The Eternal Charm of Ojy Okpe

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The beautiful and charming Ojy Okpe, a model of international acclaim, TV anchor and filmmaker shares her day with Vanessa Obioha in a conversation that traverses her talk show career at ARISE NEWS Channel’s
Morning Show and the special bond she shares with her children.

Bad timing. I had arrived just when Ojy Okpe was about to go on air for her segment ‘What’s Trending with Ojy Okpe’ on The Morning Show on ARISE NEWS Channel. It was difficult to get her full attention as she carried out last-minute checks before waltzing into the studio in an emerald green dress and gold heeled shoes. Yet, she managed to offer a handshake and a smile when we were briefly introduced.

Thirty minutes later, Okpe walked out of the studio exuberant like a young girl who just had her first singing audition. She crouched in front of a colleague and asked with the innocence of a child “Did you watch the show? How did it go?”

She would later turn to me with her captivating smile. “Yes, now I can really talk to you.” We reintroduced ourselves. There was something about her smile that reassured me that we were going to have an engaging conversation. It was charming and calming. By now, she had kicked off her shoes and tucked them into one of her bags. They were replaced by comfortable sandals which in no way detracted from her graceful gait.

Not a routine lady, Okpe who was born Ojinika (a woman of substance) found herself settling into the daily rigours of preparing for her show. There are tonnes of news stories to sift through, fact-checking them, editing her segment before uploading it on YouTube, and then, of course, her wardrobe. On this particular sunny Tuesday afternoon, she decided to go shopping after editing, even though it was not her favourite pastime.

Just before we drove off to The Clan fashion store at Ajose Adeogun in Victoria Island, I caught a glimpse of her caring nature. First, she noticed a mark on her driver’s face.
“What happened to you? Did you fight?”
While the driver was yet to respond, she noticed a lint on the collar of my dress and brushed it aside. For the rest of the trip to the store, she served as our assistant Google Map guide, directing the driver on where to navigate. Her Yoruba pronunciations, I noticed and commented on, were terrible.
She didn’t object.

“I know. When I pronounce Yoruba names, I panic,” said Okpe who is from Ukwuani in Delta State.
She attempted to pronounce Makoko, one of the slums in Lagos. It didn’t come out right. We ended up laughing at her efforts.

Having returned to Lagos a few years ago, Okpe’s exploration of the city is limited, mainly because of her busy schedule. There was a time she enjoyed the social life but nowadays, her image of Lagos, she admitted, is beach scenery.

“What I really like is the beach atmosphere. I like to take a boat to go out to Ilashe, and just relax there. And I think it’s such a beautiful city when you look at it from that angle and see how much money we can make through tourism if it’s properly developed.”
Makoko is one of the places she would love to visit, mainly because of the human interest stories that have emanated from the lagoon slum.

Okpe, it turned out, is drawn to human interest stories which in a way is what her segment strives for.
“I like the fact that I’m able to impact change in certain stories that I tell. I enjoy that I’m able to connect with people in that type of manner where people are even reaching out to me to discuss this or that because it’s so important to them. It’s like a system where we are just trying to create change.”

With the pandemic necessitating different lifestyle changes, the model believes it had little impact on the way we tell our stories. According to her, the attention given to the pandemic relegated other real stories affecting us. Her understanding of what makes news in the world today is profound.

“People use opinions to direct change. What else is news if Donald Trump for example did not instigate the insurrection? It was his opinion, what he thought, what he said, it was just one man’s opinion that shaped that whole narrative and people now understand what America is and how democracy should never be trampled on. I think that’s news.”

Many years after, Okpe still has the modelling body that caught the eye of a talent scout Jan Malan who encouraged her to enter the Mnet’s Face of Africa competition when she was 17. A six-footer and a perfect 10, she moves with graceful strides and exudes an innocence that is so beguiling one wonders if she truly has aged over the years.

“I think I’m still so young at heart. Sometimes I don’t even believe how old I am. I don’t know if I have really changed. I have matured a lot in terms of how I perceive life because of some of the experiences that I’ve had. But I think I’m the same person as the 17-year-old girl who’s just been a go-getter. I visualise my future and I don’t take no for an answer.”

Born to a retired Nigerian Commissioner of Police Matthew Egwuenu and his wife Philomena, Okpe was drawn into the world of fashion at a young age. Her mother was into tailoring and had a fashion house. Okpe, fascinated by fashion, often spent time poring over her mother’s fashion catalogues, admiring models like Naomi Campbell spread on the glossy pages. She often drifted away to an imaginary world, picturing herself walking the runway and hearing the cheers of the audience.
“There’s no excitement that can compare to that feeling and passion, the adrenaline when you’re on the runway and you have people cheering,” she enthused.

Last year, she walked the ARISE Fashion Week runway for designers Hudayya and Yutee Rone, bringing the one-day show to commemorate Nigeria’s Day in the World Expo 2020 in Dubai to a close.
Modelling at her age could be scary for some people. She argued that most people have the misconception that they cannot model when they get to a certain age.

“It’s just a certain group of models that can really achieve that. You have to really have that demand, be marketable, build your client base and have the drive to continue because it can be very tasking when you get to a certain age and designers just want to use younger models. It’s hard if that’s all you have going for you because you will be getting jobs that are just limited to older people, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not as much as when you’re younger.”

One of the fashion icons Okpe holds dearly to her heart is the late Princess of Wales, Diana. Her love for the deceased is still so strong that you could feel it in her punctuation.
“My mother used to make clothes like Diana so I got to know what fashion meant through her. So in my room, I had pictures and posters of Diana.”

The news of her death, she said, was a devastating blow as she recalled her mood that particular day in 1997.
“I remember the first time I heard that she was in that car accident. She hadn’t been pronounced dead at that point. But the news came and I was literally crying. When she was pronounced dead later, it was devastating. It was the worst day. We were preparing to go to church that day.”

Her voice assumed a higher pitch as she proceeded to describe what she wore that fateful day.
“I will never forget what I was wearing. A red dress, just like the type of dress Princess Diana would wear; and I had my black pantyhose and red shoes. And I had my black hat. I made a little scarf around just the way she would, going to church that Sunday morning when we heard that she passed. And I sat down in front of the mirror in my room I would never forget. I just thought about what it meant losing a woman that I admired so much.”

She still channels Diana in her everyday look.
“I only wish I could have the courage to wear her hair the way she did. Maybe when I turn 50 I will have my hair done in that signature look that she wore so gracefully.”
Okpe is not a fan of extravagant styles, particularly now she is on TV. Her style is minimalist or as she puts it, streamlined and simple. Therefore when we arrived at our destination, still all smiles, she opted for simple but classy outfits. She tried on a forest green top and pants that accentuated her beauty. Some adjustments were taken. For the next few minutes, she and Tiwa, one of the brains behind the brand deliberate on styles and colours. Not done, she feasted her eyes on the array of lovely earrings displayed. Her favourite accessories, she said, are earrings.

As we left the store, Okpe couldn’t help admiring the resilience of Tiwa and her sisters who are the daughters of fashion designer Deola Sagoe.
“I’m so proud of you girls,” she told her excitedly.
We ended up having lunch in a cosy restaurant in Victoria Island where we discussed her film career and family.

Okpe knew that she wanted to be a filmmaker right from childhood. Therefore after studying Mass Communication in college, she attended St John’s University, New York between 2003 and 2006 and graduated with a degree in Film Production. She had worked on several Hollywood productions including the 2009 American romantic comedy ‘Confessions of a Shopaholic’. To bridge the gap between Nollywood and Hollywood, she floated a film production company Third Mainland but has now been changed to Africa Shape.
“It’s really just about trying to shape the narrative of Africa. So I’m looking at stories like Queen Amina,” she explained.

Her lifetime heroes include the late South African President Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
When asked about a living legend in Nigeria that she would love to make a biopic on, the closest her mind could pick was the literary icon, Prof. Wole Soyinka. I pressed on to see if a political figure would crop up.

“Can you see how tough it is? Because when you think of political figures, you see mostly the struggles and you wonder what exactly they have done.”
After a few minutes, she added:
“I don’t know if anyone has really done the Ojukwu story. They’ve done the Biafra story but not Ojukwu. That is someone I would love to explore; why he chose the struggle. He will make an interesting subject.”
Although she is known today as a model, a TV anchor and filmmaker, the title however she would love to be recognised as is “a great mommy.”

For the mother of two who has a special bond with her children, motherhood is a blessing.
“I can’t believe I have these children. They are amazing children. I’m so lucky with them because sometimes I’m like, what is it that I did that made Him (God) give me such good children? The way that I have envisioned my life, I could never think of it in any way without my two children. I feel like I’m nothing without them.”