TELEVISION’S NEW ‘POWER GIRLS’
By Pamela Echemunor
At a time when the future of Nigeria seems bleak and uncertain, women find themselves at a pivotal stage in life; women have to make a choice between leaning on a man for support or making an effort to do something worthwhile and to prove that women are and can be noteworthy individuals. With the social media and television being addictive and corrupting young minds in our country, it is up to women to work towards bringing positive and educative programmes to youths all around the world.
Four young presenters/producers: Tallulah Doherty, Taje Prest, Idia Aisien and Mimi Onalaja, in a bid to impact television viewership, are not only touching lives with the quality of programmes they work on but also with their entrepreneurial skills. They are the new generation of television’s ‘power girls’. In this interview with Allure, they speak on career and life on Glam Lane.
MIMI ONALAJA: FROM THE RED CARPET TO BOSS WOMAN
“I must have rehearsed my Oscar acceptance speech in my head a thousand times! In the early days though, they were just that – dreams”.
Modesty is exemplified in the form of Mimi Onalaja who has a spirit far above her age. This presenter is not just a presenter but also a former student of the prestigious New York Film Academy. One of her dreams is to, one day, win an Oscar among other things and she will stop at nothing to get it. In this interview, she talks about career, dreams and the future.
What was growing up like for you?
Growing up, for me, was nice and simple. I have such fond memories of the long drives to school every day, week day dinners with some of my family, being heavily involved in activities at church (dance, drama, emceeing… I did it all!) and so much more. My mum was (and still is) extra supportive of my interests outside traditional school work and was a major push/support in helping me explore them all. Those were happy times and I genuinely had not a care in the world!
Was presenting always your calling?
I can’t say that I knew presenting was my calling from the get-go but as far back as I can remember, I had always dreamt of a life that was glamorous. I’d watch certain movies, observe TV stars or look at red carpet pictures and place myself right there in the midst of it all. I must have rehearsed my Oscar acceptance speech in my head a thousand times! In the early days, though, they were just that – dreams. Thankfully, I got older and started to realise that it could all be a reality. NYSC and a short stint in human resources consulting after, I decided to go for my dreams in pursuit of happiness and the rest is history.
What challenges did you face when you first started presenting?
I, honestly, didn’t face any major challenges starting out. I was lucky enough to get connected with Mo Abudu who took a chance on me when she didn’t have to and gave me my first break. After that, it was all pretty seamless and, I’m super thankful for that.
Do you have any shows you produce already or plan to in the nearest future?
I currently host the show, VVIP Events, on Ebonylife TV (with Tallulah and Tosin, two other amazing hosts) but it’s completely produced by the channel. I have plans to put out some original content that’s entertaining and true to whom I am soon and once I do, you’ll be the first to know!
How is the Nollywood scene treating you?
The Nollywood scene hasn’t embraced me yet regarding acting but I plan to change that. I’m working towards featuring in a few productions soon and we’ll see where that journey takes me from there.
What is the one thing that you think makes you stand out from other presenters?
I observe my colleagues and realise that we’re all so different and unique yet so good at what we do. It’s such a beautiful thing to see. I’ve been told continually that I’m very approachable with strong ‘girl-next-door’ vibes which endear people to me. When I’m working, I always make sure to smile (a little too much sometimes) and completely relax as my ultimate aim is to inspire happiness in whoever’s watching. I guess, all these are my distinguishing factors.
Do you have any red carpet rituals?
Not exactly. I only always make sure to get to my make-up artist, Jane Ogu, at least three hours before I have to be on the carpet. I hate to rush and make sure to avoid it.
Who are your top three favourite brands?
This is such a hard one because there are so many amazing Nigerian brands today but Fab-lane by Derin for sure, LDA and Maju. There’re so much more that make my list of faves though!
What projects are you working on at the moment?
Besides building on what I do with VVIP Events, I have a few personal projects I would like to initiate but it’s too soon to mention.
Do you ever get nervous when presenting and how do you beat it?
Oh, I certainly do! I don’t get as nervous presenting these days as I did in the beginning but if it’s a new show or screen test, I still feel those initial jitters. Thankfully, my first few words seem to do the trick and, I find myself completely relaxed after.
Name three things you can’t live without?
My phone, lip balm and beautiful clothes!
What is your beauty regimen like?
Nothing fancy; I only make sure to wash my face twice a day and moisturise with SPF inclusive lotion. I might need to step up my routine though. I know I can do and get much better results.
You attended the New York Film Academy. What was the experience like and what was your major?
Oh, it was amazing! Living and commuting in the city was always an experience with different highlights every day. I did the 8-week Acting for Film programme. It was helpful approaching acting from both theoretical and practical perspectives. I also made some good friends/connections while there. Overall, it was an experience worth my while.
Do you have any film projects we should be looking forward to seeing soon?
I have some potential projects lined up and crossing my fingers. They all come to fruition soon.
What inspired you to go into acting?
It’s just something I’ve always wanted to explore. I was an active part of the drama club back in secondary school and since then, I’ve been intrigued by the idea of inhabiting different roles and situations that I might otherwise never experience.
What’s next for you?
A lot is coming. I’ll be putting a lot more structure into my brand and actively chasing opportunities I believe will be good for me. Expect a show soon, a website with exciting personal style and content, acting roles and generally, me being me!
How has being in the spotlight changed your life?
It hasn’t changed much, to be honest. There’re a few more people saying ‘hi’ to me than usual and a few more offers of free clothing too. I love that part! It’s all been an amazing journey so far and every day I’m super thankful for how far I’ve come. I’m excited about the future.
IDIA AISIEN: COMBINING TV AND PHILANTHROPY
“I’ve never been the typical stick-thin girl so, it was very hard to aspire to a body type that just wasn’t natural for me. I’ve had to build my value by working twice as hard on my body and my brand.”
They say if you have a dream, follow it through and don’t stop believing. Idia Aisien had a dream to be an international model when she was 15 years old and she worked towards that dream and achieved it. Today, not only is she a renowned producer/presenter, she is also a well respected and well-travelled model who has walked the runway for some of the biggest fashion brands in the world. In this interview, she talks about growing up, her experience breaking even and what’s next for her.
What was growing up like for you, especially being the baby of the house?
I was the last of 12 children so, I grew up very spoiled and in a family of so much love and laughter. It was also a full house but from my industrious parents, I quickly learned that I needed to be hard working and independent.
Who are you closer to between your parents?
I’m close to both my parents in different ways. My father has always been a hero figure; I would always run to him for advice about everything. I’m very similar to my mother and I got my more spiritual, compassionate and philanthropic traits from her.
Did your family ever have any reservations about your career choice?
Initially, nobody could understand why I wanted to model or work in fashion because of my corporate background. Like most families, they just wanted to see me do well and I think seeing me work extremely hard in both fashion and television won them over.
What challenges did you face before getting your big break?
Everybody said ‘no’. God said ‘yes’
Was it difficult settling back in the country after schooling abroad?
Well, after schooling and working abroad for a long time, everyone goes through that huge career and lifestyle shift.
Was modelling always your first choice career-wise?
Absolutely, but I don’t think it was a career choice. It was a dream that I wanted from the age of 15 but it was also something I didn’t know how to make it happen. I always imagined working on TV as well so it’s funny how both goals are intertwined now.
As a model, what is the most difficult thing you have been asked to do?
I’ve never been the typical stick-thin girl so it was very hard to aspire to a body type that just wasn’t natural for me. I’ve had to build my values by working twice as hard on my body and my brand. Now, with my TV jobs and my following, I’ve been able to make people pay attention.
Will you ever go nude?
For Calvin Klein, why not
Tell us about your shows at Spice TV?
I have two shows on Spice TV. “You Got Issues (YGI)” deals with love, relationships, abuse and career issues that we have experts come on the show to help talk through. While “Style 101” is the largest show on the channel and it’s a Nigerian version of “Fashion Police”.
You still model on an international scale. How do you manage to shuffle between work at home and abroad?
That has honestly been the most fulfilling part of my job because I love travelling and I have always travelled but now I get to infuse my work and vacations. It’s never a typical lie-around-and-do-nothing trip for me.
What was the transition like from modelling to TV host?
Even though TV presenting is very hard, I had an edge because I’ve been in front of the camera a lot for photo shoots. It’s also similar to modelling because you learn to work and deal with so many different personalities on different sets.
Are you working on any projects at the moment?
Yes. A commercial I just shot in Dubai will be released at the end of this month; the International Development in Africa Foundation is set to launch and I have a product dropping soon on the market.
Where is your dream country?
I’ve lived in New York, USA, but I would do it again or move to Paris, France.
If given a choice to live abroad and not return home, would you take it?
I couldn’t live anywhere without travelling so, probably not. I’ve had that option a million times and I think I need to be home in Nigeria right now to establish myself.
You’re a philanthropist like your parents. Can you tell us about any of your passion projects?
Since working at the UN, I’ve worked with a lot of groups and individuals that are focused on fighting poverty, children and education. I’ve started my foundation which tackles these same causes and we’re now in the partnership and hiring phase.
What is your beauty regimen?
Sadly, I never sleep enough but I still stick to drinking a lot of water, green tea and lots of exercise like running, yoga and dancing.
TAJE PREST: THE GLAMOUR QUEEN
“Truth is, I’ve always wanted to move back home; I’ve always known that the Nigerian youth is the future of our nation.”
Spirited, vivacious and an all-round glam queen, Taje Prest is taking on the world! This outstanding glam queen is ready for anything you throw her way as she travels the world with her friends and co-hosts in their reality TV show. Taje is a presenter, entrepreneur and inspiration to curvy girls everywhere. On returning home, she was criticised for her size but like the free spirit that she is, she refused to be depressed. Today, Taje has made a name for herself as not only a face on television but also as a businesswoman in the making. In this interview, she talks about the challenges she faces as an entrepreneur in Nigeria, her career as a presenter/producer and what she has lined up next
What was growing up like for you?
I grew up in a blessed home; didn’t want for much. My parents were generous. I can say now, looking back, that growing up was somewhat of an adventure; we moved around a lot! Whenever my father had a new business deal, we moved with him. It affected my education immensely because I would always have to move one or two classes back due to the different education systems in different countries. It was frustrating but that is what has made me so adventurous. As with each new country came new cultures, versatile range of people and new things to learn. Growing up in different countries, definitely, made me a better person
Did you always want to be a presenter?
No. I didn’t always want to be a presenter. Growing up, I wanted to be a lawyer. I used to dream of myself in suits, Louboutin shoes and my briefcase (laughs) but after studying it at university, I moved to Nigeria and realised I just loved talking a lot and wanted just to talk to people and educate them any way possible. I had always loved presenting – radio and the works at university but back then, I didn’t know you could earn a living doing it. The day I realised it could happen, my entire life changed!
Who is your mentor in the world of showbiz?
Oprah, Ellen and Wendy; they’re such hard working women doing amazing things in showbiz. They have great shows sitting on a worldwide scale. Oprah has worked so hard, she’s at the point where she’s just relaxing, living life and enjoying her hard work. That’s the goal. The difference is (that) I want a family too.
Was it hard moving back home after many years overseas?
The truth is, I’ve always wanted to move back home. I’ve always known that the Nigerian youth is the future of our nation and the only way our nation will upgrade; it’s always been in my plan to move back home at some point. The thing is I didn’t think it would be as challenging as it has been. I’m very big on finding doors on my own and creating opportunities for myself so, probably, that’s why it’s been challenging. I’m not one of the ‘lucky’ girls that got millions of cash handed to them to start a business, to build an empire. It would have been nice but I think it may have made me lazy if my parents did that. I am just grateful for the opportunities in my life and the path that God ordained for me.
My parents have always been supportive. Moving back to Nigeria was challenging. In the first year, I was constantly feeling discouraged but my parents, my mum especially, would always let me know that I was stronger than that. She would say, “If Tajé can’t do it, no one can”. Shout out to my mother and my queen!
If you could be anything else what would it be?
You never know what the future holds. I feel like God didn’t give me this gift to sit on it. Then again, maybe I’ll just use it to sing to kids. (Laughs)
Apart from being a media personality, you are also an entrepreneur. Tell us a bit about your footwear line and other business ventures.
I’m on quite a few shows, the joys of media. You can do as much as you can handle. I’m The Wedding Guest. My job is to showcase your love and the love your family and friends have for you and your husband to the world or just well wishes, whichever you prefer. We’ve covered more private weddings than public weddings because people understand we show the fun, excitement and love the couple share.
I could go on about being The Wedding Guest but facts will always remain; if I’m covering your wedding, know that I love what I’m doing and will always do my best to make sure your wedding looks amazing! Another show I’m on is a reality show ‘Here and Now: the Adventures of TASA’, with three of my closest friends.
It shows us exploring different countries; you get to share our experiences and see each country through our eyes. A few other projects I’m involved in are coming out soon. God is on my side!
My shoe brand is an empire in the making. Fashion has always been my thing; from school days, I’ve always been that friend everyone comes to for final advice on an outfit, look etc. So, going into the fashion industry has always been the plan. I just decided to start with the footwear line because I created something out of old shoes, boxes, scissors and glue and it became a hit with so many people asking me to make for them. And, they were willing to pay so, I decided to make for people but I knew it had to be quality and be interesting enough to showcase my personality.
For example, this first collection of slides are velvet (sophisticated). They’re hand-stitched with a touch of love and hard work and they aren’t overly neat and not identical; they’re a perfect depiction of what I wanted my first step into the fashion industry to be.
This shoe line has taught me so much patience; it’s insane. I can’t even begin to explain; from my staff trying to frustrate me to customers that just want to be difficult for no reason. I’m super grateful to God for the success of my footwear brand. I didn’t think it would grow so quickly over such a short space of time. A lot is lined up for the next couple of months for the Taje brand. I’m just excited for God to continue to show himself in my business ventures; just keep your eyes peeled to the Taje show. (Laughs)
What life motto do you live by?
Whatever will be will always be… Que sera sera!!!.
Who is your mentor in the entertainment industry?
Beyoncé; in my head, we’re best friends. I respect that woman’s drive and strength. We don’t even know half of the challenges she goes through but she stays strong and remains an inspiration for young females like me.
What is the one thing you would want to change about Nigeria if you were given a chance?
Our power supply/light situation. I believe light is a fundamental problem in our country. It is the reason our economic growth is so slow. So many businesses can’t happen because there is no constant power and they can’t survive by relying on generators as their primary power source. If I could change anything about Nigeria, it would certainly be that; we have the natural resources. That isn’t our problem; the power supply is an avenue for greed to prevail. I’m going to stop here before this becomes an interview about Nigeria’s power supply.
How would you describe your style?
My style is vivacious, sophisticated, confident, clean and sexy but very much based on my mood.
Tell us about the shows you present and produce.
I present and produce “The Wedding Guest with Tajé”. I also co-produce “Here and Now”. They are shows I enjoy doing. Although it does get stressful, it’s always so fulfilling when things come together after a hard day’s work.
What is the one thing you can’t go without?
My phone; it has everything – my Bible, My Daily Bread, my contacts, my ideas, plans and my work in general.
How do you handle comments about your weight?
Comments about my weight are dusted off my shoulder like breeze blown in a field (laughs). At the end of the day, I’m not the delusional type that doesn’t know she’s big. I’m aware that I’m plus-sized. Instead of making it my only identity, I accepted it as what it is and use it to my advantage – modeling for brands that understand that plus-sized people also want to be stylish and just living my life as healthy as I can; eating veggies and exercising.
What advice would you give to women who are constantly scrutinised for their weight?
Live your best life; try to be as healthy as you can be and if you know you’re truly doing what’s good for your health, then, ignore the haters.
What projects do you have in the works at the moment?
(Laughs) I can’t say just yet; just know that there are a few shows in the works – coming out before the year runs out. And, fashion bombs about to drop.
Is there any special person in your life at the moment?
(Laughs) Yes! He’s an amazing man! That’s all you’re getting from me.
What is your beauty regimen?
Nothing! People never believe me when I say I don’t have a beauty regimen. I’m the worst. I sleep with my make-up on, don’t wash my face with any special soap or even use any special cream. I can tell you I do drink a tonne of water; water and I are best friends. It’s my all-time favourite beverage. My parents have great skin also; not a single spot on either of their faces. I use sunscreen; the higher the protection, the better. That’s all; nothing out of the ordinary. I’m just blessed, I guess. (laughs)
TALLULAH DOHERTY: PRESENTER AND ENTREPRENEUR
“My biggest dream, when I was younger, was to be a private detective, TV presenter/journalist or a writer. So, I’m happy to say one of my dreams came true!”
Tallulah Doherty, aka Tolu, is an affable producer/presenter with an aura like no other. This young woman began her journey into the limelight when she first got into media practice in the United Kingdom as a journalist and reporter. As a young girl, she wanted to be in front of the camera and lady luck shined on her when she returned to Nigeria and started work with Spice TV. From there, she moved to Ebonylife TV where she now hosts and produces her shows. In this interview, she shares insights on how she started and how to build a successful brand.
Tell us about your growing up.
Growing up, I was always very curious. I was that child that was always asking questions. Also, I loved sitting with my mum and aunties because I could pretend I was reading comics while listening to their gist. I was so nosy!
What was your biggest dream and aspiration as a young girl?
My biggest dream, when I was younger, was to be a private detective, TV presenter/journalist or a writer. So, I’m happy to say one of my dreams come true!
What has it been like since you joined Moments?
It’s been a whirlwind of emotions! When I first found out I’d gotten the job, I was overwhelmed. Though I’d already worked at Ebonylife TV for a few years and had hosted “Wardrobe Diaries” and still co-host “VVIP Events”, I knew (that) joining Moments was a huge step for me. I can’t go on enough about how amazing it has been! The entire Moments team is like one big family and everyone has been so helpful and supportive. It’s been an adjustment for me becoming so recognisable. People now stop me on the street and they want to know all about the-behind-the-scenes of the show and if there’s any gist which always makes me laugh! I’m always happy to tell them that the only gist is that we all love our jobs!
Did you always want to present?
Yes, I always wanted to present. When I was younger, I thought I also wanted to act; to the extent that I enrolled in stage school. This was at the age of 13. I requested the forms, filled them out and when they gave me a date to go to the school to audition, my mother was baffled as it was the first time she heard about it. But I’m lucky that my mother was so supportive and always believed in me and my dreams 100 per cent. She would always say, “Reach for the moon; if you don’t succeed, you’ll at least land on the stars.”
What is the biggest challenge you face when you’re presenting?
To be honest, presenting comes naturally for me but if I’m interviewing someone I’m a fan of, I get nervous! A few years ago, I got to interview CNN’s Aisha Sesay when she came to Nigeria to cover the abduction of the Chibok Girls and I was so star-struck! I was speaking fast and just couldn’t believe I was meeting one of my journalistic heroes.
How would you describe your style?
My style is put together yet relaxed. I like to transition from day to night easily just by changing into a pair of heels so, I rarely dress very casually unless I’m going to the beach or gym. I wear a lot of midi-dresses and skirts, flared trousers, and I love to play around with bold colours. Because I’m petite, I get all my clothes tailored so they fit perfectly. The red carpet is where I get to experiment with my look; that’s why when I’m presenting VVIP Events, I tend to get excited because I’m getting to try on outfits I’d otherwise never get to wear as my fashion sense is more classic.
You own your own business as well. Tell us a bit about it.
My business is called “Wow Nails”. It’s a chain of nail salons. It’s been running for a few years now. It started off as a side hustle and has now grown into a thriving business of its own. I love interacting with customers and getting to keep up with all the trends in the beauty world.
What motto do you live by?
‘Go where you’re celebrated, not tolerated’. This applies to most things in life. I think, it’s important to surround yourself with people who uplift and inspire you; not those who drain your energy.
Who is/are your mentors?
My mother was my first-ever mentor. She taught me that a woman can be strong and successful yet compassionate, kind and humble. I don’t have an official “mentor” but I look up to Aunty Mo (Mo Abudu, CEO of Ebonylife TV) and the way she’s constantly changing and reinventing herself to stay on top of her game. I love strong women who can juggle their career, home and family life so anyone who is excelling at that is a mentor of sorts to me. I read a lot too! I love Oprah, Joyce Meyer, Tony Robbins, Chimamanda Adichie, Zadie Smith, Shonda Rimes and many other authors who have probably mentored me at one time or another without their knowledge.
What is your beauty regimen?
I like to keep my beauty regimen very simple. In the morning, I wash my face with a gentle cleanser then, I use a serum – either from Clinique or Lancome. Then, I use a moisturiser from the brands – Simple or Aveeno. I finish off with a sunscreen. At night, I take my make-up off by washing my face with cleansing oil then, I use a thicker night time moisturiser or serum. Serums are what I invest in the most, regarding my skin care regimen as they have higher concentration of active ingredients and can penetrate deeper into the skin.
What projects do you have in the works?
Right now, I’m a co-host on “Moments” and VVIP Events, both on Ebonylife TV. I also have my own Youtube Channel “Tallulah Glossy” where I blog on motivational topics such as not settling for second best in life and trusting your intuition. I have a podcast called “Thinkers Tea” on Sound Cloud where I interview inspiring entrepreneurs and creative people who are breaking boundaries in the business world.
What are three things you can’t go without?
My iPhone, my car and my mint tea!
What is a typical day in your life?
Being a TV presenter and entrepreneur means there is no real typical day. But if I’m filming in the studio, my day starts as early as 8 am. I get into the office, do hair and make-up. Then, start filming which takes up most of the day. If I’m having more of an entrepreneur day, I’m usually on-the-go, meeting with suppliers, checking up on my staff at all of my branches or brain storming on ways to evolve the business.
How has your life changed since stepping into the limelight?
I’ve been able to meet and interact with people from different industries which has given me a broader world view. Regarding my life changing, I think it has become more exciting but my friends and family keep me grounded.
What is beauty to you?
To me, beauty is confidence. It’s the way you carry yourself, it owns all aspects of who you are – your flaws and imperfections as well as the things that you love about yourself.
What has been the most challenging aspect of your career?
Great question! I think, it’s been staying true to my core beliefs. I’ve had situations where I was asked to change aspects of myself; things like being told I need to change my accent or my core beliefs being challenged. But I was raised by an extremely strong mother who always taught me that who I am is excellent and beautiful so, I’ve always been able to rise above such situations. The bit of advice that also really helped is: “Go where you’re celebrated, not where you’re tolerated.” I couldn’t agree more!
Tell us about your career as a TV presenter?
Many people don’t know this but I started my career as a television news journalist in the UK. I was both a reporter and a producer for a regional TV station in the West of England. That’s where I got my training and it was fantastic. I got trained in all aspects of TV presenting; from how to write a script to going out on location and even down to editing video.
When I moved to Nigeria, the first TV station I worked for was Spice TV. From there, I moved to Ebonylife TV. It’s been a very fulfilling career and I thank God every day for the opportunity to do a job that I love!
What are some things one needs to know to make it as a TV presenter?
The most important thing, I think, is to realise that it is a job and treat it as such. So, it’s important to be disciplined and professional. Also, often you’re working with a crew that consists of a cameraperson, producer, sound, etc. So, being able to work effectively in a team is also something to consider. Be yourself; don’t be afraid to show your real personality because that is what will make you unique and stand out.