Jo-Ann Strauss is one of those girls it would be easy enough to hate. Not only is this former beauty queen and university graduate a self-made media mogul and one of South Africa’s most iconic faces, but she is also married to an almost uncomfortably attractive surgeon (her very own McDreamy) with two gorgeous toddlers filling their home in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, Cape Town. Oh, and I forgot to mention, she’s had personal interactions with the likes of George Clooney and Nelson Mandela – yep, that should do it.
However, as someone who has known Jo for a few years now and seen her go from strength to strength without ever losing sight of what really matters, I can see why she is (on the contrary) adored by so many: both those that know her on a personal level and the South African public, at large.
She exudes that rare and delicate combination of aspirational glamour and down-to-earth authenticity that simply makes her, well, impossible to hate. Instead, she can’t help but inspire. It’s for that very reason that I asked Jo to share some of her personal stories with us, right here on The Global Critic. Of course, being the supportive friend that she is, she graciously obliged (whilst being out of town for work on a super tight schedule).
Jo-Ann, you stepped into the spotlight in 2000 when you were crowned Miss South Africa. Many beauty queens are one-hit-wonders and disappear from the scene after their reign, yet you have steadily maintained your position in the spotlight. Was this always the plan?
I never planned on staying in the spotlight, so this was not quite a focus for me. Before I had entered Miss SA, my long-term goal was to work in the media industry, so I knew that the pageant would be a good move strategically and I leveraged my contacts and networks accordingly.
I had initially planned to become the MD of a huge media company. Now, when I look at how things have turned out, I enjoy the flexibility that being a media entrepreneur affords me, as I have time to travel and spend time with my family.
What was the first step you took towards fulfilling your dreams of working in the media?
After my reign as Miss South Africa, my immediate priority was finishing my Bachelor of Commerce degree at Stellenbosch University and so that’s what I did. My career in media actually started during this period. When I wasn’t in class, I was television presenting, while other students had jobs as waiters and waitresses.
What was your very first job in television and how did you land it?
My first job in television was for the SABC lifestyle show, Pasella. I started working on 1 April 2001 and thought it was quite an apt date (being April Fool’s Day) as they had me in a ballgown and stilettos, prancing about in the Cango Caves in Oudtshoorn. But, like everyone else, I first had to audition.
Were you nervous as a newbie television presenter or did it come rather naturally?
I had been exposed to some television work through Miss SA, so I was ok, but not quite a natural.
From there, how did your career evolve to where it is today?
After my time at Pasella, I started presenting for Top Billing and ZDF, Germany’s largest television channel. From there, my reach into the media world steadily expanded: I started my own television production company, became an ambassador for large international brands like Lux and Samsung and launched an online presenter search (www.socialstar.me), which quickly morphed into a huge social media competition and has been running for three years now. Through this, I have helped many youngsters break into the media world, including Mishka Patel who has presented for Pasella. I am currently producing a new reality series, to be unveiled soon.
Everyone has dreams. What do you think differentiates those who have dreams from those who go out and make them reality?
I live by a mantra, “if it’s to be, it’s up to me.” I think some people wait on others to fulfil their dreams. That way, their dreams remain dreams.
It would be easy for the public to look at your life and assume you have it all: a gorgeous husband, two healthy kids and a dynamic career. What makes you human and what do you struggle with from time to time?
I am constantly struggling to juggle everything and am so grateful for my husband being a supportive man … and a damn good-looking one at that;) When I have moments of self-doubt, which I do, he pours me a big glass of red wine and tells me to put on my big-girl panties! Overall, however, I do feel super blessed and say thank you every day.
What are your moments about self-doubt about?
I had a major impostor-complex as Miss SA, as I never felt I was the prettiest girl in the competition. I experienced some hurtful media scrutiny from radio DJ’s who said some nasty things about me, when I was still 19 and wearing the sash. But, I soon adopted the attitude that I simply couldn’t let others’ perceptions of me detract from my own truth and living my life. I am older and more confident now, but I definitely still have my moments.
Who have you most enjoyed meeting during your career as a media personality?
I was honored to have met Nelson Mandela a few times; his humility made a lasting impression.
Name some other celebrities you have had the opportunity of meeting.
George Clooney, Bono, Kim Kardashian, Elton John, Heidi Klum … there have been quite a few, so it’s impossible to list them. An “occupational hazard,” I guess;)
Which celebrity surprised you the most and why?
George Clooney was hilarious and so kind. He threw in some unexpected answers to my questions, containing the odd sexual innuendo, which made me blush. But, luckily, I managed to hold it together and make him blush in return with a few witty retorts.
What is Kim Kardashian like in person?
I met Kim at a fashion gala in Monaco. She was initially quite aloof, but after she realised we were seated at the same table, she became curious and a bit more chatty.
She was actually quite sweet, but I understand why she is so stand-offish.
Thousands of people were staring at her every move and her huge engagement ring. This was just after she became engaged to Kris Humphries.
What is the craziest interview question you have ever been asked?
I was asked which celebrity I’d want to sleep with.
And…what was your answer? You can’t leave us hanging!
I said Angelina Jolie. I figured I might as well make the interviewer’s jaw drop too;)!
If you could interview one person (dead or alive) who would it be and what would you ask them?
I’d interview Reeva Steenkamp and ask her what happened that fateful night.
What has been your favourite fashion moment of all time?
My wedding dresses. I had asked my friend and one of my favourite local designers, Gideon, to design them and he created three incredible dresses that perfectly reflected my personality.
Who is your fashion icon and why?
Jessica Alba. She understands subtlety and effortless style.
What are your best spots in Cape Town?
- for the best coffee: our Tamboerskloof neighbourhood hangout, the Blue Café;
- for a weekend breakfast with the family: the Camps Bay Retreat or The Roundhouse;
- for a casual lunch with girlfriends: Beluga or Willoughby’s;
- for a fancy date night: the the Camps Bay Retreat;
- for a relaxing spa treatment: the nineteenth-floor spa in the Westin Cape Town Hotel. The views from there are epic.
Which beauty products can you not live without?
Finish these sentences:
- I never leave home without my Samsung Galaxy S7 smartphone. It takes the best pictures.
- I would hate to be in a closed room with a praying mantis. I’m terrified of them!
- My favourite book of all time is The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho.
- My favourite movie of all time is Zoolander.
Is there a down-side to fame in South Africa?
I think maybe the fact that it’s not as financially rewarding as in the States, but on the flip-side, it’s also not as intrusive as elsewhere and you can still live a “normal” life.
You recently started a blog about the challenges of being a mother in modern times.
I started my blog, Modern Mommy, in 2014 and try to spend as much time as I can on it, but it’s hard to focus fully on it as I have a few other businesses and a family that require my attention. I would however like to use my blog as a tool to empower “mompreneurs” and share useful tips with other mothers. I have been encouraged by the response the blog has received thus far.
What is the biggest challenge facing modern mommies today and how do you handle being a mom, a businesswoman, a friend and a wife?
The challenge is the guilt. You feel guilty when working too much and being away from home. When you’re at home with the family, you feel guilty for not working. Even now, as I am sitting, typing these answers (at 05h35), I am trying to make sure that the tapping of the computer keys doesn’t wake up my baby.
There are simply not enough hours in the day, so I work when I can, often sacrifice my beauty sleep and rely heavily on concealer and eye drops!
What is the most valuable lesson you’ve learned from your mother?
Don’t take yourself too seriously.
If you could teach your kids one indispensable lesson about life, what would it be?
What are your rules for living a well-rounded, happy life?
There are no rules, but I try to make a conscious decision every day to focus on that which makes me and those important to me, happy. You can’t please everyone, so it’s pointless trying.