Michelle Dede: Ambitious and compassionate
Everyone knows her. With a name that is synonymous with Television, Entertainment and Fashion, Michelle Dede is a multilingual host, actor, event MC, brand ambassador and producer. With a career spanning a decade, and a repertoire of massive projects like Big Brother Nigeria, Desperate Housewives Africa, and Flower Girl to her credit, she’s become one of Africa’s most bankable showbiz personalities. But the road hasn’t always been easy or paved with gold. In this inspiring interview, Michelle gives insight into the process and the journey, the moments of joy, the challenges and why it’s important to stay focused and prepare for opportunities. Be inspired!
You are a woman of many parts. In your own words, how would you describe Michelle Dede?
I would describe myself as fiercely loyal, ambitious, compassionate, stubborn and a woman who doesn’t believe in giving up, which is why I sign my motivational posts on Instagram as Michelle ‘Perseverance’ Dede.
Did you always want to be a showbizpreneur; and how did your journey into the industry begin?
Oddly enough the entertainment industry wasn’t where I wanted to be, for years I dreamt of being an athlete first, then a diplomat like my father, later in my mid to late teens, I fell in love with fashion. I lived and breathed fashion and always said at the time that Vogue was like my bible. After some convincing, my father allowed me to study fashion design and marketing in University as my dream was to become a renowned Nigerian designer. A holiday in Nigeria in 2006 is what changed everything and led me into the world of television in front of the camera.
A chance meeting with Dele Fadahunsi and Adebola Williams in Lagos, while they were producing the TV show Nigeria International, and a series of events led me to an audition for Big Brother Nigeria. I went for the audition and in my excitement and inexperience was shouting into the mic, bouncing up and down as I am naturally hyperactive. Lol! After a second audition I got the job as co-host, to my sheer amazement given my lack of experience. It was and still is the best experience I’ve had as a TV Host. I learnt so much working with the entire team and especially Anton Burggraff (production manager) who saw something in me, encouraged and taught me on the job, to be the TV Host I am today. I’m forever grateful to him, MNet, Endemol South Africa and Storm Nigeria for choosing the novice, hyper, twenty something year old I was at the time and giving me my big break as a TV host. I may never have become a TV presenter if it wasn’t for them.
Wow! 10 years later; what are some of the lessons you’ve learned in your over 10-year journey?
It’s definitely been an eye opening journey! I started in 2006, then stopped and didn’t do anything in entertainment again till 2009 as I had doubts, so technically it’s eight and a half years this year. I had doubts that it was a fluke, doubts that I couldn’t make a career of it because I didn’t intentionally go into the industry knowing what I wanted. I spent two years back in the UK trying to figure out if I was happy in marketing and realised I was happier talking into a microphone. I’ve learnt that when God leads you to an opportunity, despite your doubts and fears you have to say ‘Yes I will try something new’. I’ve learnt that despite the rejection, as there were many jobs I auditioned for and didn’t get, I still have to keep trying. I’ve learnt that every rejection is a lesson and not a failure, but instead an opportunity to improve upon the skills that I already have. I’ve also learnt that when you keep pushing for certain jobs and they don’t materialise, you have to:
A. Create your own opportunities
B. Try something different which in my case was acting.
C. Never ever give up.
You’re a TV Host, an Actress, A Producer, model and much more. How challenging (or easy) is it to juggle all these roles?
Currently I am a multilingual TV Host, actor, event MC, voice-over artist and brand ambassador. In 2012 I co-produced the film “Flower Girl” because I wanted to understand the production process and learn about what happened behind the camera. I started acting in 2014, because I wasn’t getting the type of TV hosting jobs I wanted. I was constantly being told by directors I met that I should act and when my friend the actress Thelma Ojiji kept pushing me to audition for “Desperate Housewives Africa”, I did so. I didn’t think they’d hire a TV Host to play a lead role, but I went anyway. Thankfully they didn’t feel the same way and I was cast to play a lead character Tari Gambadia who in the original Disney/ ABC series “Desperate Housewives” is known as Susan Meyer. Because TV hosting and acting are two very different things, I find it easy to juggle both as long as my schedules permit. Acting is by far the most challenging, because pretending to be someone else for a given length of time and doing so convincingly so that audiences forget who I am while seeing only that character, takes a skill that I’m working hard to learn and perfect. As for modeling, I wouldn’t describe being a brand ambassador for Emmaus beauty as modelling, aside from the campaign photos which were part of the job. I’ve made appearances and speak about the range of body care products at events and on social media, which isn’t difficult, as I’m used to talking to an audience since I emcee events including corporate ones regularly, so doing so for a range of products I love has become second nature
For those who are interested, particularly women; how does one break into the showbiz industry?
That is a great question and one that people who send those of us in the industry countless of emails asking for help always ask. The answer is there isn’t one particular way. From my answers to question 3, it’s clear I didn’t start the conventional way. Mine was God’s plan and I truly believe he led me here (Nigeria) and to this career. I always tell people first decide what it is you want to do. If you want to act and have no experience then practice, learn monologues, do them in front of friends and also scroll through social media follow directors you admire as they always post audition noticesn, check Google for audition notices too. If you are able to do a four year Theatre Arts course in university, do so. If you have finished university, do a short course or one year intensive there are several. I’m actually thinking of doing one myself. Prepare a short monologue or two when going for an acting audition, go dressed as the character if possible, this allows the casting directors to envisage you as that person.
If you want to be a TV Host, do the same thing and practice in front a mirror too, the way you speak, your facial expressions, how you enunciate and use your body while doing so are all important. No one wants to hire a stiff/motionless TV presenter. While auditioning, be yourself! Finally don’t take no for an answer! Despite the No’s I’ve heard, I still go to auditions and even call up producers of TV shows if I really want an opportunity. If you don’t believe in your ability as an actor, TV Host, mc etc, no one else will either.
You studied Fashion marketing, and are also extremely stylish; any plans of starting your own fashion label? I studied Fashion design and marketing, but despite my love for fashion, I haven’t delved into that industry yet. All I’ll say is: “You never know what the future holds.”
It’s clear that you like to travel; name 3 of your favourite vacay spots?
There are so many places I’ve travelled to, I don’t have a favourite spot as each country and city has its own unique vibe. Recently I went to Kenya for the second time in years. I went hiking in the deep gorges at a national park. I also visited Mombasa for the first time, and it was amazing! Going there changed my perspective on traveling within Africa, as a result, I’m a big advocate for travelling within the continent. The turquoise clear Indian ocean, white pristine powder like beaches, snorkeling with giant star fish, kayaking, delicious food (am I making you dream? lol) were all breath taking! I see no reason to go to the Caribbean when we have places like that on our continent. As much as I love Milan, Paris, New York or London for their fashion, art and luxury as much as the next person, I believe that there are places to see within the African continent that will give anyone an unforgettable experience whatever they desire. Why spend your holidays walking up and down Oxford Street in London shopping when you can go to Mauritius, South Africa, Sao Tome, Ghana, Tanzania and even Nigeria. Yes Nigeria! Abraka Turf and Country club in Abraka Delta state is just one of many brilliant holiday destinations within the country. Okay I need to stop sounding like a tourist guide, lol! But I’m in support of the ‘Travel Africa’ movement.
Name 3 things people don’t know about Michelle?
People don’t know I’m goofy, I joke around a lot behind the scenes at work and with people I’m comfortable with.
My dream is still to host a show like Big Brother Nigeria again or bigger. I’m in love with plantain, especially dodo! but fried, boiled, roasted, mosa, grilled etc I can’t live without dodo. I’m the president of a fictitious party called PAOTWU, Plantain addicts of the world unite (laughs).
I often wonder: in an industry so surface and notoriously fickle; how do you stay grounded?
Brilliant question. I honestly believe that my faith in God has played a part in that. Secondly, as someone who has been through many peaks and valleys in the industry I don’t get enamoured with the praise when I’m in a show that’s popular as I know it has a short life span. One day you are up, then you are down, then up again. Besides, given the way I was raised I’m very intuitive, I’m observant and don’t get side tracked or confused by the praise, I was raised to be discerning, have high standards, be respectful to all that cross my path, remain humble and thankful for every opportunity that comes my way. I always say my father raised us properly.
What are some of the projects you are working on now?
I play a lead character in a romantic comedy “Dear Mother” (working title) that was shot in Kenya which is coming out soon as well as a psychological thriller “What Lies Within” that will be in cinemas in Nigeria shortly. I’m one of three hosts of EL TV’s Moments; a talk show, and I’m also filming an independent comedy series skit which I co-produce with another production company.
Wonderful! Asides travelling; how do you unwind and rejuvenate?
I’m a TV series fan: Game Of Thrones, Scandal, Power and Empire are my favourites. If I’m not glued to the TV watching series, then I’m working out, love getting pampered with spa treatments or by discovering new restaurants, as I’m a foodie. I wish someone would open an Ethiopian restaurant in Lagos.
As women, do you think we sometimes hold ourselves up to impossible standards of beauty? And how would you advice we be more accepting of ourselves, warts and all?
I believe society has placed impossible standards of beauty for women to aspire to, a standard that is unrealistic, photoshopped, and frankly ridiculous. We women tend to be our own worst enemies because we will criticise someone who is fit, small, big, short, tall, slim, thin, fat, fair skinned, caramel skinned, dark skinned, chocolate skinned, black, caucasian, oriental, Yoruba, Hausa, Ibo, Delta, Edo, Calabar etc.
As difficult as it is in the age of social media dictating standards of beauty, we as individuals need to try continuously to learn to love the person we see in the mirror. Unless you learn to accept your flaws, and in turn focus on your best features, we will never think we are good enough. I have chosen to work on loving myself daily, it was a decision that took a lot of work since I grew up in London where being a size 6 or 8 is considered the acceptable size, but it was one of the best decisions I made. No matter how much I wish to look like x, y or z and be a size 6uk I won’t, so I decided to start loving how I look. It is important to learn to love yourself flaws and all!
If you could, what would you tell your younger self?
Don’t say no to job opportunities that come your way. Don’t be so afraid of failure, live and learn from your mistakes and fight fear. Have more faith; God is in control of what you can’t control. Laugh more and don’t date men that act like little boys!lol
Name women that inspire you?
There are two whom I admire and inspire me. My Aunt, Ms. Evelyn Oputu former head of Bank of Industries, to work in a male dominated industry and succeed while raising four children is phenomenal and a reminder that my gender doesn’t limit me as long as I don’t see it as a hurdle. Oprah Winfrey, as a TV Host her skill, experience and humility are inspiring as well as the empire she has built.
Words of advice for young women coming up in the industry?
Do not take no for an answer, be persistent, look for opportunities in different places. Never beg for help, instead learn, train, practice, audition till you get one” yes”. Then when you get that “Yes” don’t take it for granted, work hard and keep getting better.
Do not come into the entertainment industry expecting red carpets, designer clothes and fierce face beats from top makeup artists, that’s 5% of the job which you see on social media because it’s what we show you. 95% of working in entertainment is working long hours anywhere from 8am to 1am or even 6am to 6am, (yes 24 hours of work) the next morning and in some cases repeating that process for two to three weeks at a stretch. Have patience, work hard, pray and persevere, don’t give up!