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COVER: PEARL THUSI

#THROWBACK COVER: ‘ALL I WANTED WAS TO BE FRIENDS WITH “POPULAR” KIDS…’ – Black Pantha (POSTMODERN ISSUE 17 : 2015) | Interview by Lwazi Hadebe | Article by Alan Foley | Art Director: Lawrence Manyapelo

She’s in a designer jumpsuit wearing the last of many wig changes, dancing and singing along to a Beyonce track playing in the background. In fact, singing and dancing are probably the only forms of entertainment we have not seen from her. In her modelling career she has graced magazine covers, been on the radio, presented and acted on television – all in the period of time it takes others to merely warm up.

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It’s time for the traditional post-shoot interview and, as Beyonce fades out, Pearl becomes more subdued.  It’s almost as if you can see her go into ’work mode’.  A bit of stray hair from the black wig falls onto her face and Pearl casually flicks it aside, “Wow this was fun, guys – ‘out of the box’ fun. The styling was intense and, the best thing was, there was no client to monitor the amount of fun you’re supposed to be having.”  Cyndi Lauper introduced the phrase to the world but Pearl Thusi showed us she is living proof that Girls Just Want To Have Fun.

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You can see she just loves being in front of the camera and starts off explaining the differences between acting and modelling, “I really enjoy modelling.  I call it acting in static. You only have your eyes and your body to express the emotions – there are no words.” And then there is radio presenting where the voice is obviously the most important aspect – “and you can go to work in a t-shirt and jeans because no one can see you.”

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So which aspect of her career does she enjoy the most?  “I don’t really want to pigeon-hole myself because they are all in my personal spectrum of entertainment.  Perhaps it’s just best to call me an all-round entertainer.”  She gives a giggle and flicks that stray bang from her face again.

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But it wasn’t always laughs for Pearl Thusi growing up in KZN, a light skinned little girl in a very rural zulu community.  “I did get teased a lot by the kids in the community, even my cousins, so it was hard for me growing up.  All I wanted was to be friends with the “popular” kids – so, later on, when they were going through that phase of wanting to straighten their hair and lighten their skin, I’d do that too – just to try and fit in. How is that for irony?”

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“We all have the freedom to emulate whoever we want and have fun with it.  Some might say I was one of those women”

And ironic it certainly is.  How many times do we see black actresses or singers straightening their hair and donning blonde wigs, trying to emulate their white counterparts?  And here we have a naturally light skinned woman, proud of her zulu roots, just having fun with the concept.  “We all have the freedom to emulate whoever we want and have fun with it.  Some might say I was one of those women, because today I was wearing a blonde wig, but my natural hair didn’t go anywhere! I think you must do whatever you want but just make sure you don’t lose yourself.  Don’t become a copy.”

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I always tend to give too much of myself to the public sometimes not even realising just how many people I’m reaching

She is frank when she speaks, not afraid to let you know what it is that makes her tick. When it is pointed out to her that she divulges a lot about herself in interviews, Pearl laughs. “I always tend to give too much of myself to the public sometimes not even realising just how many people I’m reaching.  Like on radio you don’t think about how many people are listening or how many people are reading the magazine you were featured in.  And then it can get overwhelming when you are out there – in the public – and suddenly all these people think they know you and want their picture taken with you.”

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Approachable she no doubt is but Pearl seems surprisingly humble about her achievements.  She doesn’t even tell her daughter when she is going to be on TV.  “I never really tell her or even my friends.  They will more than likely find out for themselves anyway.  What I do will eventually get out there – I don’t feel the need to make any announcements about what I’m up to.  I think it’s the Christian side of me coming through – God teaches us to be humble.”

And it’s no surprise that Pearl’s daughter, Thandolwethu, looks like she will be heading in the same direction as her mom.  When she was only 8 months old, she and mom appeared in a commercial together. Been to Hyde Park lately?  It’s Thandolwethu modelling the Oscar De La Renta dress in the window at Luminance.  “I’ve never even been in an Oscar De La Renta dress”, says Pearl, “but she has!”

pearl-thusi-photographed-by-Lawrence-Manyapelo-4Before she embarked upon her acting career, Pearl always dreamed of appearing in Zone 14 and Isidingo.  “What’s yours is yours and what is not yours, won’t come your way.”  With that outlook it was surely no surprise that she ended up winning roles on both television series.

So what do you do when you achieve your goals?  Where to from there?  “Just because you win a Grammy doesn’t mean you must stop making music.  If you love what you are doing you will continue no matter how successful you become. Like Meryl Streep (Pearl’s favourite actress). Her body of work just speaks for itself and she still continues to raise the bar no matter how many awards she wins.”

“I just wish people wouldn’t derive so much joy out of our sadness.  It’s a pity they think it’s exciting to read about.”

It hasn’t always been a bed of roses for Pearl Thusi.  She has had her fair share of negative publicity.  In this celebrity obsessed world, dirty laundry is a difficult thing to hide.  “I’ve done The Real Goboza which gave me a perspective on the gossip part of things.  It’s that beast we keep feeding. The public constantly wants to know what you are up to and nothing you do will change that.

At the end of the day, it’s a give and take situation.  The media will be there to write about your successes and your endorsement deals, but they will also be there to write about your failures and your divorce or whatever.  That is just the way it works – next month they will find someone else to write about.  I’m okay with it as long as it doesn’t affect my family. But I just wish people wouldn’t derive so much joy out of our sadness.  It’s a pity they think it’s exciting to read about.”

She brushes aside the suggestion that the level of fame enjoyed by Kim Kardashian or Victoria Beckham might be a hard pill to swallow – especially when that kind of fame is usually accompanied by an insane amount of media attention.  “God doesn’t give you what you can’t handle.  He doesn’t give you something that is beyond your power.  Should it happen that I reach that point (and I pray that I do), I know I’ll be able to handle it because it will only happen when God knows I have enough strength to deal with it.”

And hearing those words it’s hard to imagine something Pearl Thusi couldn’t handle.  She’s been up since 4am doing her radio show and it’s now nearly 4pm so we’ll forgive her rushing off.  She’s back in civvies (without the wig and the jumpsuit) and every member of the crew gets a hug from the woman who calls herself The Real Black Pearl.  “That’s my twitter handle.  Others wanted the name but I got there first,” she laughs.  You snooze, you lose!  And with that, she’s gone.

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