Money & Sense: Don't be famous with no money, that's cheap popularity
Six years since the last episode of the Vickie Remoe Show was broadcast on TV, people still ask when I’ll return to it.
What most people don’t know about my 4 year run as a TV Talk Show host and producer in West Africa; is that despite traveling to Ghana, Senegal, Mali, and Nigeria to produce content, and having my face on billboards, I was financially insecure.
By the time I left the show in 2011 I was probably at the height of my local TV career. School children followed me on the streets, people stopped me in bars and restaurants, and most importantly the President of Sierra Leone himself called my phone to tell me that he was a fan of my work. President Koroma was so much a fan, that I was invited to be apart of his media delegation to the African Union General Assembly in Ethiopia in January 2010.
This wasn’t a commercial trip either. We flew private. Yes! I entered a 13-seater luxury private jet with the President of my country to go to an international African event all the way on the other side of the continent. So yeah I would say as far as popularity goes, I was popular. The problem though, I was also broke.
While I was able to secure small sponsorships from local companies like Africell, Airtel, and the Coca Cola Company, the large bulk of funding for my show came out of pocket. I put my sweat, tears, and all my money into the show to tell stories that no one else was telling about our way of life. It was good and successful but it dried me up financially. I didn’t “have” a lot already just a couple years out of undergrad so it was really hard.
I kept thinking if I just did one more season, people would see and it will breakthrough, the sponsors would come looking for me. I made big name friends across all sectors, MDs and ministers and top public individuals all knew me on a first name basis. I got invites to all kinds of events and parties. I mean I was fabulous! My friends and me were beautiful, young, and smart and highly sought after. My popularity sky-rocketed but my bank account went in the opposite direction.
I quite remember a Nigerian banker telling me that he knew Mo Abudu and could connect me with her so easily. He said MNET would probably be interested in my show. When I refused to be his girlfriend though he told me I clearly liked to suffer. You want to do things the hard way is what he told me. He had obviously showed me the way to get the kind of breakthrough I needed and I was sitting there telling him I didn’t want to be his girlfriend. Such a foolish girl I was right?
My mom was really supportive financially. Every year I wanted to do another season she gave me money to continue. She enjoyed watching the show so much that after a while when I would say I wanted to stop she would tell me I couldn’t. She too wanted to watch the Vickie Remoe Show.
My grandmother didn’t want me to stop either; she said after a while that I had a responsibility to the public.
I would say mummy but “ah noh get money. Dis tin jus day drain me money.”
She would say but people are counting on you. They are waiting for your show every week. All these girls look up to you.
So I kept going. Long after I realized it wasn’t going anywhere I kept producing the show the quality improved. We went on the road. We told stories that still make me proud.
The bottom line though is even I knew that this was not enough. Any passion or art that doesn’t sustain you puts you on a path for potential exploitation.
If I hadn’t stopped doing that show, it would have yes continued to make me popular but the local industry still wasn’t developed enough (still isn’t), to benefit me financially. What TV gave me was an opportunity to tell stories that brought dignity to everyday people but it also exposed me and made me a target for a lot men.
There are lecherous men in our society. These men are in positions of power waiting to take advantage of young women (there are women also looking to trade sex for opportunities but that wasn’t me) trying to make something of them selves. These men are decision makers in business and for the most part they don’t care about supporting anything you are trying to build if you’re not looking to put out.
Today I meet a lot of young women interested in the media. They say they are journalists and they want to be like me, on TV. I don’t tell anyone don’t do it because we all have to follow our own path.
What I do try to share in my own way is that for a woman the absolute worst thing in my opinion is to be popular, seen, recognizable, and a household name but not have that translate into actual wealth.
For all the imperfections and consumerism promoted by the Kardashian Clan one thing that doesn’t get lost on me at all is that they live in a society where one can channel popularity (whether good or bad) into financial gain. West Africa may be also perhaps moving in that direction but it takes a long long long long time and lots of exposure for someone in this part of the world to translate being well known into being well paid.
Perhaps my fate would be different today than it was back in 2008 before Instagram and Facebook penetration became what they are now on the continent. I don’t think so though.
The take away from my TV experience for me was to always focus on substance and self-preservation. I knew that I would never ever again find myself doing anything that didn’t sustain me financially. I would never put myself in a situation where I would follow passion over financial independence and sustainability.