In which I meet my favourite South African star, accidentally insult her and get to speak to the person behind the celebrity.
There are few things quite as thrilling as meeting your idol, and Suzelle DIY, the hilarious, crafty DIY doyenne of South African YouTube, is certainly mine. With the merging of humour, crafty tutorials and South African flavour I was doomed to fanhood the second her videos hit the internet. And one of the major perks of my job at Your Family magazine is getting to meet people like her, and interviewing her was thrilling.
Suzelle, fortunately, or unfortunately, is not a real person. The person behind the personality is Julia Anastasopoulos.
While waiting for Suzelle/ Julia to come back from a brief lunch break between interviews, I chatted with her fiance and manager Ari about the success of the series. ‘We wanted to do it as something fun apart from our work, something creative,’ Ari told me, resting an Apple Mac on his lap between typing furiously, and discussing a possible Kulula advert with the team. ‘We thought our best video was the pet hair for cats and dogs,’ Ari said with a shake of his head, ‘but it’s the braai pie that really blew up. We had about 500 likes on Facebook, then this video got picked up, went viral and our popularity rocketed from there.’
The Suzelle/ Julia confusion set in when I met her – with a big smile, but slightly exhausted eyes, she introduced herself as ‘Julia [slightly regal English accent], and Suzelle [she flips to the classic “Suzelle” Afrikaans accent]’. I was firmly instructed in the email with the book publisher to interview the character only, and not the person behind her. I panicked and felt momentarily like a deer in the headlights; unsure how to respond.
After the interview, Julia unclipped her oversized gold earrings with a tilt of her head and a dull snap. Her clear English accent was a bit of a surprise after our interview and listening to hundreds of minutes of her distinct Afrikaans voice, but despite the exhausting rigours of a cross-country book tour (she had a TV interview at 10pm that evening), she kept a smile on and was relentlessly friendly and chatty.
The sharp spike of fame must have taken them by surprise, I commented. ‘Sometimes people recognise me at Gardens Center,’ said Julia, naming a small, popular shopping center in Cape Town, ‘and I can see they’re thinking “should I, shouldn’t I” [approach me].’ However, at her book launch at I Love Books in Melville, her fame was palpable. The shop was bulging and noisily hot with people anxiously awaiting the star’s arrival, and surprisingly (for me) many young girls dressed up with Suzelle’s distinctive look. The cheering was deafening when she clipped down in her heels and distinctive cerise smile, belted dress and large bun.
Suzelle grew out of a character Julia and Ari were developing in a screen play. They loved her crazy quirkiness too much to leave the character, dry and quiet, between the pages of a script, and decided to have a little fun with her. I asked if it was hard to ‘put on’ the character, to which she said no, ‘There’s a wall between me and Suzelle.’