The first time Suzette “I hate my surname” van der Merwe met Jason Roberts was outside the SABC. He was in his yellow Golf (since traded in for a sportier red model) which displayed the sticker: Yes I am a movie star. “Arrogant jerk”, thought Suzette (unaware that a friend had stuck it on Jason’s car as a joke).
After listening to Jason interviewing Suzette, it’s apparent that it’s not Jason who’s arrogant (albeit his facetious comments). He could barely get a word in (unless he was just dumb-struck by Suzette’s sultry looks!). Take a listen:
J: OK, with me today is Sharl Potgieter who has recently released a new book on cookery. (Hang on Jason – we sent you to interview Suzette!).
S: WHAT? When did I first take up… ? (Don’t worry Suzette – we’re as confused as you are. Suzette now takes over the interview, grabs Jason’s list of questions and begins questioning and answering herself.)
I was born on 69/02/18.
OK, she was born on the 69th of February 1918.
You were born in 1989? Gee, you look so old for you age!
No, Jason – we must take this seriously. (And so, although both laughing, they try to be serious. Suzette’s invested in a townhouse 10 minutes drive from her parents’ Verwoerdburg home, her sister Tanya (19) is “gorgeous”, and their’s isn’t a staunch Afrikaans home.)
My family’s very normal. We’re not English or liberal. I was just a normal child.
No child is normal. (Says Jason who’s acting debut at the age of nine certainly doesn’t depict an average child.)
I was a middle child with a sister who has a wonderful personality and an older brother (who died two years ago). You end up always getting squashed out between the middle – you know what it’s like? (No Jason doesn’t – he only has an elder sister, Sarah.) I was never sporty which I blame my parents for, because they always used to tell me…
Shame, your parents are getting a rough time!
… that I had no ball sense. Since I was quite artistic and very shy, I used to just live myself out in my art.
You started modelling in matric. Was that your own choice?
In a way. My mother was always in the modelling business, but it wasn’t the most important thing in my life. When I first signed up with an agency, I thought I’d just try it for three months. And then, within those months I won the Face of the Eighties Rooi Rose/Graffiti competition.
Graffiti, Graffiti – yes we all know it! (Any chance to reminisce about his days of presenting.)
And since then, modelling really took off very well for me, and I went to Europe…
You matriculated, obviously? No?
Of course I matriculate! (Sound of somebody’s hand getting hit!)
Jason making a serious faux pas!
What do you think I am? I really used to study very hard – not because my parents pushed me or because I’m clever – just because I always like to be the best.
You heard that – she likes to be the best! So, you combined schoolwork and modelling at the same time.
Yes. It was difficult because I went to Italy during my prelims, so I didn’t write them…
WOW! Check this out! (A scrumptious meal’s just been served.)
What was I about to say?
You went to Italy…
Oh yes, and for somebody who was supposed to have four or five A’s for finals, I ended up with only one. It was a big disappointment.
OH! Terrible! What was the A for?
No, I can’t tell you.
Oh go on. Was it in typing? Business? Economics? English?
(laughing) House craft.
No, you know why I got it? Because… no I can’t say… It was a very difficult subject.
No, I’m sure. House craft is a serious subject! Did you consider going to university?
I had wanted to study psychology, but I decided to try out modelling for one year before studying. That year went well, the second year went even better, and then in the third I decided to enroll for a course in journalism and communications at UNISA.
Oh no! This is my first time as a journalist – what am I doing wrong?
Well I only did it for one year because I realized, taking two subjects at a time, it would take me ten years to finish this degree. (Sound of Jason heaving a sigh of relief – he’s escaped a serious critic.) I thought: Suzette, you don’t need a degree sense and practical experience to start your own business. You get used to earning a lot of money and you realize that you can’t go back to being a normal student again.
I know. This is true, very true. (Jason himself decided to leave ‘varsity last year to pursue his present career.)
OK, and then I decided THIS year would be my final year of modelling, but then I entered Miss SA.
What made you decide to enter Miss SA?
Probably for business reasons. I don’t want to be a model forever, and I don’t want to open a modelling agency or start anything in the line of modelling. I wanted to make a lot of money and establish my name so I can start a business.
(At this point it’s quite difficult to transcribe the tape because they’re both eating. They discuss the shock and excitement, glamour and admiration that followed in Suzette’s first month after being crowned; the cruelty of the press who constantly endeavor to uncover her most private life; and the fact that she knew herself better before Miss SA because she seldom has time to think about herself anymore. It’s other people that now come first.)
Do you get briefed when you become a Miss SA by somebody as to how to act and how to behave…
No, you’ve got to be a natural. They day after you’re crowned you must be it. The girl who gives the crown away spends an afternoon or morning with you going through the hassles she had and telling you what to look out for.
How are you supposed to handle the political aspect?
There’s nothing wrong with speaking about peace, love and a new South Africa, but I’m not prepared to speak about politics anymore because I’ve been hurt a lot by the publicity. There were stories about me being AWB, CP, NP, about me having talks with Terreblanche! Stories about me refusing to meet Mr Mandela… there have been so many different stories that I’ve become scared of politics. Somebody said to me: “You’re not a creature, you’re not a politician, you’re a beauty queen and that’s your first role.”
Do YOU think so?
Yes, it’s very true. In the beginning I though: I’ll do this and I’ll do that etc. But you find as you get more into your role there’s no time to do anything because you have so many commitments – four or five a day…
Don’t you sometimes feel that too much is being loaded on to you?
You’ve got to be a strong person. Physically, I can keep up with the pace. It’s been emotionally that it can be straining because you’ve got people bothering you all the time which is okay if they’re nice. But sometimes you get men who try to grab you in places. At other times I need a rest to find myself again because you just become “it” – people refer to you as Miss SA and don’t even know your name. Another thing is that next year you’ll be the ex-Miss SA with no more Rolls Royce’s, limousines and Presidential Suites. You have to step off for another girl and not all ex-Miss SA’s can handle that. I’ve seen it happening in the past.
What do you intend doing when your reign’s over?
I’ll definitely be involved in business -property, and import and export. Although I’m saying this now, but you never know…
To change the subject, as a reborn Christian, how does your beauty title clash with you religion?
It doesn’t. In this new decade people are looking for values, morals and standards and I don’t think you can go through life without believing in God, in something very strong. It gives me my peace, it makes me a strong person. I think it’s nice for a girl to combine Christianity with the Miss SA title.
And do you think the Miss SA competition is still perceived as a cattle market?
NO – it’s far more about brains, personality and ambassadorial qualities… and obviously you need to see the girl in a costume because it’s part of the thing. There are a lot of beauty competitions which I would say are real cattle shows. It’s only this year that I’ve started seeing some of them like that. I think if you enter two or three really classy competitions and then you enter Miss SA – there’s nothing wrong with that.
You don’t think a girl needs to start off with smaller competitions to build up confidence?
No. You’ve either got it or you haven’t.
Wow! Okay – most interesting people you’ve met and why?
You meet very nice people… I won’t mention names… but like rugby players. People might think I’m stupid, but it’s nice to see these guys after a big, hard game with blood all over the place.
Oh, you’re into this are you?
Like kinky sex? (Jason getting a little out of control here! Fast forward to the next question.)
Do you have a special type of diet Miss van der Merwe?
Lots of chocolates, pancakes and fatty foods because I’ve already lost two kilograms since I became Miss SA, but I don’t often have time to eat. I had a slice of toast for breakfast today, a cake at a tea function and it’s not 4:10pm and I’m having my lunch.
Spill your guts Miss van der Merwe, the type of guy you like the most?
It changes all the time. I like someone who’s a friend in the first place, who I can share everything with, and who’s sporty because exercise keeps a healthy balance between your mind and body. I do believe in love and romance. Guys often woo a girl until they get her hooked, and then all romance goes out of the window.
And how do you think a guy would feel going out with someone like you who has a successful career?
I think it’s very difficult for any guy to cope with a girl whith a successful career.
I disagree. My ideal is to marry a woman who is making just as much money as me, if not more, because then you don’t have to worry about who’s going to pay for what. (So now we know why Jason’s into older women! Before they dwell on love too long, let’s find out what irritates Suzette.)
I’m a very easy-going person, but I do get irritated in queues, or even worse, with people who can’t drive – especially women!
People on the roads are so unfriendly. If I’m in the wrong lane and I want to go left – nobody gives me a chance.
What car do you drive?
So if anyone sees an Uno driving around, waiting to turn left, just let them in, okay? (That call for courtesy out of the way, Jason continues:)
Michelle (Bruce) was, I think, concerned with the youth during her reign last year. Who do you like to see yourself personally representing?
I’m not just for the youth. I’m really for everybody. But I’m young, I’m 21… (disparaging remarks about Suzette being a baby can be heard from 20-year-old Jason!)… so I do hope and believe that the youth can relate to me. On the other hand, I’m not a Michelle and Michelle’s not me. I like to set an example for the woman of the 90’s: the successful business lady who has strong morals and standards, and also believes in success.
She;s very philosophical this lady, very intense etc, etc. Okay, have you had any bad experiences as Miss SA?
I’ve only ever received one very cruel letter, and it came from Verwoerdburg where I live. Otherwise, I don’t give the public much with which to really hate or love me.
(During the next few minutes Jason discovers that Suzette may be the first Miss SA to venture past the Iron Curtain when she visits Moscow and Hungary early next year. She’ll also be travelling to China, Taiwan, Portugal and Italy. With envy soaked in his comments, Jason reverts the conversation back to Suzette’s sister and then finally concludes with:)
I think that’s it, sort of, somewhere round about, and put in a shell. (Huh? Di the interview prove too much for this guy?)
We’ve still got five more minutes…
The tape clicks off, and nobody will know what happened in those last few minutes except for the not-just-a-pretty-face Suzette, and the not-just-an-actor/DJ/presenter, but also a journalist, Jason!
The New Talk, 1990