Durban-born Ayanda Thabethe has had a stellar year.
She’s the beautiful girl in the room. She has the best hair, dress and sometimes the personality to match.
She exudes confidence and, while she wants everyone to take her picture, she also doesn’t want to come across as trying too hard to be in the papers. She’s aware that she’s the flavour of the month (or six, at least) and in that time, she will do the most that she can to make sure that the limelight lasts longer than the customary 15 minutes.
Then the ultimate It Girl rite of passage happens – Legit, the clothing retailer, comes calling, asking you to be the face of their summer campaign. And that’s when your It Girl status is verified. All of this has happened to Ayanda Thabethe. Add to that two popular TV shows, Rockville where she played stripper, Aliyah and as co-host of BET’s A-List TV show, it definitely seems that she is the talk of the town.
We spoke about being famous, her TV career, her Legit range, privacy and the pitfalls of social media.
You are regarded by many as the new It Girl. Does that title bother you?
It’s a title that while some girls may find cheesy, I don’t mind at all. It shows that I have made an impact somehow and that has always been my goal – to impact our entertainment industry and become a major player. My talent speaks for itself and without it, I doubt people would be paying attention to me or even calling me an It Girl.
There is a perception though, that being an It Girl means that you’re flavour of the month and that your time at the top will be over soon when a new girl’s star is on the rise. Does that bother you?
People are entitled to feel whatever way about a person they like. There will always be someone younger, prettier, more talented. And it’s okay. It really doesn’t diminish you as a person.The ultimate plan is longevity in the industry.
There comes a time when It Girl status is over. What then?
For me it’s always about the next step. I can’t be complacent now just because I have “made it”. I think this is when the more difficult work begins. I’m constantly working hard to improve myself as a presenter, actress and model.
What has been the highlight of your year? You had three major career developments this year.
All of it. I can’t choose one over the other because they all mean different things to me. It really has been a long journey. I feel like I’m being rewarded for my efforts.
I first came across you in 2012 when you hosted TopTV’s Top Entertainment show. How was that experience and how did it prepare you for BET A-List?
So many people don’t even know I’ve been in the game for a while now, so it’s great to hear that there is someone who has been watching. That show gave me a sense of how the industry works and how to prepare for bigger and better things. I think we all want to be on a bigger platform and for me Top Entertainment was a learning curve. It taught me so much about myself too and I don’t know if I could handle BET A-List if I hadn’t done it.
The BET A-List gig is huge – how did you react when you heard about it?
Super happy, of course. All that I had hoped for while doing Top Entertainment had come to fruition. I have a bigger platform to showcase my talent and this is really major.
49 countries across the continent watch BET A-List. It doesn’t get bigger than that. But what I’m happy about was that I proved to myself that I could do it. It’s the best feeling.
What motivated and inspired you to start your career in this industry?
It actually chose me. I was happy as a marketer. It was a paying hobby and I honestly didn’t take it seriously. Connie Ferguson approached me in 2012 to be on the first season of Rockville and I declined because it just was going to be too much admin for me. But something she said (“I see something special in you”) has stayed with me ever since and so when the time came to leave the corporate world for entertainment, I took the plunge. And no, I have no regrets.
Was acting something you really wanted to do? Seeing you on Rockville was a surprise.
I got into the show after I called Shona and Connie Ferguson and told them I was available. Four years later. (Laughs). I took a risk and it paid off. It does take guts to do that – calling up a producer and telling them you are ready for a role. So I honestly appreciate that they gave me a chance again.
The Legit campaign is always a big deal when it comes to young women in the country. It’s a sign that you have made it.
Yes! You actually nailed it because that’s what the Legit campaign is. It’s become one of those major things in the industry for us young women – it’s highly sought after and it’s a stamp that you have arrived in the industry. I wasn’t expecting it though because I don’t think I have paid my dues enough. But I guess I was good enough and I’m not complaining.
With this collection, what were you trying to go for?
Effortless elegance. My collection speaks to the different occasions they are going to attend during the summer. From the swimwear, to the casual range and the more elegant nightlife range. They’re clothes that I would wear and that’s what I love about the range. It’s an extension of who Ayanda Thabethe is. My personality is all over these clothes and I hope that women will love wearing them.
Was there a trend you wanted to explore but didn’t have a chance to?
I specifically wanted these clothes to be timeless. Trends are fleeting and I honestly don’t buy clothes to not wear them a few months later. So I went with that in mind when we were conceptualising this range. There are some trendy pieces, but they are pieces that can transcend seasons and that, for me, was key.
How important is social media to you?
It has its uses and it’s mostly a great thing, but the negative things almost always just take the fun out of it. I get as much love as I do vitriol. But you learn to pay it no mind. But last week Friday was hectic. People were insulting me because I had tweeted about Melania Trump and her nude pictures that are all over the internet from her modelling days. There’s this thing that bothers me about how it’s so easy for people to make it to the top without putting in the hard work. And now we have Melania as Flotus? Especially after Michelle Obama? Do little girls aspire to be like Melania? This is what I meant. I feel a lot of things get lost in translation on Twitter and social media. It’s not always a great thing.
How important is privacy to you?
It’s the only thing we have that truly belongs to us. That’s why I try keep everything to myself. Because what do we have if we don’t have privacy?
Was it tough not being seen as your own person, but rather as (TV presenter) Andile Ncube’s partner?
I really wish you hadn’t asked about that because it just feels like I’m not allowed to move on from my past... But that being said, I enjoy being my own person and what I bring to the industry. It’s been a tough journey. I used to do the odd jobs that many wouldn’t do. If you needed a promo girl? I was there. Model? I was available. So I paid my dues and after putting in the work and sowing, of course the season will come for reaping and this is my season. I did it my way and I’m grateful for it because it’s helped me realise just how important this is to me. The success is sweeter.