Gail Buchalter
May 18, 1981 12:00 PM

Liona Boyd may be the world’s best female classical guitarist—some people say she is. Liona Boyd may also be one of the girlfriends of Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau—that’s possible too. But one fact is without dispute: Liona Boyd is the best and sexiest classical guitar player ever to go out with Pierre Trudeau. “I’m the official guitarist to the Canadian government,” she jokes, “but not because of my relationship with Pierre.”

In her own right, Boyd gets plenty of recognition: Two years ago she won Canada’s Juno Award as Instrumental Artist of the Year, and at 30, she has already played for West German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt, Queen Elizabeth II and Mexican President José López Portillo. Her style is so eclectic—she does everything from classical to country—that her talents have been sung by such diverse strummers as country king Chet Atkins, folk star Gordon Lightfoot and master classical guitarist Alexandre Lagoya. This year she is touring both North America and Europe, and has just completed her seventh album.

Concert notices aside, it was Boyd’s dates with Trudeau and her ready use of her blond good looks that put her in the limelight. “Pierre and I have been friends for approximately five years, as most people in Canada know,” she says. “He’s legally separated, and we like to spend time together.” She met the Trudeaus pre-separation at his country residence near Ottawa in 1975. “Pierre and Margaret both like classical music,” Liona explains. “Margaret was a very gracious host—I borrowed a bikini from her. But things were a bit shaky with them at the time.”

Six months later a Trudeau aide phoned. “The Prime Minister requests you to serenade him after dinner,” he said. “It was just the two of us,” Liona recalls, “but it wasn’t a romantic get-together, it was just music.” They have gone out often since. “Pierre is very sensitive and bright and he’s enthusiastic about music and art,” she says, adding, “I think the book Margaret wrote showed her to be very immature, but she’s changing.”

Liona is candid, if tasteful, about her own past romances, including Lightfoot and aluminum magnate Edgar Kaiser. “Gordon and I shared some romantic moments,” she says, “but with each of us on the road so much, we preferred just being friends.” Before that she had a turbulent year with Kaiser, now 72. “Edgar lives in the air,” she recalls. “I’d get calls—’I’m over Iceland now, see you in six hours.’ He’s a workaholic. I have tremendous self-discipline but I’m not obsessed by work.”

Ironically, Liona’s dating was restricted until she was 19. The oldest of three children of strict British parents, both teachers, she was born in London and moved to Toronto at 7. As a child she played the recorder, danced, wrote poetry and painted. Then at age 14 she was taken to hear the great classical guitarist Julian Bream. “I probably would have been a writer if I hadn’t gone to that concert, but I fell in love with the guitar,” says Liona. She graduated from the University of Toronto, won a national competition, became Lagoya’s only private pupil for two years in Paris and signed her first record contract as soon as she got home.

She still hasn’t quite arrived in the U.S., where some critics have been cool. (“She has no individual musical quality,” one gripes. “She has become very, very popsy.”) But without a doubt, Liona is one of the most popular classical artists in Canada’s history, and she’s done it acting as her own personal manager. “I don’t know a thing about business, I just like having control,” she says, and admits to keeping her business files in a cardboard box, but there is nothing dizzy about her: She has her own record company and music-publishing firm.

Might the First Lady of the Guitar (as one album jacket calls her) become the First Lady of Canada? “I find myself pulling back from people who want a commitment,” she said recently. “Sometimes I feel I’ll never marry, but I’d like to give it a try.” Her preferences? “I’m usually drawn to older men, someone who likes music, and I prefer that he be rich,” she says. That sounds like Trudeau, now 61. But don’t jump to conclusions. Liona is also thinking of writing her autobiography, and her working title is No Strings Attached.

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