My Father, Christo Wiese, On What Defines Happiness, What Doesn’t Matter & What Keeps Him Grounded

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A few years ago (OK, if I were to give away my age and be brutally honest, I would confess it was about 14 years ago), I found myself working as a naive, annoyingly enthusiastic intern at Marie Claire magazine in South Africa (think Anne Hathaway in The Devil Wears Prada. Pre-makeover). This internship took place during my three-month summer break from my last year of studying journalism in London.

I was about 20 years old at the time and ended up getting my ‘big break’ in the world of glossy magazines, in a very similar way to how I ended up on a film set with Colin Farrell. I had nothing to lose, took a wild, impulsive chance and “fortune favoured the brave”. I simply picked up the phone one day, called Cosmopolitan magazine and told them I was a journalism student looking for an internship. The lady who answered the phone said they didn’t have any vacancies for me but she knew that Marie Claire happened to be looking for extra help. The rest, as they say, is history.

As time progressed during my stint at Marie Claire, then deputy editor Kate Wilson and editor Suzy Brokensha gave me increasing responsibility. I eventually suggested we interview my father for the “What I’ve Learned” section which, at the time, was published every month on the very last page of the magazine.  The team had mostly interviewed celebrities, artists and people in the creative world for this section, but I felt my dad would be the perfect interview subject for this particular page (even though his most “creative invention” to date has probably been the Panado box he keeps in his car for spare change to give to car guards. He simply cannot recommend this nifty little trick highly or frequently enough to any passengers who happen to catch a ride in his car).

ChristoClareWieseMy father had been interviewed countless times before, but with an always-similar line of questioning: what are the keys to success and serious wealth? Today, over a decade later, this question has become: “how did a barefoot boy from Upington (a small arid town in South Africa) manage to get onto Forbes magazine’s global rich list, in one generation?”

The Marie Claire interview (which was, as the name of the page suggested, about “what life had taught” him) turned out to be a huge hit – at least insofar as I was aware. He was inundated with calls from friends and relatives, who had found his comment about “the secret to a successful marriage” particularly entertaining. I will repeat it hereunder, as it’s just too good to leave out.

This past week, over the course of some deep conversations, my father’s illuminating philosophies on life, loss and everything in between, once again struck a cord with me. As much as the world sees my dad as one of the big bosses of South African business, I feel his greatest wealth lies in the sum of his experiences, the priceless life lessons he has taken from them and his discerning outlook on the world. Perhaps this is why I always turn to him first when life throws me lemons.

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Remembering the Marie Claire interview we did so many years ago, I decided it was time for a refresher course; an updated “What I’ve Learned”. This piece is, at the heart of it, really just for me (a type of “dear diary”entry, if you will). However, I nevertheless wanted to publish it here on my blog, with the simple intention of sharing some of my dad’s personal life hacks, just in case some of them might strike a cord with you too.

So, here they are:

What gives life meaning is the love of family and friends, and one’s love for that which is yours, like your country and your people.

What keeps me down-to-earth is my family (I have three very strong-willed children) and my very cheeky dog, Kimbey, who treats me like her personal servant – I have to carry her wherever she goes and, 90 per cent of the time, she ignores me when I call her.

The most impressive people are those that are not overwhelmed by their perceived success and therefore do not become a legend in their own minds.

I combat stress by regularly having fun with my friends over lunch at my favourite Capetonian restaurant, Magica Roma, and playing matches to determine who has the privilege of paying the bill. I used to play under the name “Champ” and now play under the name “Prince”. Let’s just say, we all have our noms de guerre.

It’s frustrating when things go wrong that can so easily be put right and those in positions of power lack the courage or political will to do so.

Growing up in Upington is something I am very grateful for because of the life lessons I learned in a beautiful but harsh part of the world, one of them being that life is not always a bed of roses and sometimes you just have to get on with it.

How you treat people says a lot about who you are and will determine, in most instances, how they treat you.

It’s OK to make mistakes, to fail and to try again.

My mother taught me that one should not concern yourself with things you can do nothing about. Rather focus on those things you can do something about and then go ahead and do something.

My father taught me to treat people from all ranks, creeds and races, equally. He got on with everyone.

The three biggest lessons I wish to impart to my children are: be your own person, never allow others to determine your horizons and accept that “life is a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get” (as the movie character, Forrest Gump, so eloquently put it).

Happiness is achieved when you consider all your blessings.

The secret to a successful marriage is, inter alia, learning what your spouse’s air conditioning preferences are, prior to tying the knot.

The hardest lesson I have had to learn is that there are circumstances in life which are simply beyond our power to change.

The measure of a successful life is when you leave the world a better place than you found it.

I try not to fall into the trap of focusing on the negatives.

Age makes you realise that patience is a great virtue.

I thank my lucky stars that I grew up in a loving and nurturing home, and that I in turn am the father of a happy family.

My children have taught me that there is something like limitless love.

Dogs are undoubtedly man’s best friend (it’s a cliché for a reason).

My wife has taught me that I am allowed to decide the big issues (like what the gold price should be and whether America should go to war in Iraq) but all other decisions will be made by her.

All of us should try to give more than we take. And all of us can do that.

What helps me most during turbulent times is my belief in a higher authority whose guiding hand determines our way through life.

I look up to so many people that it’s impossible to name them all. The qualities I admire most in others include compassion, humour and having a sense of direction.

It doesn’t matter if your dreams don’t all come true. What does matter is that you do have dreams.

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Our little gang at my father’s festive yet informal 75th birthday party at our family’s wine estate, Lourensford. Clockwise from left: my sister Bella, myself, my father, my brother Jacob, my beautiful mother Caro, my sister-in-law Ty and my husband Marco (aka Planet).

Love,

Clare.

PS thank you, Jani B, for the beautiful photographs of my dad’s 75th birthday “boerefees” used throughout this post.

This interview, translated into Afrikaans, was re-published with permission by Huisgenoot.com.

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