2007 May Style Star: Michelle Garforth

She is regarded as the world’s top environmental television host. Dynamic, adventurous, and drop dead gorgeous, Michelle Garforth champions the causes of animals everywhere.

Her passion for the wild is evident and her ability to tell stories can be seen in the TV programmes she produces and presents.

Before she broke into nature and environmental reporting, Michelle travelled the world tackling everything from entertainment to current affairs to extreme sport.

At 36, Michelle’s most appealing quality is her ability to reinvent herself, and learn about a variety of things that most people wouldn’t even dream of.

Her beautiful face has appeared on so many magazine covers over the years, we’ve lost count and her style has evolved over the years just like one of her icons, Madonna.

Michelle has a gentle soul, a warm heart, and a curiosity that ensures her life is never boring. Introducing our Style Star for May, the ever popular Michelle Garforth

 

You started off in broadcasting at the age of 19, how are you enjoying the journey?

The journey is incredible with broadcasting because it allows you to gear change as you go through the decades of your life.

So if you talk about your twenties versus your thirties, versus your forties, your fifties and your sixties, it’s all about the content that you’re covering.

When I started my life out in broadcasting, it was all about travel and it was about the exciting business of fashion and interior décor and that was all very much associated with Top Billing.

As we grow older, or more mature, or perhaps wiser, we learn to discover that life consists of many other things and hence I have stepped out now into nature and into environmental issues.

I do believe from a journalistic perspective I am covering content now that makes a change in people’s lives.

That’s the joy of broadcasting, you’re allowed to grow with it, and contribute to society in terms of insights into a myriad of different topics.

Where does your love for animals come from?

It’s always been there. I grew up in a single-parent home, and we couldn’t spend a lot of time in the outdoors; we were living in flats in Hillbrow, Joubert Park and Pretoria.

But, through life, we’ve been afforded the opportunity through my stepfather, to have a sense of balance and maturity as well.

My step dad sent me to a good school, and this allowed us time to get out into the bush, and to get close to giraffe and antelope.

So we started travelling, and as a result I just chose to make this part of what I want to do for the rest of myself, and this is the zone I want to be in.

What are your current career projects?

My current projects are quite vast, and they’ve been successful thus far. My little baby TV series is called Bush Radar Kids.

We’ve been on air for 104 episodes on SABC 2 every Friday afternoon at 4:30pm (got to get the punt in).

This is a really great show where we are learning life lessons from the animal kingdom from a little person’s perspective.

Then there is also Wild Ltd. It’s on at 6pm on Monday nights. This is a far more urgent message because we are dealing with serious issues.

We also have a viewership we’re garnering, new people coming into the zone and learning about these issues that happen within the wild spaces.

For me, both of these series that have been on air now for a three year period, are touching people’s hearts and opening people’s minds and brains.

That is what I am; a journalist who purely tells the stories about the environment. I am the conduit who opens people’s hearts and minds.

What has been your biggest highlight to date?

Wow, where do I begin with that? There have been so many over the years. The first thing that comes to mind was a story I was filming for the Americans when I was living in LA.

We had a show called World Gone Wild on Fox Family Channel and we went up to Alaska and shot a whole lot of episodes.

One of them was going in search of the giant pacific octopus and this was an adventure of note. The giant pacific octopus’ head is about half a metre in height, and all of his tentacles run to a metre in length.

We had to search and search for a week before we found him in freezing cold water. We were diving in full dive gear and we were diving under ice to find this creature.

We eventually did after a week. Just to think, we had to search for a week to find just one of his kind.

So when you look at the amount of people that populate the planet versus species numbers, it’s kind of frightening!

You’ve also hosted an American motor sport program, what was that like?

You’ve got to sometimes step away from the heartfelt stories that make you cry.

So, for a time frame, I worked for ESPN in the USA and we covered Inside Cart, which was the name of the show; the sport being cart championship auto racing teams.

We were afforded the magnificency of following some of the most awesome drivers that have ever been. 

My favourite was Juan Pablo Montoya at the time and he went over to F1 and drove for Williams.

Talk about an impassioned South American, full of… blood pumping through his veins, very hot!

We had the opportunity to visit with them and learn more about their family ethic and how important this is for the success of sportsmen.

Part of my function at ESPN was to really look behind the scenes at sportsmen to learn about the stresses that go with it. It was an incredible time for me as a journalist to learn their life lessons.

 

How have you dealt with challenges along the way?

Like any normal person, I have my ups and downs; I think that’s what life is. The challenge is when those issues arise, how we deal with it.

Do we jump up and down, stamp our feet, and shout and scream or do we rather step back and ask how do I become more effective in making this positive?

What I do every morning is allow myself a 15 minute time frame, after my first alarm goes off, to lie in bed and decide what I am doing today.

I think about what happened yesterday and how I can improve on that today and I prioritise my time, deciding what the most important thing I would like to do today.

The only way you can really make that call is to know what your umbrella of life is. What is my overall picture of what I want to do?

All of us are hit by lots and lots of very positive projects, but you can’t do them all.

What advice do you have for women interested in hosting environmental programmes?

The greatest advice I can give any human being, be they male or female, is to know yourself, and that in itself is a journey.

As you take the journey, start learning more about who you are and who you choose to interact with. Man is not an island. We cannot exist just on our motivation.

The reality is that you can go anywhere; you can get involved in the environment, you can get involved in the TV industry, or even sport.

It doesn’t really matter about the occupation, it matters about that first point of self, and once that is ascertained, you can achieve anything.

Market research shows that you’ve held the strongest celebrity following in SA, how have you kept your brand so fresh?

I hate to say this, you might fall off your chair when I say this, but I think Madonna is a really awesome person who has been able to refresh herself.

Here is a woman who is a singer, who came up through the 80s and see where she is today. She is a mom; she has an awesome body, and health ethic.

Madonna, for me, was somebody I noticed in my early twenties and I’ve kept track of her.

What I’ve noticed about Madonna that from a physical perspective, from a physical outside perspective, she has kept up with the fresh looks and the new generation are looking at her and saying wow, you are magnificent!

When you talk about gear changing and keeping yourself sustained in the industry, I suppose Madonna has gone through a lot of times, where she has had to constantly re-evaluate who she is, what she stands for and how she is being perceived by others.

Perhaps it’s about an inner strength as well.

What’s it been like gracing so many magazine covers over the years?

Absolutely wonderful and awesome! Through the magazine cover you get the inside story, so you get the opportunity to share your thoughts, and touch people’s hearts and minds.

The magazine cover is a very important vehicle in our industry and editors of magazine understand that by having that person on your cover, it tells a lot bout the ethics of the publication and the message they want to get through.

That’s why editors of magazines are very specific and very clear about who represents their brand.

 

How would you describe your fashion sense?

For me, I believe that the woman should wear the dress and not the dress wear the woman. I don’t think that loud patterns are the best way to go.

For me, I like organic fabrics. I prefer to choose something that is soft and plain in colour and I prefer neutrals.

As a blonde, everyone says wear the pastels and yes that does work for me, but what I love more are the earth colours, which is your khaki green your beiges, your deep chocolates and deep red wines and all those colours come directly from nature.

When I wear these colours, I feel better.

Who are your favourite South African designers?

I do like Nkhensani. I love Stoned Cherrie. I love what she does. I love the fact that she has made African clothing mainstream.

She has these corsets that hold your bosoms nice and high, giving you a nice tight waist. She’s got these beautiful long skirts.

Fabric-wise, I love the way she includes lots of beading in her work. The other thing she has done really well, for instance, is having a range of t-shirts with Drum Magazine and various covers that were pertinent.

Mandela was on the cover of Drum magazine, she made that into a t-shirt.

For your couture clothing, you will look at someone like JJ Schoeman. JJ has taken black tie outfit into a different zone.

He’s got an African thing going on, but he also has this European feel, elegant female, kind of like you’re Dressed at Tiffany’s There’s no fluff, you just feel comfortable and glamorous at the same time.

What’s the strangest outfit you’ve ever worn?

There’ve been many! (laughs). I think the strangest outfits were always in my twenties when I had to wear really skimpy outfits.  It never really sat well with me.

There you are at a cocktail party, and you’re having to wear something where a little bit of tummy is showing and its tight around the buttocks area and I thought that was really uncomfortable, where you had to stand and chat to people one on one.

For girls in their twenties, I think we should be afforded the opportunity to say: “No, I don’t want to wear that because I will be standing with CEOs of companies and having conversations and this dress misrepresents me.

You’re allowed to wear sedate and simple clothing, you will still have a beautiful smile, and you will still have a beautiful body.

I guess when it comes to weird outfits, everything from peacock feathers to porcupine quills, you name it, its been done!

gsport strives to celebrate femininity, how would you define femininity?

Femininity is strength because I do believe the relationship between a male and female is that men look for partners in life. They look for a woman who is capable. 

Men don’t want to have to take care of somebody. I think that’s an archaic thinking from the 50s. I think men look for someone who can enhance their life.

By the same token, everything I am saying, a woman should ask for in a partner as well.

What’s your favourite spectator sport?

Ice skating. You’ve got the dance, the music, and those triple axels, wow! It’s dancing on ice.

Who is your favourite sports star?

Dr Shane Dorfman, our karate champion. Shane and his dad, Malcolm, have been doing the most incredible work. Everything that they do is brilliant.

I’ve got nothing but respect of them as a family and in terms of what they’ve achieved with karate.

Still to achieve?

I haven’t had a personal relationship that has had longevity. I was married to a wonderful man by the name of Mark Barker.

We were married in 1996 and he died in a plane crash in 1998. It was very difficult, not something you would wish on anybody, to lose someone that close to you.

What I haven’t done is I haven’t had a child and I haven’t had a really good succinct relationship with a man and I think it’s about time to step forward into that zone.

To contact Michelle, logon to her amazing website.

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Launched in 2006, gsport exists to enhance the commercial prospects of our women athletes, and other women in sport, by telling the inspiring story of SA women in sport. Thank you for your contribution!

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