Sangita Patel: Engineered for Stardom

With an infectious personality, a passion for journalism and a desire to pursue her lifelong dreams, Sangita Patel has worked her way to being one of the brightest stars on Television.

interview files from Sarah Kanbar

It would be easy to assume that someone who has risen to the position of being one of Canada’s most well-known and respected entertainment television personalities had their eye on that prize since they were very young.

We’ve all heard such tales before, watching TV at all hours, practising in front of the bedroom mirror when they should have been finishing that essay, maybe even using the hairbrush as a microphone to interview their favourite stuffed animals.

But not so for Sangita Patel, the engaging, ebullient and enthusiastic on-air personality for Entertainment Tonight Canada and host for the past three years of Home to Win on HGTV Canada. Instead, you might even say she “engineered” her path to Canadian television stardom.

“I was a professional engineer for many years. I graduated university as an electrical engineer,” says Patel. “I actually had applied for both engineering and journalism at the same time, but I didn’t really tell anyone about applying for journalism. I had been in a pageant as a kid and it was on TV and I thought to myself, ‘This is kind of cool!’ But my dad was the voice of reason, asking me, ‘Where are you going to get a job?’”

But while working as an engineer, Patel’s inner voice continued to be excited about the possibilities and opportunities of a career in journalism. She began to volunteer as a reporter to fuel that passion. She was at Rogers Television doing an entertainment/lifestyle show called Toronto Living when she made a decision.

“After three years of working as an engineer I made the big shift,” recalls Patel. “I started doing weather at The Weather Network, which for me was perfect because it matched the science I loved as an engineer with the television I was so interested in. After that I got picked up by CityTV and then picked up at Entertainment Tonight Canada. I know you hear so many stories about people doing grunt jobs to break into TV just to make a living, but I was already an engineer, so I wasn’t too worried about my life. Everything at the start in television for me just sort of fell into place, and those jobs at The Weather Network and Rogers were blessings to me.”

In the early days of a “normal” profession, one might have an uncomfortable encounter with the big boss in the lunchroom, or spend a long elevator ride trying to make conversation with the chairman of the board. In television, though, those first awkward experiences are slightly different.

“I take the position of being a role model for younger South Asians very seriously, and hopefully I can help that generation reach their dreams”

“One of my first jobs at Entertainment Tonight Canada was covering a red carpet at TIFF, and I really wasn’t sure what TIFF was all about at the time — that was just my assignment for the evening. And I happened to be three months pregnant with my first child,” says Patel. “Who shows up on the red carpet, not talking to any reporters, but Brad Pitt? And I immediately turn into a fan girl. ‘I’m pregnant and I’m cold!’ I yelled for some reason. Brad came right over to me and took hold of my hand to comfort me. All the microphones surrounded us, but I was so stunned I forgot to ask even a single question. It was one of the highlights of my career to that point, and I knew right then this was going to be an incredible experience.”

Subsequent A-lister encounters and interviews have involved Tom Cruise, Julia Roberts and George Clooney, whom she has interviewed three times. The last time, he made her coffee and showed her photos of his new children.

“It’s true what they say: the bigger they are, the nicer they are,” says Patel. “Why I went into this business is my genuine love of talking to people. If I talk to somebody new every day, I’m going to learn something new every day. And listening to what they have to say is such an important factor to capture a moment during an interview that you didn’t expect.”

But aside from the glitz, glamour and fast pace of the entertainment world, there is a side to the business that Patel takes very seriously. As a South Asian born and raised in Toronto, she knows there are few South Asians doing what she does; she embraces her position, realizing she may be a role model for the younger generation.

“I’ve never been in this business thinking I’m a South Asian, if that makes sense,” says Patel. “But about two years ago I began to realize that stature and that I have to acknowledge it. I take the position of being a role model for younger South Asians very seriously, and hopefully I can help that generation reach their dreams.”

Going beyond the red carpets, famous celebrities and pressures of being that role model Patel describes the reality which has shaped her. It is, quite simply a love story.

“I was just 18 and he was 24 when I met my husband Samir. He was studying medicine at the time,” she recalls. “We’ve now been together 20 years, have had two children together, and are enjoying the best times of our lives. I am so blessed to have him not only as my husband, but as my best friend.”

It is Samir’s support that allows Patel to face that daily battle so many millions of Canadian women face: the balance of work and personal life. “He is an incredible dad, so involved in everything our kids do. He even takes care of all the school emails, reminding me what they might have to wear on certain days! I simply could not do what I do or be where I am without Samir. I am so blessed by him.”

“Find something that makes you happy and work hard, because life is way too short. that’s what I’ve always tried to do”

Despite juggling the life of a mother and working journalist with a travel-on-demand lifestyle, Patel takes the time to focus on her health and wellness, with a dedication to fitness. For the last few years she has videotaped her Tuesday workouts and posted them under #FitnessTuesday to encourage other women to get out there and get into fitness, in any form. “When you’re in your thirties and a mom, you may forget to take care of yourself,” she says. “I’m not a fitness fanatic, but I work out four to five times per week. I’m glad these videos can motivate and inspire some women, and I always use #smile with every post I do.”

What with Patel’s being a high-profile woman in the entertainment business, the conversation inevitably turns to current events that cannot be ignored, namely the Hollywood scandal involving Harvey Weinstein and the serious accusations against him.

“I know what women experience in male-dominated industries,” says Patel. “When I was studying engineering, the classes were 80 per cent men, and when I worked in engineering, the businesses were 90 per cent men. It was a world where I dealt with harassment all the time — it was just normal, and you had to just shrug it off. Then I walked into television, where you had to look a certain way because that’s what’s going to sell.”

Patel works with the One Campaign, which is trying to get 130 million girls into education and schools around the world. Because of her heritage, she also addresses the traditions of India, where boys are more valued than girls — this is an area where she sees an opportunity to effect change and educate boys.

“If they are more valued, then why not teach your son at a young age how to treat and respect women?” asks Patel. “Where it starts for real change to happen over time is teaching them what not to do. If you can teach your son to play baseball, you can teach your son how not to treat women.”

What’s next in the life of this dynamo? She has now acted in two movies and she is always open to new experiences. “At the end of the day, you have to live your passion,” says Patel. “Find something that makes you happy and work hard, because life is way too short. That’s what I’ve always tried to do. And talk to people, open up, don’t be a stranger to people, and maybe, just maybe, put down your phone.”

That last piece of advice comes from first-hand experience a few years ago, standing outside a London hospital waiting for Kate Middleton to emerge with a newborn Prince George.

“There were a thousand journalists on that street, and everyone had their phone out,” recalls Patel. “And my producer said, ‘Put away your phone — everyone’s getting the same shot. Put away your phone and live the moment.’ So we all put our phones down and we lived the moment, absorbed it and enjoyed it.”

Clearly, Sangita Patel is living the moment with passion and character, and unlimited possibilities for the future.

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Rick Muller

Rick Muller