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Hot Lunch

No carbs please, I'm in training. But there's no rule against bubbly

Aspasia Karras speaks to Shashi Naidoo about getting in shape for the new season of 'Tropika Island' and helping her staff keep their heads above water during the pandemic

17 April 2022 - 00:02
Shashi Naidoo at Marble, in Rosebank, Johannesburg.
Shashi Naidoo at Marble, in Rosebank, Johannesburg.
Image: Alon Skuy

Shashi Naidoo is taking a break. I qualify that by saying she is taking a break in true Shashi Naidoo style, which means she is actually hard at work while ostensibly on a break.

The actress/entrepreneur has moved to Dubai for a year. “A while ago I moved to India and I had the same feeling. I woke up and thought I need a change, I need some excitement, and within a week I was there, and this was the same thing — in four days I was there. It’s a really great transient phase to be in. I don’t know if it will be one or two years. To be honest I have been working since I was 16. I am taking three months and taking the time to figure out what it is that I could do there.”

To be clear, she is also training hard every day to compete on the new season of the Tropika Island of Treasure reality series that is pitching celebrity winners from past seasons against each other.

“We are filming at the end of July. I was season 2's winner. Basically it’s a series of mental and physical challenges. There has to be a balance,  you can't just be the brute force person as it has evolved into more of a social competition where you eliminate the competition. So I have started going to gym properly,” she giggles.

“I am dying but for the next three months I am focusing purely on getting myself into the shape I was 12 years ago. Thankfully, unlike Survivor, we get to stay in a five-star hotel.  I like to be challenged — how often do you get to be challenged? It’s fun, I have worked with all the other contestants over the years.”

Everything is my own but this is the first time in a long time where I have this competent and amazing team, so it's as if I was running it all myself

But right now I am tucking into Marble's famous ciabatta, while Shashi is understandably being carb resistant. She is, however, taking a glass of champagne.

Marble is restauranteering on a grand scale, with it glorious view of Joburg’s leafy suburbs, and its heady promise of urbane success tempered by smooth civility.  

I order a cob salad and Shashi the chicken and we discuss her various businesses and a foundation she started with her mother. They are all called Alushi, “which is synonymous with ethics and everything important to me — my babies”.

“Everything is my own but this is the first time in a long time where I have this competent and amazing team, so it's as if I was running it all myself. I grew up in PE, my sister is a dentist. In my mom’s family I have 21 cousins and practically all of them have doctor in front of their name. I am a chiropractor but I did not practice, I did not want to follow that path. I wanted to follow my mom into business. I was miserable while I was doing community service. She said you did it, now you can follow your own path.”

The path found her running a florist as a part-time student. “I was delivering flowers to TBWA, the agency, in my dungarees and somebody asked me if I was there for the casting. I did not know what a casting was but I said sure, let me try, and that was my first booking — Edgars. And I was, wow, I won’t make this money in three months as a florist.

“But it was impossible to find an agent.  I am not a size zero and I am not 1.73m.   I am a festive size with an African heart and bum. So before the whole inclusive moment happened I thought screw this, I will start my own agency. That was 16 years ago and we were really one of the top agencies because no-one was providing for the market. Now every agency has a category that is your everyday people that is more inclusive, but at that stage there was nothing that was exciting and I loved being part of that process and that change that happened. Still to this day it is one of my proudest achievements. That started when I was in my fifth year at university.”

She says during the pandemic, when all her businesses were shut, she still had 20 staff members to pay.

“I am proud that I kept on paying all my staff.  I had to move out of my house and rented it out, I was selling jewellery. I am one person, I don’t have kids. These people had to pay school fees, rent and bonds. I actually enjoy everything so much more now, when you are forced to slow down you appreciate everything more. I am in a period of change and transition, a good space. I don’t know what the universe has in store for me.”

Her mother is her inspiration. “She has such an entrepreneurial spirit — she has a standard  7 [grade 9] but the things she has done in her life are phenomenal.  Both sets of my grandparents were farming stock. They did not send girls to school. She became a financial adviser. What is more inspiring is that as she becomes older it’s become less about herself  and all about other people. Everything she does is about others and helping. That is why I  am very entrepreneurial — I get joy in what I do. It’s what I wake up for.  Having people rely on you has driven me to do better, to do more. The steps I have taken to improve have been about them.”


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