By Suzanne Wintrob with Ann Kaplan
Ann Kaplan Mulholland wears many hats: wife, mother, daughter, sister, entrepreneur, author, actress, fashion plate, society gal, Ph.D. candidate, vegan … the list goes on. But no matter what stylish topper she’s wearing, she completely immerses herself in the role. In fact, it’s become her mantra.
“Whatever you do and whoever you are, own it!” says the beauty, one of six sensational women on reality TV show The Real Housewives of Toronto. “It’s about living in the moment but being accountable,” says Ann, 57. “All the actions that you take, be accountable for them. When you do something, own up to it. Be aware of how important each action is. Even when you’re getting a coffee. If you smile at someone, they can smile back. I like doing that – when I get my coffee I smile back. It’s a lot nicer to live that way.”
Born in Winnipeg and raised in Victoria, Ann packs a lot of living into each day. She’s always on the go, dressed exquisitely or outrageously depending on the occasion. Thankfully, she has the stamina for it, given her extremely healthy lifestyle. She was a competitive runner and bodybuilder (and Gold Gym’s Vancouver poster child!) in her 20s and recently completed a slow but steady marathon (“I think I came in last. No, there was an old man behind me!” she laughs).
Her wardrobe is a fashionista’s dream, bursting with an enviable collection of one-of-a-kind designer ball gowns plus shoes, belts and intriguing jewelry that she carries off effortlessly at the numerous parties, fashion shows and fundraisers on her calendar.
As glamorous as she is, Ann is just as brainy. She helms iFinance Canada, providing financing for plastic surgery, dental and veterinary treatments, technology and home improvement. She also collects luxury real estate properties and is a sought-after speaker, using the podium to encourage young women to think big.
This year, Ann was a regional finalist at Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year awards and it thrilled her – not only because it’s a testament to her years of hard work but also because it shows her eight children that anything is possible if you commit to it.
And yes, eight children! She and her husband of 15 years, Toronto plastic surgeon Dr. Stephen Mulholland, 57, have eight kids between them ranging from 14 to 28: two are his, two are hers, two they had together and two are Ann’s niece and nephew – the children of her sister, Joan, who died of cancer in 2014. Rounding out the family is eight-year-old poodle Emma and a cat named Puss Puss.
“I had planned Caesareans on Fridays and was back to work on Mondays,” she says of juggling so many balls. “It’s very difficult raising kids and running a company, so I concentrate on the moment.”
Right now, that moment is Christmas. Somehow, Ann has managed to squeeze in the decorating and can’t wait for the entire family to cozy up together to eat, drink and be merry at their new home a few doors away from singer Drake in Toronto’s tony Bridle Path neighbourhood. Then they’ll all head to Hawaii to chill. Ann and Stephen welcome us into the seven-bedroom, 10,000-sq.-ft. house they call Mulywood to talk about family, the holidays and life as a power couple.
Congratulations on your new home! Why did you decide it was time to move?
Ann: We had lived in Forest Hill for 13 years. It had more bedrooms. We loved it there. It was a real “home home,” very comfortable. But it came to the point where we wanted a basketball court for our son, to have more space and more of a yard. I was looking for a house for three years before I offered on one. We offered on other houses, including an auction for Conrad Black’s house across the street. I wanted a swimming pool, a tennis court, somewhere the kids could remember and would love and enjoy being home. We have so many kids so it’s important to have areas where you’re a family and everyone can gather.
How did you know this house was the one?
Ann: It wasn’t on the market. The realtor called and said, “You’ve got to see this!” I didn’t have hopes. It was two acres – it had to be a minimum two acres – and I just walked in and I knew it was the right house. It was so much me, it was so much the décor, everything that I’d do. I’m very traditional. The previous owners left a lot of the furniture, so I merged the furniture together. They lived in Dubai and Paris and just came here two weeks a year.
Stephen: It had a good feeling immediately. If Ann liked it, I liked it.
The real estate market in Toronto went crazy this year. Was it difficult to negotiate the sale?
Ann: I’m an investor, so it had to be the right price. Anyone can find a house if they’re willing to pay anything for it. But when you get into a higher price, if the market fluctuates even 10 per cent you’ve lost a lot. Not that we were thinking of moving, but I didn’t want to overpay. We also have two condos in Vancouver, one on the water. We’re so busy. We travel 22 weekends a year so I don’t think I’d want a cottage.
What are you favourite spaces here?
There’s a winding paved jogging path around the property. I didn’t know we had an apple orchard. I’m into making apple pies. I pick the fruit myself. I took one to the neighbour and he said, “What’s wrong with you? Who bakes?” There’s a vegetable garden and beautiful landscaping. The hedges and flowers are stunning.
Stephen: My favourite rooms are the master bedroom with the little ensuite couch where I can do my emails at night, by the pool in the summer, and in the family room off the kitchen. We have family dinners there on Sundays.
You’ve only been in the house for a few months. Are you planning any renovations?
Ann: I’ll decorate differently as time goes on. I’ll put different curtains and wall finishings and ceilings and light fixtures. Everything will be changed but I’ll do it over time and in keeping with the tradition of the house. I’d like the house to be very fine and elegant but functional. For me, with that many children, I don’t want to have white furniture or something that’s going to cause me a lot of stress. I have an interior design degree and worked as a designer for years. I hope to build a ballroom out the back if [the city] will allow it – it’ll be a party room, but for dancing, too, because the kids tap dance.
You celebrate Christmas at home and in Hawaii. How does the holiday unfold?
I grew up in a very traditional home and Christmas was a big thing, with Yorkshire pudding, hard sauces, dessert – almost out of a book! My father is Hawaiian but I have Scottish and English heritage. I keep all traditions of the family, which is very important to carry on for the kids. We do Christmas here before we go to Hawaii. The stockings are all hung by the fireplace – all the boys get condoms! Even the dog, Emma, has a stocking. There are some presents under the tree, but when the kids wake up it’s piled! So many kids, so many people, so many presents! We play Christmas music. My husband – or my oldest son, Keaton – dresses up like Santa Claus. One of us dresses up as an elf. The kids hate it, but we actually do this. My husband has a sack and hands out presents. We take turns opening them.
Stephen: I really like the Christmas spirit but I let Ann infuse it with Christmas style. I’m looking forward to bringing all the kids back from wherever they might be and having family times, chatting about life and the pursuit of happiness.
You’re so relaxed together. How did you meet?
Ann: At a plastic surgery convention. Our company was financing U.S. [procedures] and he was down there as a surgeon. All the Canadians got together, and we were introduced. I lived in Vancouver at the time. I was checking in – he’ll tell you we met at a bar.
Stephen: I was at the Pelican Bay bar in the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street in New Orleans and I saw her walking across the lobby and I looked at my friend and said, “Wow, I’m going to marry that woman.” Instantly! And when I talked to her, it confirmed it. She was a combination of beauty, brains and kindness, which is a triple threat you rarely see in the human genome. Of course, she wasn’t interested in me, which was a challenge. I set about a good old-fashioned wooing of 14 months. I had to convince her that I was in fact the right partner for life. But all good things are worth waiting for.
Was it a romantic proposal?
Ann: I wanted a four-carat diamond ring. I’d told him that I go up a carat with all my engagement rings whenever I’m asked, which is quite a few times! I keep all the rings if they let me. Stephen proposed with a gold Cartier band in a movie theatre in Hawaii. When the kids went out to get something during the trailers, it was dark and he got down on his knee and asked me to marry him and then he got into the chair and sat down and started watching the movie as if nothing happened!
Stephen: It was The Majestic with Jim Carrey.
You renewed your vows on The Real Housewives of Toronto in an over-the-top, circus-themed ceremony, the bride in extravagant black next to her ringmaster groom. How fun!
Stephen: We do that every five years. The first one was even more over the top! Then I realized that it was a thinly veiled strategy to go up a carat every year. I think next time I’m going to have to amputate her middle finger to get the ring on! It’ll become a Game of Thrones episode.
What was it like to put your lives, both personal and professional, in such a public spotlight?
Ann: If you’re happy with who you are then you’re OK to do a reality show because it’s like looking in a mirror: sometimes we don’t look at certain parts of ourselves because we don’t want to see the flaws. But looking at yourself in a reality show is like looking at your personality. You can’t hide from it. So it’s a little bit shocking to see yourself and the different angles you wouldn’t see if you look in the mirror – you hear your voice, you look at how you treat other people and their reaction. It’s a little bit of a wake-up, a reality injection.
Stephen: I’ve been doing TV for 22 years but I always did little three-minute newsy snippets like “Here’s how we do it” or “Here are the benefits.” Beyond three minutes, I always get nervous because I can’t control the message. This was like one random flowing reality event that was unfolding as it went. It was a risky thing because you never know what’s going to happen. Twenty-two years to build a business and one reality show could ruin it! For the second season, I think I’ll just be the supportive husband and father and not try to do plastic surgery [on air]!
Ann, where do you get all your fabulous clothes?
I shop at the sales in Paris every January and June – it’s like salmon spawning! I go to cities like Capri and find unique little stores. In Toronto I’ll go to the Room or Holt Renfrew but I still look for unique pieces. Or they call me. My best finds are leather goods, like a good belt you can wear with a T-shirt. And purses, like my Jean Paul Gaultier purse made out of tin cans with fur on it. Purses have a six-month shelf life. Purses and shoes are very recognizable in what’s current and what isn’t. I give away a lot of my clothes. Consigning clothes is a pain sometimes. I’d give them to my daughter but she doesn’t like my style!
Do you have a favourite designer?
I don’t necessarily choose to wear Canadian but I will tip my hat to a Canadian designer. I’ll go to their studios and work with them and really push them to do something different. It’s not that I like to be different, but I like my own style. Where I feel I have flaws I like to hide that, and where I see something that’s better I accentuate that. I like my waist.
You’re one of the city’s power couples. What’s your advice for a happy relationship?
Stephen: We create opportunities. We do date weekends. We have dinners almost every night and share our day. That’s the best gift of all.
Ann: I always tell my children: Take the word “love” out and make sure there’s compatibility and patience and kindness and other things. To say that you’re in love can cloud things, because when you go through the tough times, that “Oh, I’m in love” can get a bit foggy.