COMING OUT OF HIDING: Former Child Star Nathalie Simard Tells of Abuse

IT WASN'T the sort of comeback a former singing sensation usually dreams of. Nathalie Simard, the Quebec child star of the '80s, had grown up with a secret - one that had been bottled up for 25 years. The cute smiles during her singing career had been a sham. Behind the scenes, she had lived a childhood hell, abused by her trusted manager Guy Cloutier - the man who had turned Simard and her brother, René, into the Donny and Marie of Quebec entertainment. Those stunning revelations, and Simard's rise to a different kind of prominence, came last week after a Quebec judge granted the former singer's request and lifted a publication ban on the case against Cloutier.

The 65-year-old disgraced entertainment czar, who managed many of the big-name stars in Quebec from the '70s to the '90s, pleaded guilty in November to abusing Simard and another victim, in Simard's case for seven years. But a 3 ½-year prison sentence didn't take away any of the pain. Simard needed to tell her story. And she also wanted Cloutier to pay. In fact, immediately after revealing her identity in connection to the case, Simard launched a $1.2-million civil suit against Cloutier and his former company (now sold to his daughter, who has denounced him) - to cover medication, treatment, lost revenue and suffering. Before the criminal charges were laid, Cloutier had already given Simard an estimated $1 million, including a farm worth $400,000.

What followed the judge's decision last week was a calculated media blitz. Simard gave an hour-long exclusive TV interview to Montreal's TVA in exchange for a $100,000 donation to a foundation for sex-assault victims she's planning to start. The TV network, owned by the media empire Quebecor Inc., came under fire from critics for the payout, because it resembles tabloid tactics common in British and U.S. celebrity journalism. "It's a business transaction," says Lois Sweet, a professor of journalistic ethics at Carleton University. "The money is maybe going to charity, but the very fact that money is changing hands means the interview has entered into a different realm from that of questions put by a journalist to someone who's in the spotlight. It's infotainment, not journalism."

The optics were further muddied by the fact that a 12-page spread appeared in Quebecor's Journal de Montréal the day after the TV special, while the media empire's publishing house, Libre Expression, is rumoured to have secured the rights to a book deal. "By giving the money away, she can maybe feel good about it," says Sweet. "But those of us concerned about the professional practice of journalism might not feel so good."

As it turned out, Simard, now a 35-year-old stay-at-home single mother, surprised even cynical critics with her poise during the TV interview. "Today, I've lifted the veil," she said. "Silence gives extraordinary protection to the delinquents and pedophiles that surround our children." Simard said that her decision to come out after a quarter-century was heavily influenced by the fact she has an 11-year-old daughter - the same age that she was when the abuse began. "My daughter awoke many things in me," she said. "To see her little child's body, to see her getting out of the bath and imagine all the words and acts forced on me. She's so small. And I was so small."

Except for a few stints on Quebec TV and a part in a 2002 film, Station Nord, Simard has remained almost completely out of the public eye since her career fizzled out in the late '80s. In fact, it's been more than 10 years since she's made big headlines. The last time, in 1994, she and a boyfriend (they later married) pleaded guilty to attempted insurance fraud and mischief. Simard was fined $2,000, after it was discovered that the couple had staged a break-in at their condo for more than $55,000 in insurance money. Last week brought another provocative return to the spotlight - one that revealed how much she has suffered.

Maclean's June 6, 2005