Chabot for The Globe and Mail

Talking to Ms. Grégoire Trudeau's acquaintances and friends, many of whom would not speak to me without first getting clearance from her, I felt I was gathering stories of her pure heart, participating in her beatification – Saint Sophie of Rideau Cottage.

And I know what you're thinking, because I thought it, too: I was creating character sketches and images for the movie the Trudeau team is controlling. "We only see the packaged side. And we are the audience," observes Prof. Marland, about the Trudeau brand. "We're being given things, but we're being given the things the directors are presenting to us."

Mr. Trudeau and his team are good at encouraging what academics call "parasocial interactions," the tendency for people to form emotional bonds with celebrities. "Justin Trudeau is amazing at this," says Prof. Marland. "He has the unique case of having been in the public eye since he was born and that [sense of familiarity] is transferred to whomever he marries and to their children." The Liberals underscore "this sense of attachment" through e-mails and social media, he adds. "[The e-mails] are from Justin, not from the Prime Minister."

But I can tell you this. Parasocial attachment or not, it is hard not to be struck by Ms. Grégoire Trudeau's often seemingly spontaneous and deeply felt emotions. At one point during the interview earlier this year, I asked about her mother, with whom, she once said, she has had her "most precious relationship." As soon as I repeated the quote to her, asking if she could tell me more, she burst into tears, waving her hand in front of her face.

Silence fell between us. All I could do was ask the simplest of questions.

Have her parents moved to Ottawa?

"Yes, my mother moved," she said. Her father, who is still working full-time in Montreal, keeps an apartment there and travels to Ottawa on Thursday nights for the weekends.

To help with the children?

"When we moved to Ottawa [after the election], we said goodbye, and then my mom called me the next day, and she said, 'I'm their grandmother. I want to be with you.' And I was, like" – she snapped her fingers in the air – "'Done!' " Her parents now keep a small apartment near Rideau Cottage. "My children can walk, bike there." She speaks to her mother almost every day.

"My mom –" she began, breaking off again in tears, bowing her head to look down into her lap. "For me, she has the spirit of an angel," she explained after another pause, wiping away her tears. "She's a healer without even knowing it. … She's beautiful inside and out. She doesn't know she's that. And I keep telling her," she said, in a rambling fashion. "And she's said to me so many times that she has learned so much from [our] relationship."

"She's learned through you?" I asked.

"Yes, yes," Ms. Grégoire Trudeau said. "And she said, 'Maybe it was too much at times. Because you were an only child, and I had stuff I had to figure out.' … But because I was an only child, we had a symbiotic relationship and I felt everything, everything."

She went on to say that she is acutely aware of the passage of time, of mortality, and how, when we're children, we don't appreciate our parents. "So I'm cherishing that relationship in ways that are just so deep and loving."

And then I thought about my visit with Ms. Bramadat in her ancient settler's cabin. I had expressed interest to Ms. Grégoire Trudeau about her spiritual life, wanting to know how she would define it. "I am a spiritual person. I am not a religious person," she had explained.

She later gave me Ms. Bramadat's name as someone to contact, without explaining who she was. And I have to say, on that sidewalk outside Ms. Bramadat's house, I wondered about Ms. Grégoire Trudeau's judgment in doing so. Ms. Bramadat flew off on some pretty woo-woo tangents. And I had visions myself – of Ms. Bramadat and Ms. Grégoire Trudeau boiling cats' tails and eyes of newts or something up at Harrington Lake when the Prime Minister was off discussing world affairs.

Ms. Bramadat had told me that the two of them had once gone in a boat to the middle of Meech Lake and that, Ms. Bramadat figured, the RCMP were probably listening in. I imagined the officers' stern eyebrows lifting in quizzical surprise over descriptions about love and warriors, angels and amulets.

Such self-exposure requires courage and creates an astonishing amount of vulnerability. Many public figures, especially political spouses, would want to plug any chinks in their armour. And her cousin Annie had told me that Ms. Grégoire Trudeau is sensitive to the "pressured environment, with people projecting, looking, expecting, analyzing every move à la recherche de la faille [in order to look for a crack]."

I pointedly asked Ms. Grégoire Trudeau about her new-age beliefs. In my reporting, several people had mentioned that the Trudeaus' political ascendancy felt like it was "meant to be"; that the universe had unfolded as it should, in a kind of manifest destiny.

Justin Trudeau gives his wife a kiss during Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill in 2016.

Justin Trudeau gives his wife a kiss during Canada Day festivities on Parliament Hill in 2016.


Not that Ms. Grégoire Trudeau had ever projected into the future over the times I talked with her. In 2005, pressed about a possible political career for Mr. Trudeau, she said, "Not now." In 2008, pressed about whether he might seek the leadership of the Liberal party, she said, "We don't think about that. If you think too far, you're ahead of yourself." If anything, she was adhering to the Eckhart Tollean spiritual practice of remaining firmly rooted in the present.

Yet, she and her husband believed from the start that "we are not together for no reason" as she explained in 2005, and that their shared values would drive them to find a mission and give back in some way. They just didn't know what it was at that point.

And she had spoken several times about the uncanny synchronicity of dates in their lives, another new-agey preoccupation that can encourage some people to think of such dates as signs or guidance from above. Their first-born son arrived on Oct. 18, the birthday of Pierre Trudeau. The election date last year was one day after the anniversary of his birthday as well. "And there are so many others," she admitted to me in April, without giving details.

So I asked her: Does she feel their political journey to the top job was destined? A faint blaze of feeling seemed to move over her pretty face. And I detected a nervous twitch from the press officers behind her.

"Two levels of response," she began, without hesitation.

"Yes, there is destiny. But then I saw the man who I love work his ass off to get where he is," she said, lowering her voice and shielding her mouth with one hand. "So let's just put destiny aside a little bit. [But] there is a walk in life. There is duty to be filled with each individual, and it's a gift to be able to find that moment. And he's found it. Now he decided to go all the way so he can bring positive change into the society and this country," she offered brightly.

She then paused. "And there is the – how would I say? – the spiritual experience of not being able to put in human words the synchronicity of life. It's the people we meet. It's the stories they have. … I don't write down dates. But I'll compose songs of what moved me. I'll write poems. I'll write a letter to that person. I will meditate on it. I will cry for it."

It was a dreamy, stream-of-consciousness response. It wasn't a denial. And it wasn't a confirmation. But does it matter? Really? Should we warn the world of an angelgate? We're living in a coarsening culture; in a troubling world. And here was – here is – the quintessential secular saint, a woman in the public realm who dares to be fiercely gentle. There may come a time when we've had enough of the "phenomenon that is Sophie" and her loved-up warrior. But for now, at least, maybe we should give them our blessing.

Sarah Hampson is a feature writer and columnist for The Globe and Mail.


Watch Justin Trudeau and his family take a canoe trip down Rouge River