The Hilton



“Most South Africans are born with a rugby ball or braai tongs in hand, I was born with a mermaid tail,” says Carla Tate (26), Hilton’s very own mermaid, who dresses up as fairytale princesses to encourage and foster children’s sense of imaginatio­n, wonder and play.

For Tate, fairytales, film and theatre saved her from the grim reality of life-long health issues. These stories and characters whisked her off into worlds of adventure that eased her current pain and helped her to focus on someone or something else.

“I always used to watch the ‘special features’ on how the film was made and I knew I wanted to be part of something that can have a positive influence on someone who needs to escape their reality, even for a brief period of time,” she said.

This inspired her to study film arts, screen acting and production design, as well as events management. Due to her health issues, however, she knew she would not be able to work a full-time work week. Instead of moping around, Tate decided to become her own fairy godmother and use her passion, powers and skills to share the power of imaginatio­n and play, which had saved her, with children.

Over the past six years, since founding The Fairytale Express in 2015, Tate has touched the lives of over 6 000 people by bringing their favourite fairytales and princesses to life. Name a princess and Tate has played her - but her favourite princess to play is Rapunzel, and of course, the Little Mermaid. “Rapunzel, Rapunzel with her long hair. She is a high energy princess and the children love that,” she told The Hilton. “It allows for a lot of imaginativ­e play and humorous interactio­ns, and I love telling children that [Rapunzel] grew her hair back with horse shampoo.”

What Tate loves most about dressing up as princesses for children is ‘the sparks of magic and wonder in their eyes and how they feel they can accomplish anything after meeting the characters.’

When Tate is not bringing fairytales to life, she is living out her best life as the mermaid she believes she was always meant to be. She even found a tail-maker who helped make her mermaid dream a reality. In 2020, Tate was selected to represent South Africa in the Miss Mermaid Internatio­nal pageant, which, unfortunat­ely, due to the pandemic, has been postponed. She plans to one day bring the competitio­n to South Africa.

One thing she loves about being a mermaid is the response she gets from others. “The best part is seeing adults or the elderly return to their inner child in that moment, and it is just magic,” Tate says.

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