Travelista’s unstoppable rise

With more than 200 hats in her collection, Jen Su has earned the apt title of “The Mad Hatter”. Funnily enough, she also wears the hat of TV and radio presenter, singer, emcee and actress. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with her to chat about her acting gig on Mzansi Magic’s Isibaya and what else is on the busybody’s calendar these days…

IT isn’t uncommon to bump into Jen Su. She is often at Jozi’s hot and happening events, either as a guest or covering them as a presenter.

WEARING A NEW HAT: Jen Su having some off-screen fun with co-star Tumisho Masha on Mzansi Magic's set of Isibaya. Credit: Supplied

A foreigner by birth and South African at heart, the part-Chinese, part-Thai TV and radio personality says she has had to “grow a hick skin” in the industry where she fields her fair share of criticism from detractors. But she takes it all in her stride.

Su’s diary is filled with her commitments as a TV news anchor for Business Day and the African Business News on Sky News. She also features on Gareth Cliff’s show on 5FM and contributes to SABC3. And that’s not forgetting her emcee duties at corporate events and gala dinners.

Right now, she is also flexing her acting muscles on Mzansi Magic’s Isibaya.

Su reveals: “The Bomb Shelter Productions, who produced Jacob’s Cross, asked me to try out for the role of Mai Sheng – similar to my character on that drama. My character was required to speak fluent Chinese and English.

“Mai Sheng appeared on Isibaya two months ago. I’m a Chinese businesswoman who forms a partnership with Jackson (Tumisho Masha) to acquire the tender of the Bubhesini Highway project, which I get after a key competitor is killed off.

“I have a soft spot for Jabu Zungu (Pallance Dladla) and take him for rides on my motorbike and (in my) fancy car. Meanwhile, he seduces me to steal my phone – Jabu and his stepmother Iris (Mampho Brescia) conspire to get Jackson and me in trouble with the law.

“My character starts out very friendly and playful with Jackson, but, by the end of the first season, she gets mean and quite bitter.”

This isn’t the first time Su has slipped into the shoes of a character.

She says: “My debut in South Africa was as a wedding guest at Barker and Kimberly’s wedding on SABC3’s Isidingo. Soon after I was fortunate to be cast as Chien in seasons five and six of Jacob’s Cross. I played a hard-line Chinese businesswoman who was constantly at odds with Jacob (played by Hlomla Dandala). Meanwhile, I would have this evil side flirtation with Prospero (Anthony Bishop).”

So what’s a day in the life of Jen Su like?

“Extremely hectic,” she sighs.

“For instance, yesterday (Wednesday, the day before our interview) I work up at 4.30am to get to 5FM for the Gareth Cliff morning show. Then I had fittings for SA Fashion Week, rehearsals for an emcee job, preparing for the Miss South Africa Pageant, a production meeting for the Comedy Central Roast, a telephonic meeting about presenting at the Saftas, a red carpet cocktail party, Business Day TV to anchor news…. then over to SABC1 for Sport at 10 as a guest.

“After that, it’s a mad dash home to prepare for commentary with CNN Headline News in the US for the Oscar Pistorius trial. Every day is a bit different, but equally hectic.”

As for her catching the guests on the red carpet before the Comedy Central Roast of Kenny Kunene this Thursday, she says: “ I’m really excited to have been selected as the red carpet host for the evening. I will be leading the “fashion police” in staking out our craziest celebs.

“I look forward to interacting with Kenny Kunene, British comedian Jimmy Carr, Deep Fried Man, Somizi Mhlongo, Dineo Ranaka, Khanyi Mbau, Rian van Heerden, John Vlismas, Tumi Morake, Jack Parow and PJ Powers. You can’t get any better than seeing this bunch slaughtered and roasted!”

And she manages to juggle all of this while still being a mom.

Su points out: “Time manage-ment is key. I’m fortunate that my work does bring a certain amount of flexibility, which gives me some excellent quality time with my two little boys and personal time with my partner. We do a lot of travelling together, hence my nickname, ‘Travelista’.”

Su’s certainly going places – and I’m not just talking about air miles here!

• Isibaya airs on Mzansi Magic on weekdays at 8.30pm.