Minnie Dlamini: Diamond in the rough
Minnie Dlamini-Jones (28) has been a deeply-loved fixture on the star circuit for at least eight years, since winning a TV presenter search competition. Now harbouring somewhat tainted views about the celebrity scene, she’s turned her hand to executive pr
There are few “before-they-were-famous” accounts of celebrities more intriguing than Dlamini’s. Soccer star boyfriends, six-figure product endorsements and a 5,5-million social media following came off the back of a Durban childhood that saw young Minenhle entering beauty competitions and performing in musicals. A blurry image of 12-year-old Minnie grinning on the arm of former President Nelson Mandela in 2002, decked out in a formal blue corduroy pants suit, announced an early title – Little Miss South. It wasn’t all easy, though: her father lost his job when she was in her teens and her family had to rely on support from friends and relatives. Fast forward eight years, when she moved to Johannesburg for Live – the SABC1 TV show that would introduce her to SA.
Dlamini was a film and media student at the University of Cape Town in 2010 when she won the Live presenter search competition. Appearances in blockbuster soapie Generations, as well as another lifestyle show, Mzansi Insider, soon followed and she decided to drop out of university and focus on entertainment. It’s a decision which, talking to her now, she seems to regret.
Seated in a noisy Sandton restaurant with her brother and now manager, Maphe Dlamini, close at hand, she’s sage about the incendiary opportunities that arose early on to build the personal brand she’s dubbed “SA’s diamond”.
“Things haven’t worked out in the time-frames I’d have liked, but I’ve always wanted to be ahead of the game and inspire people to think beyond the limitations of our industry. When I first got into TV, they gave me six months. Eight years later, I’m still reinventing the wheel,” she says. Her entertainment gigs morphed into acting roles in Rockville and The Wild, as well as a penchant for sports shows which cemented a loyal and large fan base. Becoming the face of Edcon brand LEGit in 2011 also catapulted her career to stardom.
Now married to her long-time sweetheart, respected TV executive Quinton Jones, and volunteering that she’s very ready to have children, she suggests that the stardom cons have been severe.
Overall, says Dlamini, the local entertainment industry deserves its reputation for fickleness. “It’s horrible,” she sighs. “It really is. I’m grateful for every year that I get to be in this industry and I’ve loved getting to live my dream every day, but it’s been a lot of hard work constantly trying to figure out what will keep me in this space the longest,” she admits. She adds that being in the entertainment industry often leaves her feeling depleted. “This business is about me, essentially. I have to completely immerse myself in everything I do. I have to be on point and on form all the time, so I’ve learnt – with age and wisdom – to keep my moods and personal issues at bay. I want people who work with me to find me effortless and pleasant.”
However, she’s become more philosophical about the choices she’s made. “I dropped out of university, so – to wear my heart on my sleeve, if you will –this is all I have. It stands to reason that in that situation, you’re going to take a few knocks. I don’t mean I compromised myself, but I chose a route which was different from getting a degree and a set income for the rest of my life. I took a risk, so now I have to make it work as best I can. However, I realise that when I’m 35, I’m not going to appeal to the same brands I appeal to now. So what’s 40- and 50-year-old Minnie going to do?”
She adds that she’s wary of her children succumbing to the pressures she’s faced; there are many other careers she’d consider “safer for the heart”.
“I pray to God that my children don’t go into this industry, but if they do, I’d want to know that the sector’s in a more lucrative space, because I’ve been in it,” she says.
She’s talking here of the unforgiving approach she’s taken towards brand engagements, which set a financial standard for the endorsements she accepted. The Motions hair deal she struck in 2012 was famously pegged at R1 million. She confirms that amount, adding that she managed to blow the money in under a year. Three years later, she signed an extended marketing contract with Nedbank for the Nedbank Cup, believed to be worth another few million rands. She currently has a brand endorsement contract with French Champagne GH Mumm. These deals set the bar for her earning expectations and since then, she’s determinedly turned down projects for amounts that she’s felt were below her worth. As a result, the big-money projects in her career have been unpredictable – and spaced quite far apart.
“We all just want that one big brand endorsement. That’s the real cheque. If you’re the national face of a global brand, you can do a young ‘Mama, I made it’,” she says.
“I’ve always wanted to be the face of a beauty range and have worked with some incredible businesses in the past, like Unilever. I was the face of Motions in 2012, which was a great experience; I definitely wanted to do more of that. So I waited. And I waited. My team would pitch to different brands, but there just wasn’t an alignment. On one occasion, they weren’t looking for a brand ambassador. On another occasion, I wasn’t what they were looking for, as it happens,” she recalls.
BEHIND THE LENS
Last year saw Dlamini picking up the reins of a company she’d registered in 2012 called Beautiful Day Productions, which she runs in partnership with her husband – himself a former producer for Urban Brew. Its first offering was Becoming Mrs Jones, the wildly successful three-part wedding series the couple self-produced which became the highest-rated show in Vuzu Amp’s history. The company’s just concluded its second national TV series, an advertiser-funded show with Volkswagen called Spirit of Mzansi, which has won acclaim for its novel reality-show format that manages to integrate the VW Amarok in a way consumers appreciate. The show involved four teams of two competing in a timed adventure race in the vehicle for a cash prize of R250 000. Broadcast on Mzansi Magic, its first episode alone garnered 450 000 viewers.
Dlamini executive-produced the show with her husband and credits her legendary Creative Director, Freddy Louw (who created YoTV, among many other formats), for helping win them the contract.
She also acknowledges a loyal relationship with MultiChoice for playing an integral part in the success of Beautiful Day Productions. “It’s a relationship that’s become really amazing in my career, as MultiChoice prides itself on saying: ‘You can be more.’ It’s very special to me that it’s supported my trajectory. It’s always been ready to sit and talk to me about my direction and how it can help me get there.”
One of her first jobs after moving to Johannesburg from Durban in 2010 was interning at Urban Brew, where she met her husband. She says that practical experience helped set up the success she’s now enjoying with Beautiful Day. “They taught me how to pick up a camera, shoot and even edit a little. I hate editing, but that experience showed me what productions are all about and how to plan and develop the infrastructure to deliver a piece of creative work.”
She’s currently shooting some advertising work for MultiChoice and also “pitching constantly on briefs”.
“You don’t realise how many ‘no’s’ come out of the pitching process, but that’s the nature of the beast. If I go out for an audition, out of five opportunities, I might get one, if I’m lucky. With productions, too, sometimes it’s a hit and sometimes it’s a miss. Still, it’s exciting to constantly play with different concepts. It can be tedious, but it stretches my creative mind,” she says.
A BEAUTY RANGE FOR ALL?
Dlamini says that waiting interminably for that call to front a beauty range ultimately sparked the idea of starting her own one, MD Beauty, which has been registered in collaboration with Zeta Laboratories, a long-standing manufacturing company of health and beauty products based in Durban. The nine-product range consists of three differently scented packs which each include a soap, a shower gel and a body lotion. She has Clicks and Shoprite signed on as distribution partners and, at the time of going to print, she expected the range to be on shelf by mid-November.
The range is pegged at the R33 mark and is expected to compete vigorously with other celebrity-endorsed skincare brands. Dlamini played with her “diamond” nickname for the variants in the range, which include Coco Crystal, Tropical Topaz and Rose Quartz. The soap bar is also shaped like a gemstone.
Interestingly, the product was bankrolled via a R10 million grant from the Industrial Development Corporation (IDC), which generously covered the company’s start-up costs. Dlamini says initial sales projections suggest the company has a good chance of making these costs back in its first year of production.
She adds that she found the funding process surprisingly easy. “Our engagements with the IDC were pretty painless because my partner’s been dealing with them for a long time. So it was just a case of creating a new joint company for the deal.
“I’d also applied for IDC funding many times before, so going back all those times to work on strengthening my applications really helped me.
“It’s not an easy process, but there definitely aren’t enough people coming up with good ideas. Many of us are sitting back and
complaining that not enough’s being done for black entrepreneurs, instead of taking responsibility for our own fears. If a young black girl has a good enough idea and back-up resources, my view is that there are enough funding systems in place to sort her out really quickly. Sometimes you just have to get up and do it – even if there’s a chance of your being rejected.”
Her beloved mother features in the TV advert that Beautiful Day Productions recently shot. “Being very emotional, the ad was an exercise in tugging at heartstrings. I wanted people to know how incredibly personal this journey was,” she says.
A HIGH-WATTAGE SISTERHOOD
Dlamini’s maintained a refreshingly honest and often unfiltered image on social media, which offers generous glimpses of her private life. Her circle of friends includes dynamic young marketers, bankers and lawyers, as well as entrepreneurs. “It’s beautiful to enter a space where we’re all on top of our game and supporting each other. It’s really difficult finding industry friends because of how fickle this space is, but those I do have are people who’ve walked this journey longer than I have and are always willing to impart valuable knowledge,” she says. The circle includes Anele Mdoda and Unathi Nkayi. “Anele MC’d at my wedding – something she normally never does – because she regards me as her baby sister. Unathi often calls me just to check whether I’m OK. She’ll ask: ‘Do we need to take the Westcliff stairs because I’m looking hotter than you? Let’s go!’
“It’s great having people like that whom I can ask for advice when making big decisions. My girlfriends have also helped me realise that the world doesn’t revolve around my dumb issues. Nobody will care by the Monday after the Sunday papers!”
Dlamini also lovingly credits her husband for providing a safe and secure home base, similar to the one in which she grew up. “I wish I’d gotten married a lot sooner. It’s been the calm centre in the stormy life of Minnie Dlamini. Marriage has given me a lot more grounding and I can’t wait to see Quinton as a dad!” she grins.