Sugar and Spice and all things naace
With a new cookbook and tableware selling like Vetkoek, former shock jock Jeremy Mansfield and wife Jacqui, are on an unexpected rollercoaster ride, writes Kate Sidley
Life is unpredictable, but even so, it's unlikely that at 25 radio jock Jeremy Mansfield could have envisaged a future wherein he had his own range of tableware. A line of beer maybe. A joke book. Perhaps a bar franchise. But pretty stone-coloured plates that are selling like hot cakes in Boardmans? Not likely.
In a neat mid-career turnaround, Jeremy has found himself the envy of authors and chefs alike. His first cookbook, Zhoozsh!, co-written with his wife Jacqui, sold 60000 copies, a runaway bestseller by South African standards.
"We were flabbergasted!" Jacqui laughs. "And then they told us we'd been nominated for the Gourmand awards and we were, 'Yay! The what?'" Nothing less than the Oscars of the recipe-book world, where they won three awards and kept company with the likes of Jamie Oliver. Their second book, Zhoozsh! Faking It, is heading in the same direction.
Jeremy credits the success of the books, in part, to "a little bit of voyeurism". With its chatty tone and personal anecdotes, travel stories and photographs, the first book attracted people who wouldn't normally buy cookbooks, but were intrigued by the offer of a peek into the Mansfields' world. He says: "People like to see what other people's lives are like. I think a lot of people bought it for that and were almost surprised that the recipes were so good."
Jacqui seems to find the whole thing rather amusing, particularly as she is totally upfront about the fact that she's not a keen cook - she quite enjoys baking, but while Jeremy might spend Saturday afternoon preparing supper for friends, Jacqui is more likely to be up on the roof, fixing the gutters.
For our shoot and interview, Jeremy and Jacqui are dressed up in black chef's jackets, his emblazoned with the word "Zhoozsh", hers with "Faking it!".
"I couldn't wear a white chef's coat," Jacqui says. "It implies a certain credibility and knowledge that I don't have." But Jeremy clearly loves the kitchen. He will seek out the chef for a chat and a snoop around the kitchen wherever he finds himself, whether it's a roadside stall in Vietnam or Sol's seven-star One & Only in the Maldives.
The sense that comes through in his book is that he really enjoys food and cooking, but hey, let's not get too earnest about it. The same unpretentious attitude that won the hearts of Jeremy's listeners has made the Zhoozsh! enterprise so successful - both the book and the tableware which, according to Boardmans, is giving established brands such as Gordon Ramsay and Ciroa a run for their money.
Chris Swart, Edgars category executive manager for home living, says: "We love the fact that Jacqui and Jeremy aren't professional cooks per se. They represent an increasingly large group of people who love the theatre of cooking and entertaining, and who like to experiment in the kitchen from time to time."
As we get set for our interview and photo shoot, Jeremy's fiddling around the kitchen at Punchinello's in Montecasino's Pivot Hotel as if it were his own, frying up the onions for his Boere Briyani, chatting to the staff who are prepping the ingredients. A waitress comes over with his first beer of the day (but certainly not his last), and Jeremy compliments her on her braided hair.
As he busies himself with the food, he checks politely on the photographer - "You okay there, Wes? Is the light all right?" - and organises me a coffee. He is generous with his cooking tips, giving us his mom's secret to perfect calamari ("put the calamari rings in a colander and pour a litre of boiling water slowly over for every 100g. They're cooked, and just need to be flash-fried in a bit of garlic to give the flavour"). He's equally generous with the anecdotes, calling across to Jacqui: "Hey, Jacks, did you tell Kate that story about ..."
He's so personable, so jolly nice and effortlessly polite and considerate, that it's hard to believe this is the same man who held a record for the most complaints to the Broadcasting Complaints Commission. His sexist jokes on air drove women into a fury, yet I've seldom seen a man more obviously devoted to his wife.
"There's no one on this planet I'd rather spend time with than Jacqui," he tells me earnestly, before turning to her: "It's true, love, you're so intelligent, and so funny and just beautiful and sexy ..." You can just about hear the other women in the room thinking, "I should be so lucky ..."
As they tell the story of how they met, they butt in and finish each other's sentences. Jacqui was working at the Joburg Zoo, and she approached Jeremy to help with a fund-raising dinner. They met and worked together and were friends for years before they got emotionally involved.
"It's such a cliché, that you should marry your best friend," says Jacqui. "I used to hear that and thought it was rubbish, but in our case it's true."
So who is the real Jeremy Mansfield - the obnoxious, beer-swilling joker, or this sensitive, friendly chap who expounds on the delights of sushi vinegar and insists that the photographer and I tuck into the calamari salad he's whipped up? Was it a bad-boy persona? Or are these all aspects of a man who is a lot more complex than his radio listeners might imagine?
"You must remember that when Primedia bought the radio station it was wallpaper, the station you'd play for background music in offices. My brief was to shake things up, to blow off the conservative audience and attract the kind of listeners that attract advertisers," he says. "Over time, the Rude Awakening got less rude. But it was always honest. On radio, if you're not genuine, people can hear the insincerity, it comes through in the voice."
Even the listeners who found him brash or rude or infuriating couldn't quite bring themselves to switch stations. He's like that irritating cousin who tells the most cringeworthy jokes and turns up pissed at family gatherings and says outrageous things in front of the old folks and then riles up all the children so they won't go to bed. He drives you nuts but, somehow, you're always delighted when he rocks up.
On air, Jeremy had a real "man of the people" vibe going, and an amazing ability to come across as a mate. He explains that morning radio is the most difficult to get right. "The audience doesn't want to be there. They'd rather be in bed!" he says. "But if you are the right person, they see you as their mate, they feel they know you. And they do know me. Since 1990, when I started on 702, I've allowed them into my life."
When he was diagnosed with cancer in 2009, the outpouring of love and concern was immense. More than 75000 people joined a Facebook group to support him through his chemo. "It was humbling. People came up to me in the supermarket to say how sorry they were and sometimes they'd start crying. It was rough."
During his time on air, Mansfield was protective of his daughter Gabriella (now 19), but he now talks more openly about this "very together young lady" whom he clearly adores. "She's lived in Paris for eight years. It was a very tough choice, letting her go, and it was a difficult time, but living in France has afforded her opportunities in life that she would never have had otherwise.
"She would come out for the long holidays, at least once a year, and with Skype it's so much easier to keep in touch. The other day I was sitting in my study in Morningside talking to her on the train in France. It's helped that I have a very good relationship with her mom. She'd phone me and say: 'Gabriella's going to phone you in a few minutes and the answer is no'."
For someone so popular to give up his public position and all the attention and adoration that goes with it can't have been easy. Jeremy credits his dad with a very good piece of advice: "He said that if you've got a tough decision to make, and a few options, take the hardest option, it's generally the right one. And in this case, he was right.
"Taking myself off air was the best decision I could have made. I have not missed radio. It surprised me, to be honest. I had a really good run. It was good fun. Hugely profitable for the shareholders. We raised more money for charity than any other radio show in South Africa. I won awards. I was at the top of my game and that's when you need to get out."
What the Mansfields envisaged as a bit of quiet time with lots of travel, almost a semi-retirement, has turned into a crazy rollercoaster of book launches, talks, demos and consulting work. They do get to go out more at night and get up a bit later, and are enjoying the flexibility of being able to arrange holidays without giving an entire staff of sales and marketing people 18 months' notice. Jeremy still works for Primedia, consulting on Lead SA. He's also on CNBC with Mansfield's Money Sense.
"I've always been interested in investment and how to create wealth and in managing our own investments. I'd watch financial programmes and realise I was getting about half of it; it would get lost in the jargon. On this programme, I say to the experts: 'Okay, speak to me in English ...'"
Jeremy describes one of his best skills as "pulling people together". The profile of the Rude Awakening and of Jeremy himself enabled him to mobilise corporates and listeners to do some incredible work for charity: "I found on radio that if you give people something to do, they do it. They want to help. You've just got to make it easy for them."
Jeremy is proud of what the Rude Awakening team managed to do for charities, and honest about that fact that nothing gives him a greater buzz. He and Jacqui are still very involved in charity work, and in this new phase of his career, he's consulting to corporates on social sustainability projects, bringing together the right people to make things happen.
He is certainly well-connected - among chefs and captains of industry, media barons and housewives, sports stars and entertainers and school kids. He is modest about his relationship with Nelson Mandela, but it's known that he works on a number of projects close to Madiba's heart, including the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund, Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Centre. He's even cooked him a chicken curry, he tells us.
"Mr Mandela was always talking about the chicken curry he used to eat at Kapitan's and one day I said: 'You must taste mine'. So I cooked it and took it to his house and instead of going through the whole thing with security, I parked in the road and started walking up to the house with this big pot wrapped up in a checked dishcloth. Three BMWs came belting down the road and screeched to a halt and the head of security flew out of one of them. He saw it was me and he said, 'Jeremy, you really can't walk up to Madiba's house carrying something like that!'"
So, what's next for Mansfield? The hype around the book shows no sign of slowing down. If anything, it will increase, as opportunities pop up: the business-savvy Jeremy and Jacqui will be using it as a vehicle for corporate packages. They've been asked to do cooking demos on the Queen Mary when she sails between Cape Town and Mauritius. There's talk of extending the Zhoozsh range of tableware into cookware.
Jeremy has been asked to take up a position as a non-executive director in the UK, starting mid 2012, which will mean three months of the year there. But Gautengers needn't worry that they're about to lose their quintessential Joburg mate.
"We could never not have a place in Johannesburg," he says. "We have to get to the bush regularly, and besides, I love the Joburg vibe. But ideally I'd like to spend time in different places and have a lock-up-and-go place here. We have a place in Vancouver, which is a fantastic city. It's beautiful and has an amazing mix of cultures and great food - it's a bit like Cape Town, but with people from Joburg living in it."
YOU MUST KNOW WHEN IT'S TIME TO MOVE ON
Everyone thinks I left the Rude Awakening because of my illness. It had nothing to do with that and everything to do with timing. Lance Armstrong retired while he still had the yellow jersey on his back. I'd hate it if I heard people saying: "Jeremy Mansfield, he was good in his day ..."
IT'S GREAT TO TACKLE SOMETHING COMPLETELY NEW
People were surprised when I started presenting, Mansfield's Money Sense on CNBC Africa. I'm interested in money and investments. I watched a lot of business television and found I only understood about 50%. I saw a gap in the market for people who have money to invest but either don't get it or are too embarrassed to ask questions.
LEARN FROM YOUR PEERS WHEN YOU'RE STARTING OUT
I started working at Capital Radio in 1986 while I was still a student. What an experience, working alongside such legends as John Berks, Kevin Savage, Martin Bailie and David O'Sullivan. The best thing in those days was that you could call a Lusaka number and speak to Thabo Mbeki to get his view on something in South Africa. The ANC actually wanted us to call them in those days!
LIVE ON THE MONEY YOU HAVE AND STAY DEBT FREE
In those days I earned R600 a month, out of which I paid rent, car payments, groceries and still went out jolling - although by the end of each month I usually stayed home watching my little black-and-white TV. The point is, I was taught to stay out of debt. This is where my wife Jacqui and I have a lot in common, as we both come from similar families and mindsets. We were taught if you don't have the money, you can't buy it. You have to work hard for what you want.
BEING A 'RUDE' PRESENTER WASN'T EASY
One of the biggest challenges I've ever had was when Primedia approached me to be the morning show host after they bought Radio Highveld. We inherited what can only be called "wallpaper radio", something people put on in the background. We had to jump right in and get into people's hearts and minds. This also meant upsetting a section of their advertisers. My job was to be rude and the first 18 months was quite possibly the most difficult of my career. The media had a full go at me but I knew what I had to do. It taught me to be focused on what I want to achieve and how to achieve it.
MAKING PEOPLE SMILE ISN'T AS GOOD AS MAKING THEM HAPPY
I read the results of a survey by an American professor on what it was that made people happy. I've kept that research and found the first thing that makes me happy is making other people happy. That's why I'm working with the Lead SA initiative, using my ability to pull partners together and make things happen.
LIFE AFTER RADIO IS GOOD
A defining moment for me was when a friend called and said, "there's a cancellation on a houseboat in Kariba - do you want to come next Tuesday?" I thought, this is so cool because I didn't have to go to anyone for leave. What people don't understand about being a morning show host is your life is ruled by achieving certain goals laid out for the show. Now I can even get cheap flights.
COOKING ISN'T JUST THE WAY TO A MAN'S HEART
Bringing out our cookbook Zhoozsh! wasn't just a whim. I'd always dabbled in cooking but when I met Jacqui and started cooking vegetarian I found it a fascinating transition.
BEING NELSON MANDELA'S GRANDSON IS REALLY SPECIAL
When I heard that Naomi Campbell had been adopted by Madiba as his granddaughter, I said on air that he should also adopt me, because if he couldn't make a press conference I could stand in for him - no one else does his voice so well. The next thing I had a phone call from his daughter Zenani, who said she'd adopt me - and she did, full ceremony and all ... My favourite photo is of me and Jacqui sitting on a couch in his living room when he noticed a ring on Jacqui's finger. The moment is captured as he lifts her hand up and laughs at the fact I had finally proposed!
THERE'S ALWAYS SOMETHING STILL TO ACCOMPLISH
I'd love to do a travel show with my bar fridge - full of beer. I'd take it around our magnificent country talking to locals in bars - what a jol that would be.
- Marion Scher