By Carol Crenna
Born in Victoria, BC, David Foster boasts that he’s one of Canada’s greatest exports, not due to any of his achievements, but because he is a devoted and vocal flag waver. Instead of trying to blend in as American, he proclaims loyalty to his home and native land whenever he’s in front of a camera or an international audience.
Music has also always been in David’s blood (he started his own band at age 12, and was in the band Skylark that had the hit “Wildflower” in the 70s), and over the past 30 years, he’s had dozens of hits with artists including Celine Dion, Madonna, Andrea Bocelli and Barbara Streisand. He’s been nominated for 44 Grammys, winning 14, and for three Academy Awards. His songs have been featured on movies including The Holiday and Moulin Rouge.
He founded a record label called 143 Records, which produces Josh Groban, Michael Bublé, and The Canadian Tenors, and he’s written four Olympics theme songs. Yet David’s commitment to the community is of equal merit.
Since its inception in 1986, the David Foster Foundation has raised millions to assist families of children in need of organ transplants. The foundation’s 2012 Victoria, BC, gala raised $4.6 million in one weekend. The Foundation provides “last resort” financial assistance, and raises awareness of organ donation. David has also been involved with over 300 other charitable organizations.
In the works, The David Foster Foundation Theatre in Victoria will open later this year. David Foster also has a goal to build a world class performing arts centre in Victoria’ s Inner Harbour, connected to David Foster Way.
Here David speaks candidly about his life and work.
CAROL: You travel a lot. (In the three days spent organizing this interview I tracked David down in Toronto, Calgary and Los Angeles). How do you keep your energy high?
DAVID FOSTER: I’ve always had high energy; I got it from my mother. Before she died at 87, I took her everywhere I went when she visited me because she’d always be asking me, “Where we were going next?” even if it was 1:00 a.m. I do travel a lot. I just flew to Calgary and back in the same day, leaving from my home in LA, getting in at 2:00 a.m., and I had to rehearse all the next day and drive to Laguna Beach for a concert the next night. I drink lots of water and try not to sleep on the plane and, though it’s a ridiculously huge expense, I fly privately. I do it for two reasons ─ because I’m very claustrophobic and because I think it’s the greatest stress relief on the planet!
CAROL: Well, maybe not literally on the planet, but I can see that it would be on you.
DAVID FOSTER:True. But when I can drive to the plane, get on, and we take off with no wait times, I feel I’m adding years to my life. I actually did it before I could afford it because of my claustrophobia. I haven’t taken an elevator in 25 years.
When I was on the Howard Stern Show in New York, his studio was on the ninth floor and he ended up having to bring the cameras, equipment and crew down to the sidewalk to film it because the building superintendent refused to let me walk up the stairs; it was against safety regulations. So Howard said, “You don’t go into elevators because you’re afraid of hearing your own music.” A lot of my music is kind of soft, but when I lay my hands on the keyboard, that’s what comes out!
CAROL: You’re a romantic.
CAROL: The David Foster Foundation helps families who have a common but rarely discussed challenge. Why did you launch this charity?
DAVID FOSTER: People travel thousands of miles to have their child undergo organ transplant surgery, sometimes out of the country. Parents have to leave jobs, mortgages, and even their other children at home to relocate, sometimes for up to two years.
Families of these children are hardworking middle class people yet since their expenses, other than the surgery, aren’t covered, they often go through their savings in months. They not only have to continue paying for bills at home, but in the other location they must rent a home and vehicle to be close to their child, while being unable to work.
The foundation began when a girl from Victoria came to us saying that, though her family couldn’t afford it, all she wished for was to see her sister. We flew her sister to her in the hospital and they met on her birthday. A light went on when I realized we could fill a void by helping in this way.
CAROL: Itmust help the children to see their parents with less strain, too.
DAVID FOSTER: If you saw the hundreds of letters that we’ve received and the faces of the parents, you would know the answer to that. I just met with 15 assisted families in Toronto and the men and women were in tears of joy and disbelief that an organization would help them with this type of difficulty.
Their circumstances can have disastrous effects on children left behind who are often not given needed attention because their ill sibling must have so much. In one extreme case, a sibling ended up becoming a prostitute. We tried to offer counseling but didn’t have proper experience.
CAROL: You get involved in more than the foundation’s fundraising.
DAVID FOSTER: In the beginning I knew all of the families, and I still keep in touch with the first two patients who were seven when they got their heart transplants. They’re 32 now, and one had her first child. The problem is that they’ll need a replacement to the new organ, or other organs will be negatively affected due to the medications they must take. I am involved with fundraising events including annual gala concerts in Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver and Halifax.
CAROL: David Foster and Friends Charity Galas headlined by Andrea Bocelli and Michael Buble were a huge success, and included a star search. Will there be an American or Canadian Idol-type event again?
DAVID FOSTER: One of my biggest passions is finding new talent.
CAROL: What do you think about the focus on giving back to society by everyone from Bill Clinton to Brad Pitt to Bono?
DAVID FOSTER: I don’t know if there is any more now than there used to be in the days of Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra and Elizabeth Taylor. I feel like I started late, in my 30s, when I think of friends like Wayne Gretzky and Andre Aggasi who started their own foundations at 25.
CAROL: You have a healthy lifestyle.
DAVID FOSTER: I had a great upbringing, learning good values from my parents; no alcohol, no drugs. I am very close to my six sisters in Victoria. I still don’t drink – well, I started to drink wine after I turned 50, but could go six months without a glass – never did drugs, and gave up smoking 30 years ago.
CAROL: That’s quite an accomplishment in your industry. How about eating habits?
DAVID FOSTER: I eat healthily, but I was feeling bloated so, starting New Year’s Eve, I began working out with a personal trainer, and decided to forgo dessert, bread, pasta and butter and I’ve lost 12 pounds.
I work out three days a week and run two other days, and I feel so much better. I’m probably in better shape now at 63 than I was 20 years ago. It’s so nice not to have a gut! As a nutritionist, what do you think of my limiting those foods?
CAROL: I think it’s a great idea; you don’t really need any of them, especially if they’re not whole grains.
DAVID FOSTER: I’ve probably only cheated three times in all of these months! How about whole grain Cheerios?
CAROL: It’s still really processed, so not a lot of good stuff left. You can have treats once in a while.
DAVID FOSTER: In moderation. I do need to have heart surgery for an aortic valve replacement, though; it’s genetic. But if I continue my healthy program, my recovery will be easier. When I was 35 my doctor told me I’d need to have it replaced by the time I was 60, and I said, “Yeah right, by the time I’m 60 they’ll have a pill I can take instead.” Well, here I am and there’s no pill.
CAROL: What do you do for stress relief? It might help your heart.
DAVID FOSTER: I play tennis. I played Andre Agassi, but do you think I won? I’ve been told that stress is held in your body in layers, so if you could see it on your heart or kidneys, it would be layer upon layer from the years and stressful situations. So just because you have a stress-free holiday for a day or two it doesn’t mean that it disappears.
By the time you’re 60 it’s piled on thick. I’ve been trying to analyze my father’s early demise, dying of a heart attack at 54. It’s possible he died of the same problem I have but they didn’t have the same diagnostics back then. But he didn’t exercise, had lots of stress because he had seven kids without a lot of money, and didn’t get checkups. I think I’m further ahead than him.
CAROL: But you have five daughters?
DAVID FOSTER: True, and two step sons, but they’re grown up now and are doing exceptionally well on their own. To be honest, I didn’t have a lot to do with that; it was their mother. My daughter Amy is a talented singer and songwriter, and Sara and Erin are actors.
CAROL: What achievement gave you the most fulfillment?
DAVID FOSTER: The first Juno I ever won, in my hometown (Vancouver) with Quincy Jones as the host. I went on and on during my acceptance speech, but was able to say everything I wanted to about Canada live on national TV. I still spend a lot of time there, and bought homes in Vancouver and Victoria.
CAROL: Do you feel contented?
DAVID FOSTER: I can say that I truly have peace of mind now that I’ve made certain changes to my personal life. I think it’s something that everyone on the planet should fight for, and to make changes if they don’t. For me it included leaving a relationship with the wrong person.
I had been in relationships since I was 16, for 40 years of my life, and then finally learned how to be by myself. I stayed that way for a few years. Now I’m married to the right person.
Article written by Carol Crenna first featured in VISTA Magazine