Little Ms. Sunshine – Dina Pugliese
Dina Pugliese is the 6ix’s favourite early-morning It Girl. The Breakfast Television co-host and her contagious charisma give us a reason to love mornings again — even just a little.
The early-morning hours don’t typically lend themselves to mirth. Bubbliness, warmth, inquisitiveness, connectivity – these aren’t easy qualities to summon before the sun rises. Maybe that’s why broadcast personalities who work the early slot often seem to be laying it on a bit thick.
But what’s clear upon meeting Dina Pugliese, who has been the co-host of the Toronto morning show Breakfast Television since 2006, is that her upbeat presence isn’t an act.
“I’m exactly the same person I am on-air as in real life,” says the Woodbridge-raised Pugliese. What is practised, however, is her technique for snapping into gear.
“I have a pretty set routine. I shower, check emails and overnight stories, go over my notes for the show and eat a big breakfast. Believe it or not, I used to have nine cups of coffee before 9 a.m.,” she says. “Now I’m down to three or four.”
The ritual, according to Pugliese, is essential to her success, but she’s also quick to credit her sustained buoyancy to a positive work culture. “Going to work that early certainly isn’t a normal lifestyle. At that time of the night it’s just me and the raccoons. But the great atmosphere behind the show is what gets us going,” says Pugliese. “The jokes and laughs from the security guards, makeup people and crew members honestly transfer onto the air.”
Pugliese calls the cast and crew her “BT family” and believes the audience is both drawn in by, and feels included in, that dynamic.
“We all feel so blessed that so many people feel connected to BT,” says Pugliese. “One of my great joys is meeting viewers. They always want to chat, take photos and thank us for getting their days started in a fun and entertaining way. At Costco recently a viewer approached me and wanted me to speak to her daughter on the phone.”
Audience numbers back up the warm fuzzies: BT has almost 274,000 followers on Twitter, and more than 100,000 on Facebook. Tweets from Pugliese herself – who is also a spokesperson for Yorkdale Shopping Centre and Garnier – reach more than 125,000 followers. What’s more, on the ratings front BT has held the lead as Toronto’s top morning show since 2015.
Given that Pugliese lives and breathes the role, it’s surprising to hear her say that, for a long time, she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her life. It wasn’t until she reached the end of a program in sociology and mass communications at York that the media bug bit her.
“In fourth year, we had to do a mock newscast and I found it so much fun,” she says. “I named myself Dina Black as an ode to Vanna White.”
“Keep your friends and family close, keep the toxic people at a distance and don’t hold grudges”
More interested in entertainment, health and lifestyle stories than hard news, Pugliese continued her education in the journalism program at Humber College, where her attraction to radio and television deepened.
“I loved the immediacy of radio and TV and one of the great things about the Humber course was that you could do an internship at Global Television,” recalls Pugliese. “I did that and gave it everything I had, doing all the grunt jobs, and absolutely loved it. They then offered me a job when I finished school and I worked as a segment producer on The Bynon Show,” a daytime talk show hosted by Arlene Bynon. “It was a tremendous learning experience. I sometimes feel today’s younger generation feels entitled and just wants to start on an anchor desk, but it doesn’t work that way. You have to learn the ropes and I believe you appreciate it more if you do.”
It wasn’t long after joining BT in 2006 that Pugliese’s infectious enthusiasm and engaging style — along with a willingness to try just about anything — won her fans.
“Everything I learned is from Mary Ito,” Pugliese says of the CBC broadcaster. “She has been an incredible mentor to me. She showed me you could be kind and loving and not only survive but thrive in this business.”
During her years working in the industry, Pugliese has developed a motto that applies evenly to the media business and life: “Work hard, be kind to others and don’t be a pushover. It’s OK if there are some people out there who don’t like me, as it’s a fine balance to be strong yet kind,” she says.
There’s more: “Keep your friends and family close, keep the toxic people at a distance and don’t hold grudges. They eat away at you. My wise husband [Alek Mirkovich] once told me that holding grudges is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. Isn’t that so true?”
Pugliese and Mirkovich have been together for 12 years. They don’t have children. “We tried too late, as fate would have it, and while we considered all the options available to us, we eventually decided our lives were already wonderful. We have a very full life of being godparents and an attentive aunt and uncle to many nieces and nephews,” she says. “It’s really amazing how you can give back in so many ways without being parents yourselves.”
Family, Pugliese says, is as important to her as the place she came from. “I spend most of my free time back in Vaughan surrounded by family, which is the absolute best time for me, as I still have so many connections there. I love to dine at Avenue in Kleinburg and just love Sweet Boutique’s zeppole — in fact, its owner, Anthony, made my wedding cake. I go back to visit my mom and dad and other family all the time.”
Her travels also take her farther afield. On the schedule for 2017 is a trip back to Sardinia, one of her favourite destinations. “We just love it there — the food, the wine, the swimming, the hiking. I am amazed how many people there live to be 100 years old. Is it goat milk, sea air or just the joy of life?” she wonders.
The latter is something Pugliese knows something about, both off the air and on it.
“I truly believe laughter is the best medicine. It’s just so good for the body,” she says. “Everyone has a certain amount of stress in their lives, especially early in the morning when people are juggling so many things to get their day going. If we can inform them, give them a laugh or two – laugh at us or with us, it doesn’t matter – then I feel we are doing our jobs.”
with files from Amanda Storey
Photography by Max Jamali
Hair and Makeup by Aitous Paris/House of Aitous
photos shot on location at The Hazelton Hotel Toronto