The Fab Four
When you have a brand-new, hard-hitting talk show anchored by four big names in the South African television industry, then you can be guaranteed of interesting viewing and some hot topics. Throw in the fact that these ladies know each other really well and have been friends for years and you’ve got the recipe for no-holds-barred action… with No Reservations
INTERVIEWS JULIA HOUSDON PHOTOS ANGIE LÀZARO STYLIST MARJORIE ARNOLD
STYLIST’S ASSISTANT RIAAN HULLEY MAKE-UP VICKIE OOSTHUIZEN AND KHOSI MTHEMBU
SET DESIGN AND LOCATION DAVID MUIRHEAD
No Reservations is SABC3’s new talk show anchored by four dynamic ladies who don’t hold back when it comes to voicing their opinions. Airing at 8pm on Wednesday evenings, Basetsana Kumalo and Carol Bouwer, partnered with Michelle Garforth-Venter and Katie Mohamed, create the powerful, glamorous team behind this chatty and honest show. All four (along with guest presenter Jen Sue) are established personalities with respected opinions. The all-woman cast have been friends for years, and this bond results in an easy and natural flow of conversation and energy, creating the sort of relaxed ‘at-ease’ nature between them that is something most talk-show producers struggle for years to achieve. The attractive, inspirational and sexy quartet will get you thinking about real-life issues in an in-depth and educational way. But now it’s time to put them on the spot and find out what makes them tick!
1. How has winning Miss South Africa helped form the person you are today?
Winning was a great platform for me because it allowed me to meet interesting and wonderful human beings, people who to a large extent have influenced my journey in life, like Patience Stevens. Winning Miss South Africa was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that defined and destined me to this chapter of my life. The title presented me with numerous opportunities.
2. Your face has graced the covers of many magazines and represented countless brands. How do you feel about being a role model and what responsibilities does it involve?
To be very honest, I endeavour to live by my own rules, with integrity, authenticity, honesty, courage and passion. I’m walking my own path and fulfilling my own destiny. We all have to write our own chapter and I hope that my simple journey has inspired some people. I just live my truth and if that serves as a source of inspiration then that is very rewarding. I try to be myself at all times and if that motivates people to do the same then that’s a life well lived.
3. To what do you attribute your success both in business and your personal life?
I put this down largely to determination, to being courageous and passionate about what I do. I try never to take anything for granted and always count my blessings, but also to understanding my role in this hour. Because of the generation I come from which was somewhat termed a lost generation by the system of the past, by apartheid, I became a rebel with a cause that was determined to succeed against all odds and despite the difficulties I was born into. I wanted to create a different legacy for the girl child of the township. I was born and bred in Soweto and with that I had inherited this responsibility, to dispel the notion for black women in particular, that we were not destined to succeed. If I can get it right then other people can get it right as well… and then we can start to see real change. Courage is a real agent for change!
4. What has been the highlight of your career?
Presenting and working on Top Billing with Patience had been a great education. University teaches you theory but to have lived in practical terms of traveling and seeing the world allows you a good sense of appreciation of who you are and how you fit into this world. The opportunity’s you have and the privilege I have enjoyed thanks to working on Top Billing have been amazing. Nobody can understand what that opportunity has truly meant to me, and how it has shaped the woman I have become today and continue to grow into.
6. How do you cope with the pressures of such a demanding industry?
It’s very difficult. You have to find a balance between work and family and it’s a constant challenge, especially as a working mom. I have to be fully present in everything I am doing, with my family and with my work. It’s prioritising and time management and not falling short as an individual. You’re no good to anybody if you try to divide yourself so thinly and don’t look after yourself as well. So truth be told, I have not mastered the art yet, if you know of anybody who has, please let them share the secret.
7. You are one of the most successful businesswomen in the country; do you think women have caught up with men in the business world?
Not by any means. We have a long way to go. Corporate South Africa is still dominated by males. The playing field is not level by any means. If you look at women in government we are getting somewhere, but it needs to be seen in the private and public sector. We’re many decades from achieving that but we should not give up the good fight and should keep trying to dispel the notion that women can’t get it right and can’t succeed. Women lead differently than men. Studies have shown that women are consensus builders, collaborators, negotiators and community builders, attributes that are imperative for effective leadership.
8. What is your secret to exuding such a glamorous image?
I’m a girl’s girl at heart; I love dressing-up and putting on make-up. My dad was the sharpest dresser in the township. Even when he had retired, he would wake-up every morning and put on a three-piece suit and Floreshem shoes and sit on his patio. He used to tell us that ‘people are attracted to those who glow’. He always told us to take one look at yourself before you walk out into the world. So growing up with him gave me an innate sense of glamour, taking personal care and attention to my appearance.
9. Why did you decide to be a part of No Reservations?
It’s an idea that we have had for a good few years. The time had come for women to have a platform where we could have meaningful conversations and learn from each other’s life journey and find answers to questions that all women have. It’s really a show whose time had come and it’s been great to see how well it is being received. We are really pushing the envelope in terms of content and topics. It’s not just for and about women, though, it’s about life, men and women! We are not presenting with a script, we are sharing our personal journey and having conversations that reflect our own everyday lives; we are allowing people into our space, giving our opinions and getting answers from experts. We also have male viewers. The men in our lives want to figure us out, what goes on in our psyche.
10. What are your aspirations for the show?
I would want to see the show literally grow beyond the first series of 13 episodes. I would like to see the show grow into a format that reflects modern South Africa. Each host brings something unique to the table. I would love to see this show talk beyond our time, like The View has done in America. As Executive Producers, myself, Patience and Carol would love to see new talent come through, bringing new energy, perspective and vision and flavour long after we have moved on.
11. How difficult is it to deal with controversial or personal issues on a national talk show?
We live in a society where people are very mindful of what they say, how they say it and to whom they say it. It’s getting to a place where we are comfortable and talk about these thing. We are all friends off screen, so it’s very natural for us to talk and share life experiences. The difference here is that there is a camera rolling as we reflect, discuss, share and open our hearts on unique experiences in this journey of life. Through our experts we offer viewers an opportunity to get answers to questions that they have always had. We hopefully provide some insight, understanding and answers to those pertinent issues of life. I believe that we are all a work in progress as human beings and we need to learn and grow from each other
1. How did you first become involved in the television industry?
I started out in educational television on Teleschool on TV1 in the days of segregated television and it's been an exciting journey spanning different roles in media, from acting on Generations, presenting on BZZZ (the 90s dating show) and Front Row on M-Net, directing and, most enjoyably, producing across the board. I also worked for three years as a continuity announcer on M-Net.
2. Of all the celebrities, statesmen and business people you’ve interviewed, who has had the greatest impact on you?
I actually think the most striking was going all the way to Prague to interview Michael Jackson for the opening of his History tour… and then having to ensure the show goes on despite him not doing interviews anymore due to being a little too scandal-ridden at the time, or whatever it was that made him suddenly unavailable to all media. We had to speak to fans, cover the sights and sounds and do whatever we could to make a compelling piece despite there being no one-on-one interview with darling Michael. What that shoot taught me was that the show only stops when you drop dead; no matter the challenges, the show must go on!
3. How important do you think image is in the television industry?
I do think it is important to make an effort when you are to be with others, whether it is on TV or at a market or a meeting. It is just respectful of others as well. What is important is that whatever the image is that you portray, it has to be at harmony with who you really are. There’s nothing worse than coming across as if you’re carrying a heavy load because you’re not at harmony with what the stylist has chosen for you. Ultimately, since No Reservations I’m just enjoying the fuss of it all because my life for the last four or five years has been about producing - a job that thankfully doesn’t require make-up, hair and fuss. I enjoy clothes and other spoils, but I am not governed by image.
4. What, in your opinion, is the most important issue in our society today?
One of the most pressing issues in South Africa today is unemployment and the fact that we are not addressing at a more urgent pace the historical imbalances that existed. We must create more jobs. We must passionately partner government in addressing this problem as it is creating an unfortunate class system in South Africa that will be just as tragic as apartheid. We must also be careful not to create a society where women are spoken of only in relation to men. We have strong role-models who have taken the hard knocks and it is incumbent upon us to rise to the challenge despite the many obstacles.
5. What is your secret to dealing with stress and its affects?
I am really not good at this - I worry constantly about everything and stress to a point of burnout. When I lived in Joburg I used to play golf and I found that time on the course quite the tonic for stress. Currently I just work myself to a stupor and then I have to disappear. I have a little shack in KL in Malaysia, and when I arrive the first thing I do is go to The Mandara Spa to enjoy a full body massage or a facial. Silent time can really slow your heartbeat and I find it therapeutic.
6. What role do you think the content of No Reservations will have in improving the way South Africans think about their country?
No Reservations was a long time coming. Bassie and I would have a conversation about it and then park it, mostly because we had taken a conscious decision to grow new talent in the industry through our work and we didn't want to be on-screen ourselves. When we finally committed to doing the show, it was someone we both respect who advised us that we should launch it ourselves and only then consider stepping aside. While talking to various potential sponsors, it became apparent that the conversation would continue only if we were part of the foursome hosting it - understandably, because this was untested territory in SA. So we relented, and I must admit it has been fun putting those shoes on again. Our content is designed to reflect conversations women have in their lounges with friends all the time. Whether it's about relationships, careers, loss, pregnancy or books - we all turn to our girlfriends in times of need, joy, sorrow or any other emotion. No Reservations is a no-holds-barred reflection of that: if you're thinking it, we believe we have permission to ask it...
7. The four of you are friends, and it is often said you shouldn't mix business with pleasure. Won't working together have a negative effect on your friendship?
I am a firm believer in the adage 'don't mix business and pleasure' and certainly that you shouldn't work with friends if you value the friendship. However, the nature of this show is such that we need to be comfortable enough to be able to go where no women who don't really know each other can go, especially in such a public platform. We are thankfully at ease enough with each other that a disagreement on screen will not mean no coffee later on in the day! It would be myopic of us to think we will always agree: it doesn't happen in real life. Our relationship is founded on mutual respect and love, so I guess the foundations of NR are solid enough for us to throw away the rule book, just this one time. What we are also doing as two local production companies is new and exciting: the industry has been plagued by so many problems that we saw this as a way we can help keep the national broadcaster afloat by inventing innovative models like this one, to self-fund and pay them for airtime until they return to fiscal health. Absa has been a great headline sponsor in this initiative and they've added more value than just money.
8. What can we look forward to in the next few shows?
That would be telling, but tune in every Wednesday at 20h00 and you won't be disappointed...
9. What message would you give to young girls trying to get into the television industry?
The first thing I would say is to enter the industry for the right reasons. Don't pursue fame and fortune, as they can be fleeting. Doing what you love and what you’re good at is far more rewarding. Once you have chosen this career, be diligent and know what you want - then pursue it wholeheartedly. The universe rewards persistence coupled with passion.
10. Where else can our viewers find you?
I am comfortably ensconced in the world of business, dabbling in various sectors from mining to construction. I am also proud of the work I do with the Amy Biehl foundation as well as my work as producer of the women's talk show Motswako on SABC2.
1. You exude a bubbliness that is infectious on television - how do you cope with the pressures of being in the public eye yet still maintain your usual cheerfulness?
I think I am naturally positive so I am myself on TV and at home. Nothing really changes. I am very down to earth, no airs and graces so that has a lot to do with it. And I think also there are so many sad things around all the time that we need to keep a positive attitude.
2. From Top Billing to travel journalism and working on shows overseas – you have certainly traveled a lot! Is there any place on earth you haven’t yet visited but would like to? And why?
I want to go to Papua New Guinea and I want to see the world’s largest butterfly – it’s the size of a dinner plate. Friends have been to see it and have said it is quite extraordinary. We tried to get there on our honeymoon and did some investigation, but were told by a few sources that it’s not a location for a honeymoon - very rough and tough.
3. During your time with Top Billing you interviewed celebrities and politicians - who was your favourite interview subject?
There are so many people I have loved interviewing. Dr Jane Goodall - she is extraordinary women, she’s written several books about conservation and extends her knowledge to food, what we put in our bodies and why. Dr Ian Player was also amazing to interview - all the older folks have so much knowledge to impart and we can learn so much from them.
4. You lived in the USA for six years and even have American citizenship - why did you decide to come back to South Africa?
South Africa is home and the exciting thing is that everything is blossoming here. We are in the springtime of our country and walking a new path with it, unlike America, which is very settled. South Africa brings out the pioneer in you.
5. You have a passion for animals and have spent a lot of time in the wild, have you had any encounters that are unforgettable?
- Swimming with tiger sharks on the east coast of South Africa.
- Having a giant octopus crawl up and hug me in my wetsuit in Alaska.
- Removing packaging off the necks of seals.
- Looking into the eyes of lions that have been saved form canned lion hunts.
- Holding penguins while they are being washed down after an oil spill in Cape Town.
- Removing shrapnel from the face of a cheetah that has been shot and was left brain-damaged.
- If there is one plea to humankind it should be to look after animals, they really need so much help.
6. You and your husband, Riaan recently took part in the reality show Love & Mortar where viewers followed your quest in building an eco home – what was this experience like and what advice would you give to those wanting to follow in your footsteps?
It was incredible because we shot it reality-style, and we were literally just being ourselves. It was a lovely way to shoot and different to presenting. It was probably the most exciting and challenging show I have done. For people trying to build their own eco–home my advice would be not to allow yourself to be over-whelmed: it is possible… all of it is doable.
7. You’ve been known to do a lot of work to highlight environmental issues – which issues do you feel need our attention?
At the moment one of hottest issue is canned animal hunting. It’s not just lion, like we often hear, it’s tigers and cheetahs and leopards and basically many species - it has to be addressed. They are our pride in our country and we are abusing them. Ultimately government has to stop this happening. If Kenya can ban all hunting, why can’t we?
8. What is the one thing we can all do to help save the environment?
Stop buying plastic bags. Take canvas and material bags. The UN last year showed that in 2009 there were 18 000 pieces of floating plastic per square km off our coastline and that is only coming from one source - our land mass.
9. How has motherhood changed you and your outlook on life?
Hugely! It is something not to be taken lightly - you have to be prepared for it. Everything is more intense and important and I think that you really re-look at who is in your life, why are they there and what function they have. You want your child to grow up in a good and positive environment.
10. Will we find any eco topics coming through on No Reservations?
Most definitely. The show title says it all. With conservation there are so many edgy topics to be discussed and I will try and get through some on the show. We have already had our green episode, but we will have a chat and see what else can be brought into future episodes.
11. Personally, what will your contribution be towards No Reservations?
We all have different personalities - I always want to get to the heart of matter and be completely relaxed about talking around difficult topics. I seem to always be the one to ask an awkward question to get a heart of the topic… and that is an important role.
1. You have a Diploma in Dress Designing… so how did you end up in the television industry?
I started off in media (radio in particular) about 12 years ago, hosting a talk show on a community radio station, and that’s where my love for media began. Working on the Sales and Marketing for SABC radio stations added another platform for this passion. Television became the next media that I wanted on my CV, so I moved to the Sales and Marketing department for the broadcaster’s TV channels.
2. How did your friendship with Bassie, Carol and Michelle come about?
Working in the media industry you start spending time with each other and you find that as much as we are from different backgrounds, we all have a common goal. This has grown as I am not only working with my mentors, but with my friends. We have a sistahood that is true and respectful of each other’s opinion.
3. No reservations is described as a chatty and honest show: with honesty in mind, what would you change about yourself if you could?
Trying to stop over-analysing situations and learning to trust a bit more.
4. How do you juggle a successful corporate career and being a loving mother at the same time?
Being women we are born to juggle! It is difficult, but my family is extremely supportive, and it helps having teenagers!
5. What are your aspirations for No Reservations?
I would love to have this show on indefinitely! It is such a great platform for us to share experiences and can make a positive difference to people’s lives.
6. What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?
Reading a book and watching old movies with awesome movie quotes.
7. Many people were surprised that you shared your lipo experience on camera in an early show of No Reservations, can we expect this sort if revealing information form you all the time?
The show is about sharing experiences and being honest! So, yes, I will have NO RESERVATIONS should the need arise.
8. If you had one message for young girls wanting to be in television, what would it be?
Persevere and be Passionate about life! They do say that ‘Life without passion is unforgivable’.
9. Are you currently designing, or is all your focus on the show at the moment?
I gave that up a while back. Fashion will always be in my blood! I still live, breathe and dress it! My focus is very much on the show, as one of the successes.
10. If you could sit down together with three people, who would they be and why?
- Benazir Bhutto, the two-time Prime Minister of Pakistan, the first women to lead an Islamic state. She focused on uplifting her people in terms of education and social equality in Pakistan. To teach the West that Muslim women are not oppressed, we can run countries and make a difference in understanding each other.
- Dr Maya Angelou – a remarkable Renaissance women who has the unique power to help her readers through the vigour and sheer beauty of her words and lyrics.
- Madiba – best summed up in his own words: ‘If there are dreams about a beautiful South Africa, there are also roads that lead to their goal. Two of these roads could be named Goodness and Forgiveness.’ He is an icon who has taught us to believe, to love and to forgive. These elements can take us through all the challenges we face.