No Nonsense Nonny Behind the public face of Nonny Gathoni, host of Citizen TV’s popular The Wedding Show, is a driven yet fiercely private woman. Wangui Wachira takes a closer look.
Every Sunday at 6pm, Kenyans and other East Africans get to tune in to The Wedding Show to get their weekly dose of all things wedding. They love the gowns, the colour, the splendour and all the little details that go into making weddings such beautiful, moving, exasperating events. Naturally, what viewers see is just the icing on the cake – behind the scenes, an enormous amount of planning and effort go into producing a reality show of this magnitude. Cool, calm and collected is the best way to describe Nonny Gathoni, the 24-year-old presenter and assistant producer of the show. She is all grace and poise as she sits down to an interview with TRUE LOVE.
She has a massive following that cannot get enough of her – although she has her detractors who think it would be better if she and the show would just quietly go away. Ironically, few of her critics are tuning into a different channel during the hour-long show. How else would they know what to complain about?
Love or hate her, you cannot dismiss Nonny. Her show has helped elevate the wedding industry in Kenya to a must-watch multi-million shilling industry. And she supports this. “The show has definitely changed the industry in the country as participants, viewers and suppliers now incorporate more ideas and creativity into weddings,” she says.
Before joining the show, Nonny never considered herself an expert presenter, let alone a presenter of a wedding show. But her upbringing played a big role in equipping her to handle anything life threw her way.
“When I was young, I was motivated to be who I wanted to be,” she says. “I was never told that I couldn’t do this or that – I always felt the sky was the limit.” Armed with such powerful affirmation and a love for the arts, Nonny eagerly took on new projects and gave them her best.
“Growing up, I was always in plays, festivals and all kinds of performances in school. In addition, my mum, Jayne Wambui Odewale, had a modelling agency in the ’90s, Keylu Modelling Agency, and every time she had a fashion show for kids I would model. This really made me confident and exposed me to the media.”
On occasion, Nonny would accompany her mother – who at one time served as a grooming consultant for KTN – to the studios. She also dabbled in voice-overs, which gave her further media exposure.
She briefly flirted with the idea of studying law, but decided on media studies.
“I was undecided between radio/TV and production, so going abroad to study was a big blessing because the schools there give you the entire perspective behind and in front of the scenes,” she explains. “And then you specialise towards the end of your course. It was great being exposed to both.”
Nonny later did her internship at KTN, on Art Scene. It was during that time that she knew her future lay back home.
“I realised it was essential for me to come back. For one, local media was just starting to grow and secondly, I felt my generation was the one going to make the changes we needed.”
Nonny’s job hunt began shortly after she arrived back home in 2007. Clear about her career direction, she approached the major media houses.
“I put together a show reel – a creation of my on-air and off-air production work – and sent this out together with my CV,” she says. “Of the stations that called back, I felt Citizen was the one. It was a growing station and we could grow together.”
Her initial days at Citizen were spent as a reporter in the newsroom, a steep learning curve and an excellent place to cut her media teeth.
“Being a newsroom reporter moulds you,” she reflects. “It builds character and sets your foundation in the media. But it’s not easy.”
Nonny’s hard work paid off because she later bagged a 30-minute corporate segment on Citizen’s Power Breakfast where she could put both her producing and presenting skills to good use. “I really enjoyed this as I was completely involved in every aspect of it.”
When the wildly popular Tusker Project Fame took off in Kenya, Nonny again found an opportunity to add to her ever growing portfolio.
“During the auditions I was sent out to do the live links on the ground. It was my first time and I was so nervous but I simply blocked off everything and did what I had to do.”
As she continued to explore the different facets of broadcast journalism, the concept of a wedding show was mooted by Waruru Wachira, managing director of Royal Media Services, Citizen’s parent company.
“He had on repeated occasions mentioned to me that he had this idea that he thought I could be part of. He then shared with us his vision for airing a reality wedding show, a show that would be aired in its true element, as it happened.”
Excited at the potential, Nonny threw herself into the project. This included months of preparation to structure the show and get it on air. There were high hopes that the Kenyan market was ready for something like a wedding show.
“We were worried about how Kenyans would receive it,” she admits. “It was a new concept and it was a risk. It came therefore as a shock that the response was so overwhelming.”
Over the course of time, The Wedding Show has taken its audience to various parts of the country, region and even abroad, giving front row seats at numerous weddings. So keen are brides-to-be to feature on the show that the show’s team is inundated with wedding invitations -months in advance – at its offices and on its social media sites.
So how do they make the selection?
“First of all, let me set the record straight,” Nonny says. “The show is sponsored and by that I mean we do not charge a single cent, and never will, to cover any wedding. It is free. Secondly, I am not involved in any way in the choices made. I am actually the wrong person to call and ask to cover your wedding. This is done by the producer and executive producer. I simply get assigned a wedding to attend that weekend.”
In a society where people are accustomed to “it’s who-you-know and how-much-you-have” to get things done, Nonny again raises a disclaimer. “With our show, it’s not about who you know or how much you paid for your gig,” she says.
“There are lots of criteria the producers use to pick the wedding I must attend, but it is an unbiased, random selection process.”
Every weekend, Nonny attends a wedding. Does she ever get cross-eyed from seeing too much bridal satin and wedding cake?
“No two weddings are alike,” she counters. “There may be similarities like the colour scheme but it is still different; the couple, the guests, the setting, everything. So there is always something new to see.”
During the high season, the team can cover up to five weddings a weekend. This requires great team coordination as Nonny can only be at one wedding at a time. Teams consisting of production assistants and cameramen are therefore sent out to cover the others. These teams are specifically trained to work on The Wedding Show as it calls for a different “eye”, Nonny explains. So while the guests are enjoying all the day has to offer, Nonny and the team are hard at work.
“We don’t try and ‘shape’ anyone’s wedding,” she explains. “We are not stage managing, neither are we involved with other aspects of a wedding in any way. We watch from the sidelines and show it just how it was meant to be. For me this is my job. It is not about me or my personal opinions. I sit at the back, totally inconspicuous and leave the viewer to be the judge. This is my office.”
The show’s detractors have bemoaned the commercialisation of weddings and the “suddenly” high expectations on men folk to give their brides elaborate weddings – something they blame on the show.
“Much as I am not for men spending unrealistic amounts for this day, a woman is a gem and it is essential to give her a good wedding,” Nonny counters.
She describes women as her best and worst critics, readily sharing their thoughts on everything from her hair to the way she speaks.
“I have never changed who I am. If I am to change something about myself for each person then I stop being me.”
The show may be a hot ticket, but her nuptials would surely cause a stampede, we venture.
“You can imagine the pressure,” she laughs.
“I am off the market and have been for a while. I have the most wonderful partner in the world and I thank God for him. He is an amazing person and so supportive.”
So, any wedding bells?
“Of course, but in the future.”
And when that day arrives, she says, her ideal scenario would be “a small intimate one, very classy, and most important would be the destination”.
Being one of the youngest people to have her own show is a responsibility few 20-somethings have had to shoulder, but Nonny appears to be handling the responsibility very well.
“You have to have a certain sense of humility to deal with the recognition that comes with being in the media, or else it goes to your head. I was 21 when I started hosting the show and I quickly realised I am representing a brand, both the show and the station. I knew that my face would always be associated with this show and so out of personal choice I ensured, and still do, that my actions have integrity. If my bosses could entrust me at such a young age, I could at least use the opportunity wisely.” Age, it seems, really is just a number.
Looking back, Nonny says she is glad that she was put in different situations at the station, which have shaped her career today.
“I have worked hard to get where I am today. I was never given any special opportunities or treatment. I was often thrown in the deep end, but I didn’t complain when things were tough, and I proved myself.”
Her career has also taught her that not everyone who comes in the name of friendship lives up to the definition.
“The people around me are very close knit and I have the same friends I had before the show. I don’t have random people around me because I realise the potential danger. Some people want to get close to you for their own reasons.”
Her sister Lulu helps her stay grounded.
“She is 100 per cent my support and I love her to bits. I am obsessed with my niece too with whom I spend a lot of time.”
During her down time, Nonny loves to travel and do part-time designing. Some of her work can be seen on the show.
Confident and ambitious, it’s clear that Nonny is going only one way – up.
“I have a passion for what I do,” she says. “My drive comes from the little things: touching people’s lives, being appreciated for what I do – that is what I judge my success on. I love the arts and the media is a great place to be. I am right in my element in this job.”
As for The Wedding Show, Nonny encourages viewers to continue tuning in.
“Expect the show to be there for a while. It is a great concept that is able to support itself. Right now, we are looking into incorporating more of the East African market and the different cultures. We are hoping to visit more Muslim, Asian and traditional weddings, as well as those from other cultures.”
What are some of your best childhood memories?
I have many childhood memories, mostly of times spent with my family. The three-month summer holidays my sister and I spent in the US with relatives … being a child with not a care in the world …
Describe a defining moment in your life.
When I began to realise my true strength as a woman, that I could appreciate what people told me, but that I could only truly learn from my own experiences.
Can you talk about a painful experience and what you learnt from it?
The ones that hurt the most are usually matters of the heart. Like every other woman, I have had painful experiences and through it all, I have learnt that no one is perfect. Not all relationships fit the stereotype – each is different. It’s only when you are wholeheartedly committed to someone that love and friendship can grow.
When are you most at peace?
When I’m by the ocean, which is quite often. It’s the one place I am able to think clearly and meditate on how such a small being as me was placed on God’s great earth. Another peaceful time for me is spending a quiet evening at home with my love.
What conditions would make you feel that “all is well with the world”?
One, that every person on earth should have at least one meal a day. Two, that no woman or child will be sexually violated. This problem is rampant in Kenya and victims rarely get justice. No one enjoys being criticised.
do you handle criticism about yourself and the show?
(laughs) I get criticism all the time, both positive and negative. I take both into consideration and learn from it, especially when it is in relation to the show. When it comes to people just simply hating on the presenter, I pay no attention.
Every woman usually has a mental picture of her perfect wedding dress. Describe yours.
I am original, I never do anything cliche. My dress would probably not be white! I would have it custom made to fit me perfectly. I also know that lots of bling wil be involved. None of that standard bustier gown with a poofy bottom that many Kenyan brides love – I’m so over it.