Q&A with Event Planner Leah Costello

Your company, Curious Mind Productions, mounts author dinners and public debates. How did you get started? I’m a bit of a junkie when it comes to business, current affairs, politics. I was finding that I get a lot of information in my life, but it’s getting harder to get in-depth knowledge. So I thought, “Why not counter that trend? You know how there’s a slow food movement? I wanted a slow information movement.

Slow information is meeting a need: in year three, you’re already grossing $3 million, thanks largely to your Bon Mot Book Club. I created the club to gather like-minded people—by like-minded, what I mean is like me who are curious and interested in getting engaged with big ideas—not just for one random event, but to create a community of thought leaders.

And the cost? Tickets are $500 for a relatively intimate evening of 180. That’s because most of our speaker fees are around $100,000.

You’ve attracted major names: Koffi Annan, Pervez Musharraf, Sarah Palin. What’s the biggest challenge when courting world figures? Vancouver has, I would say, an inflated sense of itself. Most people outside of Canada don’t actually know where it is. Maybe if they followed the Olympics. The beauty, the great scenery—that’s the extent that people might know about us. I try to explain that Vancouver is an innovative place full of people with ideas, with a unique way of seeing the world.

Last year, you received notoriety when you hosted former U.S. vice-president Dick Cheney. How do you feel about that experience? It was the 10-year anniversary of September 11, and I felt having Dick Cheney come to speak was important. What astounded me was people saying, “How dare you provide him with a platform?” What disappointed me was the level of debate. We were subject to the most unbelievable campaign of hate: emails, phone calls, awful personal attacks.

This wasn’t your first brush with politics. No. In 2005 I ran for the federal Conservative nomination in North Van. I came to see it was a mistake—believing that politics was about ideas and policies and changing the world. Politics is structured so politicians follow what the people want from them, follow public opinion. Well, I’m not a follower and I’m not a team player.

You’re from a small town. How has that influenced you? It drives quite a bit of what I do today. I grew up in 100 Mile House with this feeling that I was missing out on what was going on in the world. I was very engaged in world issues because of what I was listening to on the radio and what was talked about around the dinner table. But as soon as I could, I left and came down to Vancouver to study political science and economics.

Having met all these authors, are you tempted to write your own book? I’ve already started. It’s about looking at ways to engage people to consider ideas they would otherwise not have considered because of preconceived notions or partisanship. I even know its title: Preaching to the Unconverted.