The much-beloved, ultra-talented and damn quirky singer, TV presenter and chef Nataniël celebrates three decades in the business with a special show titled 30 years, 90 minutes. He talks to WeekendSpecial about the production, as well as his experiences over time:
WS: So …30 years in the entertainment business! Would you ever have predicted this success when you started out with your first single, Maybe Time, back in 1987? Or was it all part of a master plan?
N: There was no original plan, but there was also never a plan B. It was always a case of making it work, it was what I wanted to do. It was exciting but hard, I had no role model, nobody was doing what I wanted to do, there was no internet, it was like dancing in the dark. I made a lot of mistakes, but have no regrets.
WS: Taken into consideration that you are not the most conventional of performers, quite alternative at times, to what do you attribute your popularity? For example, you are much-beloved by older, sometimes conservative South African women …
N: I work like a dog, I know few people with my stamina and discipline. It is not glamorous, but you have to do the best you can every waking minute. People, audiences, are not always aware of what it is, but they smell or sense quality and commitment. There are many overnight “stars” but they fade quickly because there is no foundation, there are no skills. You have to work at your craft all the time. And then there will be enough people who will applaud or reward you.
WS: What can audiences expect from this latest show, 30 years, 90 minutes?
N: It is not a “best of” evening, nor a collection of greatest hits. I chose music and stories that shaped my life and career. There is also a lot of new material and a brand new wardrobe. It is more important to show what the future will look like than just to dwell in the past. And hopefully it will be entertaining to all, old and new audience members.
WS: And you’ll be touring the country with the show – how long will this take?
N: We will end in October, but I’m also going to France to film Edik Van Nantes 3 in May and June, so it is not too relentless.
WS: Over the period of your career, are there any stand-out performances/shows/moments that are really special for you?
N: I remember the bad nights, not the good ones. In my mind every event is supposed to be breath-taking; a highlight means the others were of a lower standard, but I know this is not how it works. There’re been a few moments, like singing in the Royal Albert Hall, playing the organ in a cathedral in France, having a Number One book on the bestseller list, singing with a symphony orchestra, and having a great audience.
WS: You are also an extremely keen – and well-known – cook. To what or who do you attribute your love of food and cooking?
N: My grandmother was the best home-cook in the world and I grew up in her kitchen. She is still my inspiration because of her creativity, her need for abundance, her ability to turn any meal into a feast.
WS: In the past you have hosted legendary dinner parties. If you could invite anybody (alive or dead), what would your dream dinner-party guest list look like?
N: Since I stopped drinking alcohol three years ago, I have had very few dinner parties! And my list of guests would look really boring, no celebrities (can anybody be more boring?), no famous authors, none of that. I need my friends and my family, we all work so hard and live so far apart that any meal with those close to me, is a huge moment. I like small events, six people at a table, no more.
WS: You have also successfully moulded a commercial career. What would your advice to young artists be, in terms of making it both commercially and artistically?
N: A career is a business, not publicity, not being famous, it is a business and must provide the security and financial success of any other good business. You have to learn how money works, how to pace yourself. (Don’t say yes to everything, the same audience has to follow you for decades and not get tired!) And you have to be versatile, very few artists become independent and successful by doing just one thing.
WS: Do you ever relax, and if so, what do you like to do?
N: I never, ever relax, I know it will kill me, but that is how I am. I do love reading and I read as much as I can. And I go for very long walks every night. Yes! In this country!
WS: Can you please tell us one thing about yourself that people may not know or suspect?
N: I discovered very late in my life that I am a bush baby. My best friend and I regularly go on these bush trips all over Africa and she and I spend days watching animals. No people, no noise, just the trees and the animals. My favourite place on earth is Kenya. I think I was Karen Blixen in a previous life.
What: 30 years, 90 minutes
Where and when: Artscape, 4 to 16 April