Tora Olaiya is a model, actress and TV presenter on M-NET. she talks about her daily routine filming for television, challenges and getting inspiration from her grandpa and uncle (Dr Victor Olaiya, high-life pioneer).
How is life as a TV personality like? What is your typical day like? Life as a TV personality can be very unpredictable and that’s one of the things I really like about it. I loathe monotony; so it’s the perfect job for me as there is not one day that is ever the same and each day on the job brings something different.
There is usually a process to filming for TV. There’s pre-production (before filming), production (filming) and post production (after filming). I’m generally involved in all three stages at some level. Before filming, I meet with the stylist for a wardrobe fitting so we know what I’ll be wearing for a shoot. I also meet with the team for a production meeting. I receive a brief about who or what we will be filming and I go away and prepare myself in the form of research and questions. On the day of filming, we usually start with my makeup, then we do my hair and then I change into my wardrobe (this can take up to three hours). There are times I may be required do a voice over during the post production-phase.
What gives you the inspiration to do the things that you do?
I draw my inspiration from my family and life experiences. I come from a family of people who were very successful in what they did. My grandfather was a very successful lawyer, my great-uncle is a renowned trumpet player and highlife pioneer (Dr. Victor Olaiya) and my father was a very successful pilot engineer who loved his job (he was happiest when he was flying in the air). When my father died, I was 14 years old and I realised at a young age that it’s important to do what you love. My father taught me that if you’re good at something, you’ll make money; but if you love what you do, you’ll be happy and make money all at the same time. Everything I do is in the pursuit of genuine happiness for myself and the people around me.
Let’s talk about some memorable moments with MNET. How did it all begin?
M-NET all began with me leaving my job as a radio presenter. At the time of my audition I had been unemployed for about three weeks. I had no idea what I was going to do but I knew that I was going to work on TV (in my eyes it was always the natural evolution of my career). However, some people around me were very sceptical as they felt I left a perfectly good job with no feasible plan. Everyone, except for one friend who told me that M-NET were looking for presenters. At first, I was a little sceptical because it was an open audition/competition (which was documented and broadcast on TV) and I was worried about what people would think, especially if I didn’t make the cut. But my friend convinced me to audition, which I did and it was the best thing I could have ever done. I am really thankful for my losses and my blessings. If I hadn’t left my job and if it wasn’t for my friend Lolo, I would have never known about the M-Net auditions.
What are some of the challenges encountered on the job?
I feel like things only become a challenge once you see them as such, so I work really hard at practicing the art of positive and alternative thinking. It’s an art I am yet to master, but I’ve learnt to accept that TV production can sometimes be about improvisation. We can plan and have all the pre-production meetings in the world, but there is always something that will not go accordingly and at that point you have to improvise. It has really put my problem-solving skill to the test and as a perfectionist I have learnt to let things go a bit more. I’m still a perfectionist though (which can sometimes be a gift and a curse).
How do you cope with them?
I deal with challenges by not seeing them as challenges; but by seeing them as an opportunity to think outside the box and move forward doing something different which can sometimes be better than the original plan. In that respect, my motto is really just to keep moving forward and try not to dwell on the negative.
Tell us about your career and the other things that occupy your time
My career is really fast-rising as a TV presenter and as my personal and professional development evolves, people will see that there is so much more to me. I am creative at heart and I’ve been trained in many arts. I have a diploma in music technology and performing arts, a degree in music business management and marketing and various certificates in video and radio production. Since my move to Nigeria, I have set up my own company and consulted as well as written and produced a number of radio programmes and video content for a few companies.
Over the past year, I have been working on producing content for my online platform. My website and YouTube channel will be launched very soon and I’m really excited because it will be a place where people can see all the different layers to me, including my skill set in TV and video production. I also have 10 years’ experience in the youth sector and education (I’m a qualified English Language lecturer) and I’m currently developing a youth empowerment platform for young adults. Outside of that, I host a lot of events and I model and act and look forward to people seeing me in a few projects this year.
What lessons have you learnt working in the sector?
I have learnt so many lessons since working in media and entertainment in Nigeria. I have learnt that being yourself is key. Not everyone is going to like you and that’s okay because most of the time it’s not personal. I’ve also learnt that nothing hardly ever goes according to plan and that you just have to let it go and keep it moving. The most valuable lesson I’ve learnt is that humility and generosity can go a long way. I always try to help where I can, particularly if it’s not going to cost me anything because the truth is people have done the same for me. I work very hard, but it would be nothing without God placing people in my life who believe in me and are humble and generous enough to give me a chance. I’ve also learnt to be much more adaptable, never underestimate the power of being flexible in this industry.
What dreams did you have while you were growing up? Did you have an alternative career?
I remember wanting to be an architect when I was four years old because I loved to draw and was good at it. But then I got into music very early and was signed to a major recording label at the age of 15, so I probably would have been a recording artist/record producer. But the truth is I’ve always believed that I can be anything that I want to be (and I will), as there are so many things that I want to do outside of media and TV presenting.
Let’s compare when you started and now. What has changed?
When I started out in media in the UK, there were hardly any dark-skin woman on TV (hence my move to Nigeria). When I got here, I was quite overwhelmed by the lack of infrastructure in the sector, particularly the back-end of things. But over the past few years I’ve seen a lot of improvement and that’s mainly because of the advancement of the digital technology. The internet has pushed the power back into the creative hands. There is a lot more autonomy in the industry and the artists are making a lot of money as a result of it.
What are some of the changes that you would like to see in the sector?
There are a few things I would like to see change in the industry, such as unity. There’s a lot of division, particularly amongst woman which leads to a lack of empowerment. As a demographic, we complain that women are not respected and considered as equals in the industry, but I think it starts with ourselves. How can we demand respect when we don’t even empower each other? I would like to see more government backing from the sector and that starts with empowering talented young people within the creative industries. It’s my dream to see a lot more funding going into youth development within the sector.
What is your definition of style? How would you assess Nigerian designers?
To me, style is all about what makes you feel comfortable and more importantly what makes you look good and suits your body type. As far as I’m concerned, there’s a thin line between personal style and fashion and I feel people tend to conform to the latter of what’s in vogue as opposed to what actually looks good on them. If you study my personal style, it’s very unique to me. I design a lot of what I wear and you can see me in anything from vintage to couture to high street brands. I generally wear what I like and I tend to work with designers that understand me and my body type. I love Nigerian designers; a lot of them are bold and know how to make a statement. But some designers need to work on their customer service skills and work ethic. I’ll work with anyone once, but the minute I see a lack in customer service and overall interpersonal skills, I won’t work with them again.
What are some of the items that you cherish most in your wardrobe?
I absolutely adore urban footwear because I grew up in inner-city London. So, I love Jorden’s. I have a number of them, as well as my Convers and Vans. I also love my casual wear items like my ponchos and kimonos (basically anything that is quick, easy and comfortable to wear). I also love dressing up and have a few items from some Nigerian designers that I absolutely treasure; such as Luxury by Feyi, Sean Manuel Fashion House, Gigi Signature and Fab Lan by Derin. I have a few designer bags which I really treasure but only because they last forever.
How do you relax?
I relax by spending time with my family and friends; it really keeps me grounded because outside of work I’m a very goofy person, I don’t take myself too seriously and I love to joke around. So, my family gives me that release where I can be unfiltered and not worry about what people think. They give it to me straight and yap me all the time (in a humorous way of course) and I love that because I’m the same. Don’t judge me, but I also watch a lot of reality TV. I call it trash TV and it really is my guilty pleasure.
Tell us about some of your awards and recognitions
One award that I am really proud of is that which I received in the UK. I was awarded the Princess Trust Millennium Award and received a grant worth thousands of pounds to set up a project for underprivileged youths in London. It was a creative workshop that took young people off the streets and engaged them in the arts. It was very successful and I hope to do the same again in my life time and hopefully more.
Let’s talk about the people that you admire and role models
I really admire IK Osakioduwa. I think he’s an exceptional TV host and compere. I’ve recently come to admire Ebuka Obi-Uchendu (it’s not a fluke, the guy is really talented) and his live hosting skills are very impressive. There are also many women in the industry who I admire – from Linda Ikeji to Mo Abudu to so many others (their consistency is second to none). On the international scene, Oprah Winfrey and Ryan Seacrest are two people who have really inspired me, and when it comes to the UK, I grew up on people like June Sarpong, Andy Peters and Moira Stuart (to name a few). As far as role models are concerned, my mother and father are two people who have set a high standard of how I measure success. My older sister (Margret) is also a huge role model in my life and my auntie (Princess Moradeun) has always been a huge source of inspiration to me. There are so many people who have inspired me in this thing called life that it would take a whole essay to mention them all. But for the most part, Nigerians as a people inspire me as we are so resilient. Despite our adversities, we still keep going. It’s something that I really admire and think about a lot.
If you had to advise young people, what would you tell them?
My advice to young people would be to know who you are and know what you want as early as you can in life (having a vision is key). Once you get that down pat, prefect your craft and practice as much as you possibly can. Study your field and successful people within your sector. Be hardworking and resourceful and, trust me, the rest will fall into place.