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Nina Zani: from heartbreak to a new life and new business in London

SOUTH AFRICAN BORN NINA ZANI has her heart in two countries. We find out why she has a love for England and what experiences have made her into the woman she is today.

Tell us why your journey has brought you to London?
Well, truth be told, the reason I have come back to one of my favourite cities in the world was for a wedding. One of my best girl-friends got married, and we had not seen one another in six years. The other part of bringing me back, is love for the creativity in the city. My mind always absorbs and process and then wants to do more. It’s a city filled with vision and determination, diversity of people and probably the most important element, allowing people to be. This resonates very well with me. I think it’s important to be yourself and grow and move into the direction that inspires you.

What do you remember most from your childhood?
I am mixed race born, from Cape Town, South Africa. I was an only child and my life growing up was somewhat like a movie. I had a very liberal upbringing and was taught to be open minded. I was a very sporty girl from a young age and I also started drama school at the age of eight.

I had a major traumatic experience aged fourteen at the church I went to, which  became well-known everywhere as the St James massacre. Men ran into the church with hand grenades and AK 47s, shooting at everyone and throwing hand grenades into the aisles. I came out alive and unharmed, and the only scar left for a short while was the trauma, but through therapy it all worked out. The thing that I despise most today are guns and would never own one.  However, in saying all of this, that experience didn’t define me, it made me realise that the universe was protecting me and clearly had a plan for me.

You say that the horrendous incident didn’t define you, but what happened moving forward?
Yes, we cannot let the negative influence our lives, especially when a positive comes from it. I remember not being in school for almost a term because of the massacre, but eventually I went back and continued. I knew that I had to heal from it and the only way to heal was to get out into the world and get back to my studies. That pretty much is exactly how I have processed my world today. After finishing my school education, I went to film school, where I studied acting and presenting. A great platform to express oneself.

The thing that I despise most today are guns… that experience didn’t define me, it made me realise that the universe was protecting me and clearly had a plan for me.

At the age of sixteen I landed my first mini-acting part in a local television comedy series on SABC1 called ‘Double Shift’, then was featured in some international television commercials, one of them being for  Garnier (they loved my Diana Ross hair) and then being entrant number 106 of a very popular reality TV show called ‘Big Brother’. This was the very first South African reality show to air. I lasted two weeks on the show and was voted off first, against a candidate they felt would bring more entertainment.

Again, one would look at this and think, what a rejection, however the irony behind all of it, was that I made every single front page of newspapers across Africa, and got to travel to various African countries to work and became an ambassador to many brands in South Africa. However not all that glitters is gold as they say.

What do you mean by “All that glitters is not gold” when it seems like life has rewarded you well, despite suffering some traumatic experiences?
I mean that being afforded such fame in my early twenties, being followed by paparazzi, being jetted to places and given what your heart desires wasn’t always about being happy. One always had to smile and be everyone’s best friend, always the person to be with, always the attachment to someone else’s hand, because you were the accessory. When it came to deep down ‘real’ things to life, no one really cared.  It was a lonely world.  Part of me always wanted more and knew that I could achieve more. I loved the industry a lot, but started hating how it made me feel.

I then bought, at the age of 23, my first events and marketing company from someone I used to do promotions for. She was moving back to London and  knew I would be the perfect individual for the job, and my then fiancé and I got into the venture together. He is a very well-known commercial producer now. We were young, ambitious and totally in-love. I thought that this was the right move to make for me. The first two years was bliss and then it started going down-hill. Not the business but our relationship. He cheated on me twice and we split up. We then got back together after his parents made him realise that I was the person he wanted to be with and marry.

We planned my life until I was going to be thirty, when we would get married. The funny thing was, from the day that we met all he wanted was to marry me.  However it didn’t last long and months down the line, he cheated on me again. This time around I fell pregnant. I had thought the entire world was against me and with a lot of advice and thoughts, I knew that being a young mum, either single or married to someone who would hurt me time and time again, wasn’t the path that I wanted. I had an abortion eight weeks into the pregnancy. It put a dampener on my view to life and wanted nothing to do with my business. All I wanted was to get away from South Africa, the media, and yet another trauma filled experience.

From this heartbreak can you tell us how it has brought you to where you are now?
After breaking up, I sold the business and came to England to escape for a bit. I just wanted to be in another country where no-one knew me and where I could be myself. This is where my love for the UK stemmed. I first arrived here in 2005 and in my first few months an energy just took over and slowly transformed me into the woman I am today. I have gone back to South Africa twice, and then returned to England.

On where I am today, well look, everything wasn’t always smooth sailing. I got into other relationships, including one which was abusive, and got out of it. I worked in various media houses, meaning publishing, and even started my own online magazine (with a bad choice of business partners). I had my own radio breakfast show, which I produced in South Africa, but gave it up when I started a strategic business career focus. Up until last July I worked for Forbes and CNBC Africa, but I wanted to be a leader and entrepreneur, so I resigned and started my own media sales, planning and social media marketing business called ‘Your Media Consultants’.

The lesson I learned was not to give up and to believe in myself. That somewhere out there people believe in me. Negative energies and situations are mere obstacles. My passion, drive and vision always took over who I was, so I knew that someday I will be at my destination. I truly believe that even when we are faced with difficult choices in life, it is part of the planning process. The map is drawn out and it just depends on which route you want to take.

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