The double life of Joel Geleynse: Celebrity in Holland, regular guy in Hamilton
Hamilton's Joel Geleynse stars on a hit show on network television, hobnobs at film premieres and signs autographs when approached by throngs of adoring fans — in Holland.
But at home in Hamilton, the figure skater, actor and musician goes relatively unnoticed, riding his bike to run errands and planting vegetables in the backyard garden of his Strathcona neighbourhood home.
It’s a strange double life for the 32-year-old, who is currently in the Netherlands to shoot Sterren Dansen op het Ijs (English translation: Stars Dancing on Ice). The reality show features celebrities, partnered with professional figure skaters, facing off to see who’s the best on their blades.
This is Geleynse's second season on the show. Last year he became a household name after he and his skating partner, Dutch singer and TV personality Monique Smit, progressed to the final round of the competition.
Producers and viewers alike took a shine to Geleynse, and he was given a venue to show off his other creative pursuits.
"They had me singing on the show, and then I got a manager out of that and released music here," he said, speaking on Skype from Hilversum, a town about 30 km southeast of Amsterdam.
"And I thought it would have died down, you know, having gone away after that show."
But it didn’t. This time around, the attention has only become more intense.
"I’ll be signing autographs in the gym," Geleynse laughed, describing an experience he had last week.
"I’ll be working out and one person will stop me and we’ll start talking, because they recognize me or whatever, and it creates a group and then they all want a picture."
And it gets stranger. Photographers swarm the statuesque skater and his co-star at red carpet events. It's an experience that, judging by his tone of voice, clearly leaves Geleynse a touch bewildered.
"It’s paparazzi like I’ve never seen. The word they use is that there will be a ‘battery’ of photographers — like 40 of them in a pack with giant cameras."
Long road to fame
Geleynse’s road to overseas stardom began in eastern Ontario. He grew up on a farm south of Ottawa and took up figure skating at the "late" age of 12.
He competed as part the junior national team and in 1998 won a bronze medal at the Canadian men’s national championship.
He later moved to southwestern Ontario to pursue pairs skating and has been based in Hamilton since 2006, buying his current house in 2009.
Once Geleynse retired from competitive skating he graduated to the professional circuit, performing with touring companies and on cruise ships.
"And then out of that experience, we started hearing about opportunities to do these ‘Skating with the Stars’ TV shows."
He did his first one of those in Turkey in 2008. An opportunity to perform on an American version of the show fell through before Dutch producers tapped Geleynse for Sterren Dansen op het Ijs.
‘Dutch blood,’ Canadian character
Geleynse said his appeal among Dutch audiences partially stems from the fact his parents were born in Holland, migrating to Canada around 1960.
"[Viewers in the Netherlands] see me as a Dutch person. They know I’m Canadian, but I have Dutch blood, I guess. They’re even more receptive because of that."
However, he said he stands out from the pack for having somewhat exotic "Canadian" characteristics.
"They compare me to the other Dutch role models and the other Dutch male celebrities, and there is a big difference. Especially being Canadian, we’re a bit more sensitive, more polite."
But the adoration, Geleynse said, isn’t enough to persuade him to settle in the Netherlands.
"I had to really make a decision whether to pull up my stakes from Canada and make a go of it in Europe as a career. And I just don’t want to do that.
"I’m so at home in Canada. That’s so much a part of my identity and that’s where my family and friends are."