Northern Lights Pale Next to Arctic Town's Parade of Visiting Stars

By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, November 7, 2006

IQALUIT, Canada -- Forget Hollywood. To see the stars, come to the capital of Nunavut.

This Arctic town of 6,500 hosts a parade of celebrities, even if many of them make the briefest of stopovers.

Take Halloween, for example. Antonio Banderas, the handsome star of Zorro movies, was coming for a day, and the ladies at D.J. Sensations gift shop were all atwitter.

"I think I'll give myself an extra spray of pheromones," said Cassie Lowe, 41, presiding from behind the counter over shelves of whalebone carvings and sealskin mittens.

The list of star visits is lengthy: Jamie Foxx, Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Gwyneth Paltrow, Ricky Martin, Jason Priestley, Canadian comic Rick Mercer, Donald Sutherland, Kevin Spacey, Sylvester Stallone.

On far northern Baffin Island, Iqaluit and its very long runway -- built for military use -- are just about halfway between Los Angeles and Europe. It is a perfect place for a fuel stop for the private jets of celebrities.

"We're a gas station," said Eric Leuthold, 34, who runs Frobisher Bay Touchdown Services, which caters to the private jets. "Some of the stars don't even know where they are. They wake up groggy and ask where they are, and never come out of the jets."

Others are more curious, drawn perhaps by the striking Inuit art in the airport terminal or the Inuktitut language they hear at the airport. They stay longer to explore the snow-covered streets, buzzing with skimobiles.

Glenn Craig was doing his daily one-man routine as radio host, manager, producer and ad salesman for the town's radio station, CKIQ, when Sammy Hagar, a former Van Halen band member, called from the airport. Hagar, en route from Ireland, said he was shocked to hear his own song in the Arctic. Craig promptly put him on the air for a live interview.

And some come seeking an Arctic adventure.

Brooke Shields always wanted to spend a night in an igloo. It had to be made for her; the local residents live in modern housing. Paul Newman made a movie here, one of about four that have used Iqaluit as a setting.

"Where else can you get a backdrop without any trees?" asked Brian Twerdin, 49, referring to the barren terrain. "And we still have ice in June."

Newman put on skates to join the locals in a game of hockey. He "wasn't too bad," said Twerdin, who runs the Grind and Brew coffee shop.

There also is a procession of politicians: France's Jacques Chirac, Germany's Helmut Kohl and numerous Canadian ministers.

Sean Maloney, 43, still cherishes memories of the visit made by Nelson Mandela, who quietly stopped in Iqaluit on a tour of North America after his release from prison in 1990.

Maloney, then a student, said he had a long conversation with Mandela, who was wrapped in a blanket even in the Arctic summer, as they stood separated by the airport fence. Maloney gave the future president of South Africa a "Free Mandela" button he had held on to for years.

At the end, he said, he and Mandela both knelt down to shake hands under the fence.

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