When Funmi Iyanda’s new show TWF debuted on February 7, I felt a sense of pride and accomplishment.
On the surface, you’d think I had no reason to: I had never met the lady, not to talk of being friends with her.
But I had known her for years – first through Tempo, where she became one of my favourite columnists; and later through her Breakfast TV show New Dawn. Fun mi is my kind of woman: Bold and brave; fierce and fearless; intelligent and independent-minded; restless and roaring; deep and devout. You’ll see it in her eyes; in her movement; her dressing. You’ll see it in the way she asks her questions, the way she agrees and disagrees; the way she fights and loves. This, is one passionate wo-man.
And it’s no make-believe, as you’ll find when you meet her in person.
The first time I ever saw her up close, was on Oxford Street in London. I had just stepped out of MacDonald’s when I spot a young lady I suspect is Ms Iyanda. I walk up close to confirm she’s the one, then spend the next 30 seconds debating if to walk up and introduce myself or not. I’ve been trying to interview this woman for years. Now here she is, in a strange land, alone.
The pedestrian light turns green and she crosses the road. I follow, keeping a small distance. Then she heads straight into Primark, and within seconds, is lost in the shopping crowd. I stand there, for what looked like an hour, scolding myself and imagining what the different editors I’ve worked with would have said, if I told them I saw Fun mi Iyanda alone in London, and let her ‘escape’.
‘‘Ol’ Boy you no serious now. You no know say na cover be that?’’ Azuh Arinze, my editor at Encomium would have said, while insisting I search the whole of Primark and ‘fish’ her out. If I fail to find her or get the interview, Azuh’ll suggest I ‘‘capture’’ what I saw, in ‘‘beautiful prose’’. He liked ‘‘beautiful prose’’.
‘‘Mr Man, o je je k’ori e pe (you better get your act together). You better don’t come back here if you don’t do that interview. K’o ya maa gbe London’’, Encomium publisher Kunle Bakare would have told me over the phone. According to Bakare’s law of celebrity journalism, when you see a target, ask for an interview there and then; not a later appointment – it might never happen! Standing in front of Primark, I remembered how Bakare would never forgive me for failing to interview Kokoro and KWAM 1; and how he scolded me for fixing an interview appointment with Lagbaja, when I could have done the interview right there at his album launch in 2006.
I remembered Gabriella Osamor, my editor at THISDAY, and my heart nearly missed a beat. She wouldn’t even give you a choice. With you faraway in London, she’d tell the team at the Monday meeting: ‘‘Ayeni said he saw Funmi Iyanda in London. Can we use her for cover this Sunday’’? If everyone) especially Shaka Momodu and Nseobong Okon-Ekong) agrees, then you’re in trouble – God help you if the interview doesn’t happen.
As I left Primark and headed for the underground, I warned myself not to ‘mistakenly’ tell anyone I had just let Funmi Iyanda ‘escape’.
I soon forgot the incident; I soon forgot about her. Until I saw the promo materials for the new show Talk With Funmi. First I saw pictures of her trip across Nigeria, and then I saw videos : the eye-opening conversation with the Hunter in Ondo; taking soccer lessons from Fashola in Lagos; riding through the Okada phenomenon with Charly Boy; getting initiated to Galala and Suo, in Ajegunle; amongst many others.
This is the right time to finally interview this woman, I say to myself, as I crawl through Youtube and Google, searching for the TWF trailer and other info. Finally, the real talk show queen is going all the way to put a beautiful, proudly Nigerian show together. Finally, we’ll have the one woman who understands the A to Z of presenting, interviewing and guest-examination take over and save us from pretenders masquerading as the real McCoy.
Finally, I resorted to blackmail to get to talk with Funmi Iyanda.
‘‘Ayeni, Talk With Funmi is debuting on February 7. Please I want to send you a story to help us use’’, the caller said.
So I answer: ‘‘No problem boss. But first, get me that interview I’ve been asking for. It’s almost four years now, remember?’’.
The interview happened on Tuesday.
‘‘So what do you think of Oprah?’’
‘‘I’ve never wanted to be Oprah. Chief Olusola, who should know, gave me one of the best advice of my life when I was starting out. As a 25 year-old, I went to interview him, and he said that what are you r plans? I said I wanted to be the Barbara Walters of Nigeria. And he looked me in the eyes and said you, with your longish self, and your longish name, will never be the Barbara Walters of Africa. He said you’re going to be the Funmi Iyanda of Africa…’’
I was a fan before the interview; a fan for years. When I left after over two hours, I was no longer a fan. I had become an AC.
A split unit, actually – not a window unit.